Andrew Harmon


 

 

Fighting to be Gifted

What it means to be labeled as Gifted in America

By Jordan Culpepper

As part of a speech I gave at my high school in Illinois, I passed out notecards with personal adjectives: funny, boring, materialistic, intelligent, etc.  I asked my class, “Do these words define you?” and  “Can a piece of paper really embody the complexity that is you?”  I was met with both nods of approval and grunts of dismay.  I went on to explain that the same bubble - filling, one word process of putting yourself on paper was used every day to distinguish potential candidates of the Gifted and Talented Program (GT).  This prompted me to further question, the importance, or lack thereof, of the GT program.  What were the benefits of such a prestigious program?  Why were some opportunities offered to some students and not others?  What does it mean to be labeled Gifted?  Questions like these are asked by students, across the country, who find themselves deemed inadequate for the GT program.  I was one of them.

My journey started in 3rd grade.  Select students were chosen to participate in upper level math classes.  It appeared that I was not going to be chosen, so I asked my classmates what was happening.  Some relatively new concepts were sweeping our school: Gifted and Talented.  As I progressed further in school, my test scores matched those of my Gifted counterparts, yet I was never picked for the gifted program.  I finally took matters into my own hands and spoke face to face with the GT coordinator. .  She apparently appreciated my interest and, to my surprise, immediately began testing me.  I did not understand why being gifted focused solely on academic tests scores or cognitive retention rather than the individual thought process of a person.  I did understand that everyone thought and learned differently, and I believed that being gifted should encompass all of these factors.  The GT program appeared to be based on a type of Pygmalion “if you build it they will come” philosophy. Thereby labeling a student as gifted should result in said student performing as gifted.   I believe that the GT program is supposed to help the education system by diversifying the classroom, but essentially the classrooms consist of people who think the same way, but at different levels.  My pursuit of giftedness continued through the 8th grade.  I was never officially labeled as Gifted although I had teachers fighting for me to become part of the program.  The gifted courses were held after class, I would stay late, of my own accord.  I would ask questions that were viewed by others as gifted, but were considered normal to me.  I was told continuously that my scores just weren’t high enough to be considered by the GT program.

Upon entering high school (9th grade)  I received a letter informing me that I had been selected as a part of the Gifted and Talented Program.  I was very happy at first, and then once again puzzled.  I did not recall doing anything special, during my transition from 8th grade to freshman year, that could have gotten me considered.  I was taken through an initiation paper signing and orientation, and I realized that I was one of many who were somehow “selected” to be part of the GT program. 

Throughout the school year we received a “Gifted Summer Reading and Gifted activities list”, a lists of gifted activities we could do during the summer. When I would excitedly sign up for activities, I found that not many other students were participating.  So what was the point of offering such opportunities, if they weren’t going to be taken advantage of?  I could think of plenty of students, not in the GT program, who could have appreciated and benefitted greatly from such opportunities.  I then did something that might have been frowned upon in the elite GT community.  I started sharing the information.  I began forwarding these emails and summer reading ideas to other students.  At that moment I realized the difference between those students called gifted and those deemed ‘non–gifted’.  It seemed as though a label of ‘gifted’ completely changed the perspective of a student’s educational experience.  Students, who were identified early-on in the GT program, simply cherish the label and no longer strive to uphold the meaning behind it, while students who are made to feel they aren’t GT material search for ways to help them get identified and accepted.  These students take advantage of opportunities and work long, hard hours to set themselves apart from their classmates in hopes of one day receiving an invitation to the GT program.  I discovered from various and esteemed people that you don’t need a label, or word to predict your level of success.

 

 

T. Charles M.D. Anesthesiologist

Q:   As a young student, were you identified as Gifted?

 As a first grader I was diagnosed with ADHD, because I could not sit still! The fact that I could read the newspaper and do my fourth grade sister’s homework did not matter.  After a short stint in special education, a third grade teacher told my mother she would keep me in her class because she thought I was very bright. By the first grade I knew I could do six-grade math but didn't think spelling my name was important. The students that were identified as "special smart" were very quiet and obedient.

 

Q:     How do you define gifted?

