Greetings dear readers, hope you are all doing well. It has been a busy week or so since I last wrote, and I haven't had much time to compose an original entry. However, not wanting to leave you hanging, I thought this article from The New York Daily News about gifted children and the limited options available to them here in New York (a highly developed city in a highly developed country) offered an interesting perspective.
It's sometimes difficult for us to grasp that the children who we find the most "difficult" or "challenging" are often the ones who harbor hidden talents and special gifts. We typically see their behavioral idiosyncrasies or subpar academic performances first and foremost.
In Tanzania, The Toa Nafasi Project works with children with learning difficulties or "slow learners," but we also recognize that some children just aren't scholastically inclined and perhaps have other aptitudes worth fostering. This is an unusual way to look at what is most valued in a developing country. And, it's interesting to compare and contrast the same in the developed world.
NB on this post's title: Theodore Johnson in The Huffington Post said, "Without question, the term "Talented Tenth" is a sensitive touchpoint among many African Americans. The implication that 90% of us are helpless victims whose prospects are solely reliant on the book-learning of the others is literally logic from another century, and not well-received today. [Used by] President Barack Obama, the concept is still of some utility when the emphasis is shifted to promoting an inclusive black collective that inspires and leads others by example and empathy."
Try (d): nothing at all. New York does not spend any additional money on gifted and talented programming in grades K-8.
New York uses a weighting formula to determine school budgets. For instance, for every special ed student a school serves, that school receives extra funds ranging from $2,000 to $8,000 a year. But schools don't get any additional funds if they serve gifted and talented students.
Why does this matter? Because gifted students who stay trapped in regular classes grow bored, lose interest in school, and fail to realize their full potential. And good gifted and talented classroom programming costs money.
It requires teachers who are experts in their subject areas with advanced degrees from reputable graduate schools. It means providing books (not worksheets), well-equipped labs, and opportunities to learn outside the classroom.
Malika, one student I met, was so bored by her classes at her middle school in the Bronx, she hated going to school. It didn't help that she was getting bullied by her peers for being bookish and criticized by her teachers for being "sassy."
Alas, personal attention, highly qualified teachers, and extra classes for higher-achieving students don't come cheap. At the city's top private schools, where the expectation is that all students are gifted and talented, middle school tuition approaches $50,000.
I'm not suggesting that New York suddenly double what it currently spends per gifted and talented student to be on par with private schools. But the current situation is a disaster. There is so little gifted and talented programming in New York that only the top 1% of students get the chance to participate in true G&T classes. (These are citywide classes that are considered the gold standard.)
The situation is particularly grim in majority-black districts. Last year there were no Gifted and Talented classes at all in South Bronx District 7, Crotona Park's District 12, Bedford-Stuyvesant's District 16 or Ocean Hill-Brownsville's District 23. There were no classes because not enough students in those districts passed — or even sat for — the city's screening exam.
Mayor de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña recognize there is a problem. A special G&T program has been launched in those four districts with a holistic admissions process that does not rely exclusively on test scores, akin to private school admissions.
That's appreciated, but insufficient.
In 1903, scholar and educator W.E.B. Dubois first publicized the concept of a "talented tenth." He believed that the top 10% of black students could easily achieve greatness — if given the opportunity through education.
Over 100 years later, New York still doesn't seem to care about its talented tenth.
The result is a self-perpetuating cycle of underachievement and poverty. Low-income black students are shut out of gifted education at early grades. They are then unable to compete for spots at New York's prestigious specialized high schools, like Stuyvesant and Bronx Science.
They remain trapped in mediocre schools with peers who bully them and classes that do not challenge them. They go to community colleges with low graduation rates. In the end, they remain stuck in the cycle of poverty.
New York must invest in gifted education — budgeting not just for students who are struggling, but for those with the potential for extraordinary success.
Author David Allyn is CEO of The Oliver Scholars Program, which prepares high-achieving African-American and Latino students for success at top independent high schools and prestigious colleges.