Intellectual Discrimination

Before I even start this post, I would like to say that many years ago I, yes I, predicted that America would swing back into an era in which being intelligent will be greatly valued. Now, I can see the beginnings of that societal trend taking place.

At some point between 1970 and the current era, being “too smart” was a bad thing. In public education, the main focus was placed onto bringing the struggling students up to pace, while the academically gifted students were taught to be fine on their own. The gradual neglect of the academically gifted students led to the formation of a plethora of charter schools across the country. Some charter schools boast a classical education model while other charter cater to only those students whose IQ scores are in the top 99% percentile.

Subsequently, this has led to an ever growing decrease in performance at the traditional public school level. Is it not obvious to anyone but myself that if the all of the “super smarties” are removed from a school the test scores are going to go down?

In the 1960’s, when the nation was still adjusting to the 1954 verdict of Brown vs. the Board of Education, there occurred something called white flight in which the white people left the cities and headed for the suburbs in an effort to avoid their children attending the same schools as the black children. Today, racism is an issue that has progressively become less severe, but the issue of prejudice is still a hard one to dismantle. Instead of white flight and the struggle for racial equality, what I am seeing today is a prejudice against the working class by the middle and upper class that has resulted in a struggle for intellectual superiority.

The “racism” of the future will be divided by socio-economic status; however, I sincerely hope I am wrong.


Homeless to Harvard revisited

Most people are familiar with the inspirational story of Liz Murray, a Harvard graduate who overcame extreme adversity. During her high school years she was homeless, but still managed to stay on top of her school work. After graduation, she was awarded a prestigious scholarship and was accepted to Harvard University. The Lifetime network made a TV movie depicting her story in 2003. It is a powerful film that really tugs at your heartstrings. While her story is something that doesn’t happen every day, it’s unfortunate to know this scenario isn’t unique to Liz Murray alone.

In 2012, the world turned its attention to yet another young lady who found herself in the same heartbreaking situation. Dawn Loggins was a student at Burns High School in Lawndale, NC. She was quiet and kept to herself, but in every class there are two or three students who keep to themselves as well. Most teachers had no idea that Dawn was living in such horrible conditions.

For most of her life she lived without electricity or running water. She and her brother would walk 20 minutes to a park and fill jugs with water from a spigot. Homework was difficult for her as well because she couldn’t afford candles. Thankfully, by the time she was in high school, several staff members came to her aid.

Today, Dawn has taken a break from interviews and media attention to focus on her studies at Harvard University. She was accepted in the spring of 2012 and, like Liz, was awarded a scholarship.

Had these two young ladies never received any type of help from their schools, what would have become of them? Are there any other kids going through the same circumstances? What can schools do to ensure students like Liz and Dawn don’t fall through the cracks?

In these two cases, students with exponential ability were at great risk of succumbing to the environment in which they lived. Though it is difficult to measure the average IQ score of Harvard students, it has been estimated to be around 127 to 134. An IQ score in this range would qualify a student for admission into an AIG or gifted education program in grades K-12.

To put things into perspective, let’s assume there is a 3rd young lady who doesn’t struggle with the same types of issues Liz Murray and Dawn Loggins had. For purposes of discussion we will call her Kayla. Maybe Kayla has a race horse IQ of 145, but due to her boredom in school, she does the bare minimum just to get by. In the cases of Liz and Dawn, their struggles were extreme. It was very obvious that they needed help. Moreover, due to their dire circumstances, I can’t imagine any decent human being not helping them.

However, in the case of Kayla, it appears she is perfectly capable of doing well in school if she wants to. Her parents are supportive, she has friends, and she isn’t failing her classes. But, she could be doing so much more during the school day. Perhaps Kayla has an almost obsessive fascination with animals. Maybe she is a walking encyclopedia on a specific animal or animal group. But, if she’s in the 2nd grade, should she be forced to wait until 4th grade, when her teacher does a science unit on animals, to become interested in what’s going on in class? Could a 2nd grade teacher not capitalize on Kayla’s interest?

Kayla could prepare a presentation using basic computer skills and share her knowledge with the class. As a part of social studies, the teacher could include information about the wildlife of the countries that are being studied or at least afford Kayla the opportunity to learn that information on her own. There are seemingly limitless ways in which a teacher can cross curricula and make content relevant to the students they teach.

In the lives of some students, the difference between Homeless to Harvard and just plain homeless is a teacher who cares.

Being Bright in Dim Places

Once, in Costa Rica, a man approached me with a bag of oranges and said, “Please, sir, I am so hungry. Would you buy this bag of oranges so I can have something to eat?” I replied to him, “If you’re hungry…eat an orange.” He just stood there, dumbfounded.

Had the man simply been honest with me and asked me if I would like to buy a bag of oranges, I probably would have done so just to help him out. What bothered me, however, is the way he came up with a sly sales tactic to force my sympathy for him. Even when I busted his story, he kept insisting as if to say despite my ability to reason, somehow he was still vindicated in this ploy.

While it might farfetched, the current condition of gifted education programs in the United States is undergoing the same struggle. Educational institutions have a bag of oranges (AIG programs) that gifted students do not want. School systems are hungry for maintaining the status quo but do not honestly see the big picture of what they are doing and how it impacts our society as a whole.

Whenever I speak with a current student who has been identified as being highly intelligent about the enrichment classes or activities offered in school, the answers are all the same: extra work, more reading, longer essays, more math, helping other kids catch up, and being pulled out of class once a week for…you guessed it, extra work.

In essence, schools in the United States define higher intellect as capable of doing more quantity. If a 3rd grader can do one math worksheet a night, a gifted 3rd grader can do two math worksheets. If the regular U.S. History class writes a five page paper on Abraham Lincoln, then the Honors U.S. History class should write a ten page paper.

This type of logic is maddening. I can only imagine the frustration of a child who has been slapped with the High IQ label and now is forced to own up to it every day with an insurmountable amount of tedious assignments. Gifted education should not focus on more quantity but rather better quality. A child in this type of situation might start to rebel against his inborn potential. I wonder how many highly intelligent high school students force themselves to operate on a lower intellectual level to simply fit in. What about the teachers? Are they so incredibly preoccupied with bringing the struggling students up that they inadvertently bring the top students down?

It is not my intention to cast blame or be disrespectful. I, myself, am also a teacher. I understand how the microcosmic society in a school can be overwhelming for both the educators and the educated. Yet, I consistently see AIG students not sign up for honors and advanced classes because they don’t want the extra work. The content isn’t the problem, it’s the amount of work they are given that turns them away.

Meanwhile, students who want to improve the visual impressiveness of their college applications sign up for AP classes and get a C. This, in turn, has the opposite effect and brings their GPA down. The truly gifted students normally go on to graduate from college and succeed in the working world. But think how much more they could achieve in life if they were given a bag of educational fulfillment instead of a measly bag of oranges.