Redefining Giftedness - Another Perspective

The world of gifted education was all abuzz this week about the need to redefine "giftedness". The weekly gtchat on Twitter was tweeting about it. The National Association for Gifted Children in the U.S. rolled out a rare 'position paper' on the subject. This was on the heels of an article by Jim Delisle in Education Week, "What Gifted Learners Can Learn From Sarah Palin" (3/30/2010) which in essence made the case that only the top 1% - 3% of the population is truly gifted. His position, in part, stemmed from the belief that detractors of gifted education - believers that 'all are gifted' - were given the upper hand in the debate when the definition of giftedness was diluted to include 'less' than profoundly gifted individuals. It was also a week in which I began to research approaches to gifted education around the world for a presentation. Even discussing this topic produced strong emotions in parents and educators.

So, why the uproar and why the dissent? There's a reason for so many definitions of what is gifted and we must consider the motivation of those writing the definitions. Understanding "why" these divergent definitions evolved and "why" many want to keep the status quo on current gifted thinking will bring us all closer to an understanding of being gifted.

I think the question being raised is not defining gifted, but rather, "Is a child gifted enough?" Right or wrong, it is the quantifiable measures (IQ, test scores, grades) that will determine if a child is labeled 'gifted' and not the subjective traits observed by the examiner. In a world of dwindling economic resources, do we advocate for the top 1% to 3% ... the top 10%? If you are the parent of a profoundly gifted child, your answer is easy. But, what if your child is among the remaining 7 out of 10?

If the push to narrowly define giftedness cuts out 70% of those now identified as gifted, can the gifted 'community' withstand the resulting schism? For psychologists and educators who don't have children who would be affected by the change to the definition, the debate is academic. For parents; not so much.

In truth, I think a more explicit definition is needed. We certainly need to silence the 'all children are gifted' [not specifying academically gifted] mantra because it simply isn't true when it comes to intelligence and talent. Consensus building is a much more viable option. I am finding that approaches to gifted education (and thus, giftedness) vary widely across the globe; much more than I ever anticipated. Once we can all agree on the terminology, a global approach to advocacy could be key to improving educational programs worldwide.


  1. Well written... as you say, it is the diversity of perceptions and definitions which may make it difficult for folk to come to a single descriptor.. It will take some doing to get folk to agree.. Still, it would take alot of the fuzzyness that stiffles true and united world advocacy efforts out of the equation if it could be engineered. It is great to see global communities discussing this.. really it is. Les


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