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Gifted education and racial justice

June 10, 2020 1 comment

Racial inequity has been one of the top concerns in the American gifted education community for years. Here in Georgia, we have it better than some, because Georgia law requires that every public school student identified as gifted must be provided with gifted instruction. In other states, that’s not the case, and in some cities — most prominent among them New York City — there aren’t nearly enough spaces in the highly coveted gifted schools for all the children who need gifted instruction. Yet even in Georgia, questions remain about whether the processes used to identify gifted children are fair to minority children.

Today, I share an opinion piece about why access to gifted education is essential to the pursuit of racial justice. This essay, written by Colin Seale, was originally posted on Seale’s web site, thinkLaw, and is posted in full here with permission from the author.

Black Lives Matter. Black Minds Matter, Too:
The Case for Prioritizing Equity in Gifted Education
as an Urgent Racial Justice Issue

by Colin Seale

It is unacceptable that the question of whether Black lives matter is still a question. It is impossible to silence the screams and cries of the fed up after the unspeakable and unjustifiable killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and countless other Black lives lost to police officers and wannabe police officers. But these screams and tears have echoed in my heart since I was 16 years old. 

This pain started when I was 16 years old because that is when police officers stopped and frisked me around the corner from my home in Brooklyn, NY. I was one of few Black students attending the prestigious Bronx High School of Science (where there are even fewer today) and I was getting ready to start an exciting summer enrichment program the next day. But none of that mattered when I was up against a brick wall being searched and aggressively questioned about where I was coming from and where I was going. It might not sound like much to be questioned about where you are coming from and where you are going. But I was taught that I was free. Yet, I still had to very respectfully justify my movements to angry men as the only way out of the shamefully deadly crime of walking while Black. This moment permanently stripped me of my full humanity. This idea of America, this promise that lit up my family’s eyes in the depths of their dark struggle to immigrate to the United States was betrayed. This firm belief that their American children will be entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that all will be well if you just do the right thing, was shattered.  

There is something about this notion of an unfulfilled promise that leads me beyond the criminal justice system. As a teacher-by-day, law student-by-night, I was grateful for the incredible volunteer experience of spending time with brilliant young people who were amazing problem solvers, brilliant at thinking on their toes, and born leaders. These mostly Black, Brown, and overwhelmingly poor youth were, without question, the most entrepreneurial, analytical, and persuasive young minds I had ever come across. I could not figure out, however, how these brilliant young minds ended up juvenile detention. My semester as a student attorney for my law school’s juvenile justice clinic showed that we are leaving genius on the table. There are no doubts about the promise these youth showed, but their promise was going unfulfilled. I watched enough commercials for the United Negro College Fund to understand that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Yet, here I stood, seeing brilliant minds needlessly placed in cages. 

This confined brilliance felt familiar. It reminded me of what it felt like to constantly be labeled as having “poor self-control” and to always find myself in some sort of trouble in kindergarten and first grade. These challenges miraculously disappeared when tests for my speech impediment and behavior challenges revealed that I should have been in gifted and talented classes since I was in kindergarten. My part of Brooklyn did not have an elementary school with a gifted program, so I was bussed to a different school as one of twelve students in my grade level with access to this transformational experience. Transformational is not an exaggeration, because the same behaviors that would have eventually landed me in juvenile detention were required in my gifted classroom. Walking around and interacting with my peers was meaningful collaboration, not goofing off. Questioning the teacher was intellectual curiosity, not badgering. Telling the teacher there was a better way to do something was effective advocacy, not willful defiance. I was still, surely, subject to the injustices of a systemically racist school system and society. But my mind was free. 

A free mind gave me the privilege to ask questions. Questions like why did I have to get bussed to a school to have access to rigorous and challenging instruction grounded in critical thinking? And why were there only 12 of us in this program when there were brilliant young minds in every single classroom? Education equity advocates in New York City are outraged at the dismal numbers of Black and Brown students admitted to Bronx Science and the 8 other specialized high schools. But when there are over 400 high schools in New York City, what does it mean, really, when “success” means you make a child like me commute 90 minutes each way from Brooklyn to the Bronx? 

