Support for Gifted Education Among Gifted Students
by Jennifer Riedl Cross, Ph.D., Director of Research
Gifted students should be in the best position to recognize the need for gifted education. After all, they are the ones who suffer most when schools neglect their abilities. You might think that gifted students would be the most supportive of special services to meet their unique needs, but that is not always the case.
We surveyed 11th and 12th grade students (N=103) in a residential school for gifted students about their attitudes toward gifted education. The students’ responses to the survey fell into two groups and these groups did not differ in how they felt about the needs that gifted students have. Both groups mostly agreed with statements like, “The regular school program stifles the intellectual curiosity of gifted children” and “Often, gifted children are rejected because people are envious of them” and “The gifted waste their time in regular classes.” But when it came to questions about elitism, such as “Special programs for gifted children have the drawback of creating elitism” and “When the gifted are put in special classes, the other children feel devalued,” a majority of the students (n=78) agreed. A much smaller group (n=25) strongly disagreed with these statements, indicating they do not believe gifted education is elitist.
These beliefs have implications for students’ support of gifted education and, as you might expect, the students who believed gifted education is elitist – 76% of our sample – responded mostly negatively to statements such as, “Gifted persons are a valuable resource for our society” and “Our schools should offer special education services for the gifted.” Figure 1 shows the average scores for agreement or disagreement with elitism, support, and needs statements of the two different groups.
These students were fortunate to be in a school that provided for their academic and social needs as outstanding achievers, but they had years of education that helped to shape their beliefs prior to coming to the residential school for gifted students. That a majority of gifted students, even while recognizing their unique needs in school, have strong negative attitudes toward gifted education, should serve as a wake-up call to advocates. What is happening in gifted education that encourages students, even those who likely were in gifted programs, to believe that it is elitist? This is an extremely important question for our field. We know that gifted students have special needs. How can we provide for them without alienating them from peers? What is it about gifted education that makes these students perceive it as elitist? We must be sure we do not have blinders on when we ask this question. These students have direct experience in the trenches and a significant majority of them believe that gifted education is elitist. Should we spend time trying to change their minds or should we be considering ways to change gifted education to improve its image?
Figure 1. Residential school gifted students’ attitudes toward gifted education.