Sunday, May 17, 2009

TAG, talented and gifted (???)

Found in CyberSpace:

Please allow me to add my own word of caution. "Talented and Gifted" is a psychological phrase, and the field of TAG education is heavily freighted with psychological baggage. Thus, TAG children may be high achievers or not, they may be motivated to study a particular subject or not. TAG education looks nothing like sports training or music education. I find the psychologizing of education HIGHLY problematic. Please allow me to explain.

When Michael Phelps went into swimming, nobody insisted on first measuring his IQ or any other of his psychological attributes (at least, not for the purpose of swimming). That he had an interest in swimming was enough to let him jump into the pool and to progress at his own natural rate. The rest is history.

Exactly the same obtains in music education. If a child wants to pick up the violin, he is allowed. If he shows continuing interest and aptitude, he continues. And, he continues exactly according to his own natural abilities. No psychologist is gatekeeper in music education.

But in the public schools, if a child has an interest in and an aptitude for mathematics, psychologists must be consulted. The psychologist addresses a number of psychological concerns that usually do not include the child's own interests or desires, and the usual result is that the child is hindered from pursuing his mathematical interest according to his own abilities.

Because TAG is now a psychological attribute that attaches to a child regardless of actual interest or achievement, TAG has become an emblem of human worth. Claiming TAG status is tantamount to claiming that you are a better human being. Well, people resent this. They resist it and take satisfaction in frustrating TAG programs. Because the central American ideology is that all human beings are equal, it is only to be expected that educators will strenuously assert that all their children are gifted and talented.

When I was on my son's elementary school search committee, searching for a new assistant principal, I personally heard a teacher assert that TAG children should be put in their place. The committee was made up entirely of teachers, except for myself and one other parent, and the teacher's assertion was warmly received. The teacher probably meant that TAG children should be made to understand that they are not better than their classmates. Understood as a measure of human worth, even I agree with this.

But, if you believe as I do, that being better at math is not equivalent to being a better human being, then it is easy to see that math education and TAG education work at cross purposes. I have come to believe that TAG education is yet one more serious barrier to math education in the American public school.

From what I remember of the Johns Hopkins Center For Talented Youth, it is a mixed bag. Quite young children can be admitted to the program, but only on the basis of IQ scores. However, older children can be admitted on the basis of SAT scores, or something like them. Although originally conceived as group IQ tests, I think we now know that the SAT test is closer to an achievement test than to an IQ test.

The Hunter College schools, in NYC, work in the same way. Admission to the elementary school is based on IQ scores. Admission to the high school is based on academic achievement scores. It is a famously open secret that the elementary school students, who are automatically admitted to the high school, struggle academically much more than those students who are admitted on the basis of academic achievement.

If anyone would do the actual study, I would bet that we could mark the beginning of the decline of American public education with the advent of the field of educational psychology.

from a cyber-visitor:

Talented and Gifted is an interesting label.
I prefer Smart and Motivated--also known as S&M... ;-)
maybe it should be smart and/or motivated.

At the higher levels--high school-- it should be Smart AND Motivated, as neither one is enough by itself, for the highest levels of challenging classes and materials.

My boys were frustrated by "grinds" in their top math/science classes who were there because they did tons of work but did not have the brainpower to follow the discussion or absorb the content.


Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking and I agree with most of the author's comments.

The curriculum (textbooks, tests, and standards were written by pseudo-psychologist-educators, not mathematicians.

I say PPE's because the authors and consultants thought about what was age appropriate and not about what students should be able to achieve by the end of high school. Success for all is a pseudo-claim.

Moreover, the textbook adoptions are the trigger for a reform monger's delight. Once you begin math reform, there's no end. A sup or principal can throw away caution, take the financial reins and spend by whatever means necessary to bring up academic excellence. After all, its about AYP, not kids. The warmth of education in your state is amphibian.

You can do witch hunts (spring cleaning); open alternative schools (broom closets); write your own curriculum (replace geography w/ law and order); and start your own business with some zen buddhists (Kids have Lights 2).

Public education abounds in quackery. The cure for ignorance is not magic.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most of the article but as a parent of a tag kid they need much more than the average bright kid. It's kind of like special ed just at the other end of the spectrum. Yes it has many problems and some programs are junk but in my district it's pretty good. These are kids that learn very rapidly and may spend a lot of time waiting for the rest of the class to catch up. For some kids this leads to a lot of boredom or disruptive behavior. It's really a way to keep kids with there own age group instead of having them skip a grade or even two in any given subject.The problem with the psychological and achievement testing is that it doesn't find all the kids that should be in tag programs.

Anonymous said...

The point of the article - A special aptitude in math should not automatically enroll a student into the TAG program - it is counterproductive, especially when the model of instruction for TAG is mostly 'traditional' instruction anyway vs. math reform where kids have to discover the algorithm? You might as well homeschool with Saxon. I know TAG kids too and their parents don't see any difference from the way they were taught, except their kid uses a computer program. And who does the instructing? - the parents.

Lets not confuse demagogy with pedagogy. Math reform is demagogy. Inquiry-based learning without constraints on a daily basis should be challenged.

Paraphrasing Mencken - "A demagogue preaches doctrines they know to be untrue, to people they consider idiots.

dan dempsey said...