Although my days of advocating for children in an uninspiring and hostile schooling system are gone, I still listen in on some email discussion lists about gifted education. It seems that not a lot has changed.
I’m not a fan of the gifted label. It has much in common with the ASD label.
- It describes a difference to a “norm” which is defined by the needs and practices of mainstream educational institutions.
- It places the problem within the child which takes the focus from the situation and reinforces the assumption that all the “normal” children are fine, it is only the abnormal ones who need help to adapt.
- It maintains the roles of the parties – parents, teachers, etc as caring experts dealing with an inconvenient child.
The one advantage “gifted” has over “Asperger’s” is that it is a positive label rather than a negative one. No matter how much doublespeak the ASD proponents use, a disability is a lack of ability, not an excess, and the literature is quite explicit about this lack. Of course, this is often complicated further by the GLD (gifted/learning disabled) and twice-exceptional tags… and the prevailing social myths about genius and madness.
Both labels have a surface discourse which seems relatively straightforward while explaining nothing. Digging deeper, by listening to the experts talk between themselves or by continually asking them impolite questions brings out interesting opinions, ideas and attitudes. It helps illuminate the chasm between the interpretations we all have of the meanings of these labels and related policies.
Much of this miscommunication is done on a subconscious level. These labels – gifted, autistic, Aspergers, ADHD – are terms steeped in connotations that vary for every person. While we might know what we mean and try to convey that meaning, we have no control and often little insight into what they mean for others. We use them at our peril. We label our children with these words at their peril.