What a way to start off a new job … with a bang! Paula Olszewski-Kubilius took over the reigns of the NAGC (National Association for Gifted Children –
at their annual convention earlier this month. She's also the director of U.S. Northwestern University’s
Center for Talent Development and a professor in their
and Social Policy. School of Education
In her inaugural message to NAGC members, ‘Taking a Bold Step’, Olszewski-Kubilius states, “I suggest that we take a bold step and consider making talent development, rather than giftedness, the major unifying concept of our field and most importantly, the basis for our practice.” Critics were quick to contend that this was a bold statement for the new president of an organization which is considered to be all about giftedness rather than talent development; even going so far as to suggest it change its name.
Nothing less than a firestorm has erupted in online gifted communities. Perhaps it is just the company I keep, but the cons sure seemed to outnumber the pros. It also re-opened some old debates between the importance of recognizing giftedness vs. focusing on talent development … talent development based upon principles of psychology rather than education. Many negative comments seemed predicated on this conflict rather than on an in-depth review of the underlying reasons why the NAGC has committed to heading in this direction.
It just so happens that yours truly had been plodding her way through a 45+ page monograph for three weeks prior to the publishing of the latest issue of Compass Points. I say plodding because it reminded me of why I dropped out of graduate school (thus my lowly status of blogger rather than college professor).
To be honest, the monograph, "Rethinking Giftedness and Gifted Education: A Proposed Direction Forward Based on Psychological Science", was not written for a lay person. The synopsis provided by the journal in which it was published, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, did not do it justice. In fact, in some social media circles it acted like high-quality kindling on a fire that was just getting started. The monograph was written, however, in my opinion to serve as the basis for a fundamental change in direction at the NAGC. It redefined giftedness as “the manifestation of performance or production”, that “achievement is the measure of giftedness”, and that “eminence is the basis on which this label [gifted] is granted”.
The controversy online made this topic almost too hot to handle for this blog. I say ‘almost’ because the more I read about it, the more intrigued I became about digging deeper. Talk about emotional intensity … it’s like an American attending the World Cup! You love the game – fútbol or soccer, as we like to call it – you know some of the players, you have a general idea of who you want to win, but most of the time you feel confused and wish those around you would just stop blowing those vuvuzelas!
So why did the NAGC decide that now was the time to change course? From a review of this year’s Gifted Child Quarterly – the official journal of the NAGC … and yes, I am a member – it became clear that articles were published in anticipation of this move to an emphasis on talent development. It should also be noted that all three authors of the ‘Rethinking Giftedness’ monograph – Rena F. Subotnik, Paula Olszewdki-Kubilius, and Frank Worrell – are also members of the Editorial Review Board at Gifted Child Quarterly. (More on the authors can be found here.)
In the Spring 2011 issue of Gifted Child Quarterly one such article appeared entitled, “State of Research on Giftedness and Gifted Education”. The authors – Dai, Swanson & Cheng – came to the conclusion after an extensive review of gifted research articles between 1998 and 2010 that there needed to be a clearer definition of giftedness that the entire gifted community could agree upon if any forward progress was to be made in gifted education; at least in the U.S. They showed a dramatic increase in the amount of research on giftedness and gifted education, but also an increasing divergence in the direction of that research. Basically, they were calling for new standards in the field.
What were the motives behind this move on the part of the NAGC? Is it their intention to replace the term gifted with talent development? Are the social emotional issues experienced by gifted children no longer valid? What role does the NAGC’s support of The Talent Act sitting in Congress have to do with any of this? And last, but not least, for whom does the NAGC speak? I look forward to hearing from the NAGC should they decide to address these questions.
In the final analysis, this blogger must ask, “What does this mean for gifted children?” Yes, remember them – the children – the reason we teach, research, and for whom we advocate for a clearer understanding of their needs and education? This change of definition will definitely make a difference for future generations, but in reality … probably not for our children today. Which begs the question – should parents even be concerned about this whole issue?
Do I think it’s important for parents to be concerned about the direction taken by an organization who is a major player in shaping gifted education policy in the
Why, yes, yes.I.do! Just as I feel that progress will only be made when parents
step up to the plate and make their voices heard in support of their children.
For too long – like forever – parents
have sat on the sidelines complaining about the gifted programs in their local
schools, the lack of funding at the state level, and the lack of federal mandates
to validate the need for gifted education at all. You need to become part of
the conversation or things will NEVER change. You will become grandparents
complaining from your rocking chairs and wishing you had done something years
A word to my international readers … this is not solely an American issue. All parents need to become advocates for gifted education to ensure a brighter future filled with opportunity for your children. Better still … we must all come together as a forceful reminder to the larger gifted community that it is about … the children!