When it concerns academia, I refrain from the term gifted. I think people are gifted in sports or sewing or things that come naturally to them. When a child is labeled gifted and doesn't continue to meet "gifted" criteria, what are they then...ungifted?

 

Q: Name one thing that contributed to your success today.

I think the main thing that contributed to my success was growing up in a nurturing household. School and people in the community can be very damaging but when family supports you that is very important.

 

 Q: How would you motivate students who are not identified as Gifted? 

I look and comment on positive attributes I see in young children. I think exposure is also very important too.

 

 Q: Describe yourself in 3 words.  (Only 3)

Happy, Caring, Random

 

 

P. Delon
Assistant to the Executive Director
Manifest Your Destiny Foundation

Q: As a young student, were you identified as Gifted?

A: No

 

Q: How do you define gifted?

A: I define gifted as having a natural ability to achieve something.

 

Q: Name one thing that contributed to your success today.

A: Determination. Without that, you'll stay in the same place you've always been.

 

 Q: How would you motivate students who are not identified as Gifted?

A: I would challenge them to find something that they are good at and work on their craft every day. Consistency is key to anyone's success. You don't have to be gifted to be successful.

 

P. Culpepper
Senior Vice President
Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer
PepsiCo Inc.

Q:   As a young student, were you identified as Gifted?

No, but there was a lot of attention and energy given to those who were considered gifted.

 

Q:     How do you define gifted?

 I would define it as someone who has marked ability in a given area that stands out way above the performance of the average person. I believe that being labeled gifted is redundant if a person truly is and for others not gifted, a label can create the perception that you are if told that they are.

 

Q: Name one thing that contributed to your success today.

My own internal fortitude and drive 

 

 Q: How would you motivate students who are not identified as Gifted?

I would encourage them to challenge everyone else’ assessment non verbally.

 

 Q: Describe yourself in 3 words.  (Only 3)

Anomaly, insightful, authentic

 

D. Anderson
Harvard University Graduate
Analyst, J.P Morgan Asset Management

 

Q:   As a young student, were you identified as Gifted?

Yes, I was identified as gifted.

 

Q:     How do you define gifted? 

I believe that in the American education system, those of us who have extraordinary analytical skills (i.e. math and science) are usually put into gifted programs – especially in public education. My peers who had amazing special intelligence were usually left out of the gifted group. Therefore, I define gifted as having extraordinary abilities to execute a skill before you are expected to (which is usually defined by cultural norms). 

Examples: The Beatles music was considered very gifted, although their style is very normal today or in America a student taking Calculus as a 15 year old is considered gifted, while in some Asian countries this is considered normal.  

 

Q: Name one thing that contributed to your success today. 

Due to my mother’s mental illness (schizophrenia), it taught me be mentally tough. To no fault of her own she used to berate me and say horrible things to me. Thus, at a very young age I learned to not listen to everything people say. Therefore, I usually move forward with my thoughts although I get rejected numerous times.

 

Q: How would you motivate students who are not identified as Gifted? 

I would let them know that it’s just someone’s opinion that doesn’t really mean a lot unless you let it define you. I would also give numerous examples of individuals who were not considered gifted, i.e. Albert Einstein, Barack Obama, Richard Branson, just to name a few.

 

Q: Describe yourself in 3 words.  (Only 3)

Persistent, Positive, Curious

I challenged my interviewees to describe themselves using only 3 words. This exercise was to illustrate how difficult it is to sum up oneself, ones experiences, ones morals and ones lifetime..  There is obviously a lot more to you than a few test scores.  In today’s society, jobs of this caliber and status are often associated with tremendous prior success in high school and college.  As you can see, 3 out of 4 people were NOT considered gifted, and one was even put into Special Education.  As the prestige of the Gifted and Talented label continues to grow, more and more students are constantly putting unnecessary pressure on themselves striving to fulfill the GT requirements rather than focusing on what’s really important --- their personal academic success.  The Gifted opportunities and groups students are invited to join, can’t possibly measure total academic success.  I believe the amount of work and effort one puts into achieving their goals can accurately predict long – term success.  This way, everyone’s fight to be gifted…can be won.



 

 

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