I read an article the other day by a favourite author of mine on gifted issues, Jim Delisle. The title was about what gifted educators can learn from Sarah Palin. This I had to read! What he said really made me sit up and think. Sarah Palin, he said, whether you oppose her or support her, has made it clear where she stands on the issues that grip the American political scene. This, he suggests, is something that those of us who advocate for gifted learners could learn. Over the years, the definition of what a gifted learner is has become more and more unclear, to the point where confusion among even those of us who advocate for them is common. Unlike Sarah Palin, who has unapologetically nailed her colours to the mast, gifted education advocates cannot even agree on the student population whose needs we wish to serve. Gifted child advocates need to be precise in their definition of this cohort of children whose needs often go unfulfilled in our education systems, Delisle says.
On considering his point in relation to our blog, I realised that he is right. We need to rise above our fear of alienating those who see giftedness as a “lucky break” undeserving of further support. Gifted children in Irish schools receive no statutory support for their unique needs. Our goal has to be to bring issues related to promoting support for gifted learners to the fore in discussion of Irish education. It is about recognising that this group of learners have specific educational needs which are not addressed by our school system. It is about explaining that this gift can be as much curse as blessing here in Ireland, but that this does not have to be so. Being a gifted child is not a passport to high grades, the pick of university courses and personal happiness. It is a fundamentally different way of learning, experiencing and living through childhood. These children need a different type of support and guidance, recognition of their difference and celebration of their abilities. There is a certain irony, not lost on us, that the people who understand this most easily are parents, teachers and advocates for children with special educational needs and other learning differences. There is recognition, comprehension and empathy between parents and teachers of those on either end of the learning bell-curve. It’s the middle we are trying to reach.