Black lives matter. But if we are to truly live, don’t our brains matter, too? I understand and deeply resonate with the cry of “stop killing us.” But I cannot ever be content with simply having permission to exist. Descartes’ revelation that “I think, therefore I am” speaks to the need that mere survival is not enough. The Notorious B.I.G.’s observation “my mind’s my nine, my pen’s my MAC 10” goes a bit further, speaking to the unquestionable power of a brilliant, expressive mind. The reality is, access to critical thinking matters now more than ever. We need to unlock brilliance any and everywhere it exists. The survival of our world depends on it.  

Unfortunately, the same racial injustices that treat Black lives as unworthy also treat our minds as inferior. My existence in advanced academic programs was inseparable from the broader conversation, then and now, about equity and access in gifted education. The glaring underrepresentation of Black students in gifted education means that at the moment we need critical thinkers more than ever, we are still deciding to treat critical thinking as a luxury good. The critical thinking gap in our education system results in an underclass of students who get taught what to think while the most “elite” students in the most “elite” schools learn how to think. I am sick and tired of seeing Black folks with brilliant minds behind bars. I am even more sick and tired of the more systemic challenge of denying brilliant Black minds access to educational opportunities that keep their minds in cages. 

With the economic crisis created by the COVID-19 pandemic estimated to force massive cuts to education budgets nationwide, a compelling case for treating gifted education as an issue of racial justice must be made. The common, but false, belief that gifted learners will be “just fine” already leads school systems to shift resources away from students who subjectively need these resources more. Even before this crisis, Seattle Public Schools eliminated their gifted and talented, and New York City discussed doing the same in the name of equity. This is not equity. 

A racial justice agenda in education must be committed to the full liberation of Black minds. This means that there need to be more, not fewer gifted and talented program opportunities in schools serving high numbers of students who are typically denied access. More, not fewer, advanced academic offerings at all middle and high schools serving large numbers of Black students. Equity means that education systems shift their focus to serving all students to unlocking the excellence of each student. This means that we need to hold several ideas in our heads at the same time.  

First, we must accept that all students have gifts, but not all students are gifted. Second, gifted students and advanced learners exist everywhere and deserve a right to experience an academic challenge every single day. Third, all students can and should benefit from gifted and talented teaching strategies, but gifted learners require services to meet their specific learning needs just like any other exceptional student population. Fourth, gifted education identification practices and service delivery remain deeply problematic across the country and must be improved. Fifth, fighting for equity should never result in an outcome where everyone gets nothing, even if the equity issues are not being resolved rapidly enough. These five considerations must be addressed in concert, so we can stop leaving genius on the table. Racial justice means we stop talking about simply closing achievement gaps and start talking about shattering achievement ceilings.

This is not just about Black students.  It also makes little sense that we have English Language Learners who are thinking in multiple languages, navigating across multiple cultures, and piecing together complex puzzles all day every day. Gifted education representation challenges and the availability of gifted programming for Native American students and students in poverty, everywhere, are additional examples of areas access and equity must be expanded.  

One of the most important moments in our lives is the moment we realize that our unique power, unique qualifications, and the opportunity to take advantage of opportunities put us in a unique position to make a unique difference in our world. It hurts me to the core that so many of our young people will never get to experience this moment based on nothing else but the color of their skin. Black lives matter. But we cannot ever forget that Black minds matter, too.  

Categories: Advocacy and policy

Two virtual STEM camps just for girls

May 29, 2020 Leave a comment

Girls’ under-representation in STEM careers has led to the formation of numerous programs and organizations to encourage girls’ interest in STEM.

Two such groups are offering online camps:

  • PROJECT SCIENTIST. This California-based organization ordinarily holds camps for girls on university campuses. This summer, they’re providing week-long camps online, starting at the end of June. Topics include robotics, DNA, energy, and more. Open to ages 4-12. Each weekly session costs $325, which includes 3 hours of programming each day and a virtual lab kit for conducting hands-on experiments. (Use discount code PS2020-20OFF to get $20 off.) Financial aid is available. Scholarship applications must be submitted by June 7.
  • STEM GEMS. This Atlanta-based group is focused on giving girls female role models who work in STEM careers, so that girls can envision and plan for their futures as STEM professionals. This four-day online camp is open to girls who are entering 6th through 9th grades. Cost is $250, which includes a copy of founder Stephanie Espy’s book, STEM Gems.
Categories: Summer programs

DeKalb County moves summer gifted program online

May 28, 2020 2 comments

The DeKalb County School District has long provided a week-long enrichment program called Serendipity to its gifted elementary-age students. This year, Serendipity will be a live, virtual program, June 15-19, 2020.

