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.