Monday, June 5, 2017

How America Turned Against Smart Kids

Ideological Resistance to Gifted and Talented Education

The intriguing literature on intellectually gifted children has not produced a corresponding interest in American society on how to cultivate their talent. In many ways, the opposite has occurred.

As eugenics fell out of fashion in the 1940s, the aspiration to help gifted children was increasingly likened to a concept that, in the name of improving the genetic fitness of the population, legitimated elitist and racist excesses against underprivileged groups. Whatever interest U.S.-Soviet rivalry rekindled in gifted and talented education was again quashed with the civil rights movement and its aftermath. The dream of racial and gender equality underscored to the political and educational establishment that opportunities for gifted students were distractions from the more pressing imperative of elevating lower performing children. As Peg Tyre of the Edwin Gould Foundation reports, programs for the intellectually-talented today are generally “spurned by equity-minded school administrators and policymakers who see them as means by which predominantly affluent white and Asian parents have funneled scarce public dollars toward additional enrichment for their already enriched children.”

The Rise of Gifted Homeschooling

Against this backdrop, parents began to seek enrichment for their gifted children outside mainstream institutions. In 1978 a district court issued an arrest warrant for Dr. Peter Perchemlides, a Massachusetts-based biochemistry Ph.D. from Duke University, along with his college-educated wife, for refusing to comply with Massachusetts’ compulsory schooling law. The national attention and the couples’ ensuing superior court victory drew attention to the fact that the profile of homeschooling families was changing. The Perchemlides were part of a new wave of homeschoolers—well-educated middle and upper class parents of diverse political persuasions who were removing their children from formal schools for educational rather than religious reasons.

Precise data is not available but reports since the 1980s indicate that the trend has continued. Last month, the National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT) observed that homeschooling was becoming more popular among gifted children, an impression consistent with the latest data on American homeschoolers. In 2010 about 30 percent of homeschooled students have fathers with at least a master’s degree and almost 9 percent are in families with a household income of over $150,000.

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