The Editor’s View Idle Talent

In a report to the President of the United States, the White House Task Force on the Education of Gifted Persons states that “National attention to the recognition and development of gifted persons is intermittent, unevenly distributed, and inadequate in amount.” While supporters of gifted education may agree, they may be discouraged to find that this acknowledgement was made nearly 40 years ago during Lyndon B. Johnson’s presidency.

The authors of the report …emphasize the need to overcome the belief that special treatment of the gifted contradicts democratic ideals.

After an extensive search, I located the complete 1968 report in the special files archive at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library and Museum. A library staff member copied and mailed the forty-three page report to me for a small fee. As I read Talent Development: An Investment in the Nation’s Future, I excitedly marked statements that moved me and still have relevance today.

…The basic educational problem is fashioning institutions which can instruct millions, but still instruct them one by one. We must determine how a democratic society can devise equal educational opportunity to developunequal talents.

Genuinely excellent education is not restricted to bringing individuals up to preconceived standards of performance, to “norms”; rather, it seeks to encourage each individual to develop standards for himself, to give him a clear perception of all that he might become as well as the opportunity to realize his personal vision.

Teachers need to be sensitive to [the] multiple nature of giftedness so that they will recognize it when they see it and adapt their instruction to accommodate it.

One may wonder how many great achievements have been lost to our society because brilliant individuals succumbed to conformity in an inflexible school system where scholastic measurements dominated all other indices to individual possibility.

What seems to be needed…is direct legislation or firm policy that will channel some portion of Federal expenditures for training and education into programs designed specifically for gifted youth. The key to excellent programs for the gifted will continue to be State and local initiative; if that initiative is to be forthcoming, however, educators need a clear perception of the national stake in developing superior ability—and the Federal Government can most effectively promote such a perception.

I have returned to the report again and again, sharing its assertions and recommendations to parents, educators, and others with a stake or interest in gifted education. This document has energized my passion to advocate for gifted youth and their families. I understand how vigorously supporters of the gifted have worked to secure appropriate programming and services for gifted students and realize just how little progress has been made—at least at the federal level. The same compelling issues that faced the field of gifted education then still exist today; they include: defining giftedness, identification procedures, equity versus excellence, teacher training, social barriers to identification, preparing students successfully for the future, and more.

The authors of the report also eloquently defend the need to nurture exceptional talent and emphasize the need to overcome the belief that special treatment of the gifted contradicts democratic ideals. These words are reminiscent of many of my own experiences in defending the educational needs of the gifted.

Several specific actions detailed in the report should still be advocated for today.

  1. Federal Level
    • The federal government should make the identification and development of exceptional talent a national priority.
    • A body of nationally renowned individuals should be appointed to advise the President on policy and legislation to support the identification and development of talent.
    • A national meeting should be convened to revise practices that hamper the education of the gifted
    • Legislation should be established to channel some portion of federal education expenditures into special programs for the gifted.
  2. State Level—each state should:
    • regularly assess their educational policy regarding the gifted.
    • have an official responsible for making or proposing policy decisions regarding the education of the gifted.
    • provide assistance and consult with local school systems to develop exemplary programs, practices, and provisions for the gifted and support personnel training.
  3. Local Level
    • Every school should conduct an ongoing appraisal of the appropriateness of its programs for the gifted.
    • Advisory boards should be established to work with schools to identify educational needs and resources and to coordinate school-community activities that nurture special talents.
    • Each school system should have a central office responsible for administering local efforts to educate the gifted.
  4. Higher Education—colleges and universities:
    • must ease admissions policies for gifted students who have not followed traditional academic programs, such as dual enrollment and early entrance.
    • should provide some instruction about identifying and nurturing exceptional talent in the education of every prospective teacher.
    • should offer short courses or seminars on giftedness for in-service teachers.
  5. The Private Sector—private individuals and groups can:
    • help improve the political climate for state and local programs by providing for and helping finance special services for the gifted.
    • share facilities and personell with schools to motivate and develop talented individuals, such as providing lab space and lending personnel for mentoring.
    • support research, pilot programs, and demonstrations to further improve programs and practices for educating the gifted.

I urge anyone with an interest in advancing support and services for gifted students to obtain a copy of this report, read it, and determine what you can do to fulfill one or more of the recommended actions. These efforts are imperative in order to advance the educational opportunities for the gifted. Together we can move gifted education from idle to active.
Kristen R. Stephens, PhD

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