Enrichment activities will include art, Spanish language, drama, and physical education.

Serendipity is open to rising 1st through 6th graders who are enrolled in a DeKalb County public school.

Categories: Summer programs

Harvard offers online courses, lots of them free

May 7, 2020 Leave a comment

Harvard University has nearly 200 online courses in the humanities, social sciences, computer science, mathematics and more, with many offered at no charge.

Among the class topics are classical music, Shakespeare, religion, the science of cooking, game development, ancient Egypt, probability, Japanese scroll art, architecture, rhetoric, neuroscience, and bioethics . . . plus a lot more.

Categories: Enrichment

AJC calls kid artists to create Art from the Heart

May 6, 2020 Leave a comment

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution invites kids 13 and under to submit hand-drawn artwork that shows appreciation for those working tirelessly during these times, from healthcare workers and delivery drivers to employees in grocery stores and restaurants.

The Art from the Heart project will accept submissions until June 1, 2020. Selected drawings will be published on AJC.com and in a special section of the newspaper to be printed this summer.

Categories: Enrichment, Uncategorized

Georgia Tech takes its summer programs online

May 4, 2020 Leave a comment

Georgia Tech will deliver a series of STEAM-oriented online workshops for middle- and high-school students during the summer of 2020.

Topics for the week-long STEAM Whistle Workshops include creating mobile apps, music production, art with an engineering twist, meteorology, and more.

The summer workshops are being offered through the university’s CEISMC office, which manages outreach to the pre-K-12 community, and is the group that operates K.I.D.S. Club and Summer PEAKS.

Registration for June sessions is open now. Registration for July sessions is coming soon. Cost is $100 to $150 per workshop.

Categories: Uncategorized

Free, online coding classes for children of healthcare workers

April 8, 2020 Leave a comment

STREM HQ is offering one month of free coding classes to children of healthcare workers.

The classes are designed for kids ages 8 to 12. Sessions will begin April 13, 2020.

Categories: Enrichment, Uncategorized

Kids’ science author offers free online events

April 6, 2020 Leave a comment

There’s something special about learning science from someone who’s passionate about it. And Heather L. Montgomery is about as passionate as they come.

When Heather talks about bugs or snakes or other unusual animals, she absolutely lights up, and her enthusiasm is contagious. I know this because I know Heather personally. She and I are both authors of children’s books, and we’ve talked about our writing lots of times. When Heather tells a bug story, it’s riveting.

Ordinarily, Heather travels around visiting schools, sharing her passion for living things, and teaching students about science and writing. With schools closed, she’s offering three free virtual events.

  1. Author reading. Heather reads from her book, Something Rotten: A Fresh Look at Roadkill in a series of YouTube videos. Recommended for 3rd grade and up. (Videos available through the end of June.)
  2. Write Like a Scientist. Heather teaches the similarities between the scientific process and the writing process. Offered via Zoom on April 17, 2020, at 2 p.m. Eastern. Recommended for grades 2 through 6. Registration required.
  3. Bug Hunt. Heather will dive into some curious aspects of insect moms and dads, from her book Bugs Don’t Hug. June 9 at 2 p.m. Eastern on Instagram’s “True Stuff Tuesdays.” Recommended for grades pre-K through 2.
Categories: Enrichment

Virtual field trips to Atlanta venues, starting tomorrow morning

April 2, 2020 Leave a comment

This has been added to the Enrichment from home page on the GiftedAtlanta.com site, but I wanted to give it an extra boost here as well.

Tomorrow, Friday, April 3, the newly created ATL Museums at Home will host its first digital field trip. The site says the field trip will include interactive activities. Partners for the first field trip are:

  • Fernbank Museum
  • Atlanta Botanical Garden
  • Georgia Aquarium
  • Chick-fil-A College Football Hall of Fame
  • Children’s Museum of Atlanta
  • Breman Museum
  • Zoo Atlanta
  • High Museum of Art
Categories: Enrichment

Just added: Enrichment from home

March 30, 2020 Leave a comment

I’ve just added a new page to GiftedAtlanta.com: Enrichment from home

It’s a list of free, online resources, from museum tours and symphony concerts to zoo webcams and jigsaw puzzles.

Use the list. Share the list. And please help me grow the list. If you know of a good online resource for gifted kids, please go to my Contact page and send me the link so I can add it to the page.

Let’s get through this together.

Categories: Enrichment