Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Is There a Place at the Table for Parents?




You often see me write about the ‘gifted community’. Recent events within this community have led me to wonder if there really is a ‘place at the table’ for parents. Consequently, I began to consider who is already seated there: educators, researchers, teachers, psychologists? Where would I look to find out just who makes up the guest list? National organizations? State organizations? University research centers?

Well, I looked. I didn't see many parents. You see, I’m beginning to think that in most organizations … parents don’t get much respect. Parents are tolerated at best, ignored by most.

Here’s the rub ~ I think it is rather short-sighted not to recognize the potential contributions of parents. First and foremost, parents produce the children for which these organizations are supposed to exist. AND, in case anyone hasn’t noticed – funding for gifted education and thus a major revenue stream for gifted organizations has been tapering off lately. Parents aren't going to suddenly become philanthropists, but those small membership dues and conference fees can add up when they find something of value!

Of course, a place at the table does require that one’s voice be heard as well. And you know … parents can be difficult; even disagreeable. At least that’s what I hear. Who wants to invite that kind of trouble? And they might even have the audacity to start asking questions! No, no, no … we can’t have that!

Organizations have tried to reach out to parents; or they think they have. The trouble is that they really don’t know how to relate to parents and their efforts ultimately end in failure; but no problem. At least they can say they tried and parents were unresponsive. Parents are just too busy raising those quirky kids to be active in major organizations. Who needs them anyway?

Well, from my vantage point … I think the gifted community needs to look around and see who is engaging parents. They need to see how it’s done and then find a way to replicate that success within their own organizations or they will soon face becoming irrelevant.

Good organizations do exist; albeit rare. They reach out to parents by meeting them where they are; such as holding regional conferences. They have parents on their boards of directors who are not also academics. They recognize the value and contributions of parents at their annual conferences. They understand parents and acknowledge the difficulties inherent in raising gifted children; beyond the classroom. 

The parents who confide in me have grown weary of academics deciding who is gifted and what a child needs to do to stay gifted. They are frustrated by terminology that infers their children are little more than a commodity; valued only when they contribute to society without regard to their own personal needs and interests. These are real voices with real concerns. At times they feel like they are crying in the wilderness.

It is my sincere hope that those in leadership positions will consider setting another place or two at the table and expanding the guest list. Parents are on the front lines every day when it comes to advocacy and responsibility. They can be listened to or they can be watched …walking out of the room with their support in tow.


13 comments:

  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. From this parent who does feel left out of the conversation, thank you for your courage to speak out. We know our children best - yeah, the researchers and academics might have loads of data, but my child resists being placed in a box of ANY size or shape.

    I've given up supporting organizations who are more concerned with their funding sources than with the population they exist to aid. I'm taking my (non) performing monkey elsewhere.

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  2. Excellent! This post will provide support to new initiatives that I hope to champion at the national level. It brings to mind the need for our groups to more specifically target Parent Engagement in Gifted Education as an area of concern. My work has shed light on the advocacy needs of parents and families, however, parents also need to know that their voices will be heard at all levels. Yes, there's a Place at the Table for parents. Be prepared to engage with a range of advocates. That should be okay, though, because for all of us, the main concern is ensuring that our Gifted children and youth have the funding, services, and futures they deserve!

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  3. Excellent! Very well written. Thank you!

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  4. And the parents cried out, "AMEN!"

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  5. Yes. I have been going to gifted conferences for a couple of years now as both a parent and as a journalist. The parent-focused sessions don't usually seem to have much substance. There's always the "intro to giftedness for parents" session, which of course they must have, but they don't seem to go much past that. Of course, as a homeschooler I'm about as involved as a parent can get, so perhaps I'm asking a lot. But parents are so important in gifted education in schools, too, because they are the on-the-ground advocates. If parents of gifted kids were more invested in the process they would be better advocates for gifted ed in school as well as learning how to be advocates for their individual kids.

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  6. Lisa, did you include Gifted Homeschoolers Forum http://giftedhomeschoolers.org in this? We're all about parents, whatever their educational choice. Our all-volunteer organization spends long hours being available to provide community, information and support to this population. If we're not communicating that well, that's something we'll need to work on and we welcome suggestions.

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  7. Thank you Lisa for an excellent post on such an important issue!
    The goal should be to give the best possible support to gifted students and that goal is so much easier to attain if all parties are understanding each other and working together. Parents must be treated with respect for the valuable insight and contributions they bring and given a fine seat at the table!

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  8. Lisa, I enjoyed your post, and understand about organizations focusing on the kids, while sidelining the parents. But, I would like to promote one organization that does focus on and support the parents of gifted children: Gifted Homeschoolers Forum (www.giftedhomeschoolers.org). GHF understands that giftedness and 2e issues are not children issues, but family issues. This is why I volunteer so much of my time for GHF. (Disclosure: I am the Editor in Chief for GHF, but I started just asking how I could help.) I encourage families with gifted children to check out GHF, whether those families are homeschooling, in traditional school, or pursuing alternative education.

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  9. Parents (as well as grandparents and other family members) not only are motivated for their sake of their children but are also networkers, voters, learners in their own right, and have expertise in their own fields that could be of value if they were more welcomed. Further, how do we expect children to grow into their own positive advocates if the involvement of their parents in the GT learning community is not one of partnership.

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  10. I have one child who is gifted and another who is special ed and the advocacy requirements are unbelievably similar for each. Labels are really not material. That said I would encourage parents of gifted kids to familiarize themselves thoroughly with special education law, because those laws protect our GT kids too.

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  11. Thank you for sharing this perspective, Lisa. We completely agree that parents do not get enough respect in most organizations. It made us reflect on and evaluate how we at IEA involve parents, which we wrote about here: http://educationaladvancement.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/parents-please-take-a-seat-at-our-table/. We involve parents quite a bit, but probably not as much as we could. We will definitely be keeping this in mind as we plan the next year. Thank you!

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  12. Without a doubt it takes the right triangle . . . students, parents and educators . . . to assure that the needs of gifted students are addressed. And we must speak out together. A lone voice sounds like whining; many voices sound like a cause.

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  13. I'd like to reframe the question. Whose table is it? Giftedness is not a phenomenon that happens only at school or concerns only teachers, administrators, designers of curriculum, vendors of tests, etc. Yet when we ask if parents should have a seat at the table, we buy into the old, inaccurate paradigm. Let's remember that giftedness is 24/7. Again, I ask: Whose table is it? I suggest that at the very least we need an entirely new table and it should most definitely be round.

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