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Gifted Education and the Schools to Prison Pipeline

Don’t you love it when searching for an article leads you instead to another article even more thought provoking than the one you were looking for? That happened to me as I was trying to finish up a paper on the under-representation of minorities in gifted education programs. In The Hechinger Report, a Teachers College publication, I found an article entitled “Where is the Outrage about the Pipeline to Prison for Gifted Students?” which makes the argument that gifted students who don’t receive proper services may also end up at risk for a less than a societally friendly future. This is especially the case for potentially gifted students who grow up in low-income communities in which gifted programs aren’t so readily available. For example, in New York, District 7, which comprises the South Bronx, lacks a single gifted education program. Florina Rodov and Sabrina Truong, the authors of the article, who are former teachers at the High School for Media and Communication in Washington Heights, compare the trajectory of two of their students who were gifted, one of them being doubly exceptional in that he also has a disability. Both students were in an inclusion class intended for both general education and special education students. Rodov and Truong admit that they didn’t know a great deal about how to teach gifted students at the time, though they did their best. One of the two students went on to a prestigious college and excelled, while the other dropped out of school completely. Rodov and Truong conclude,

“High ability students from low-income backgrounds, as compared to their more advantaged peers, are twice as likely to drop out of school. Dropping out triples the likelihood of incarceration later in life.”

From my limited experience with court-involved youth, I noticed that a handful of them were actually quite gifted writers, performers, artists, etc. I wondered how many of them had been misdiagnosed for special education services instead of for gifted services. The article references a statistic in Marylou Kelly Streznewski’s Gifted Grown Ups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential in stating that 20 percent of the youth who end up in the country’s prison systems may very well fall into the gifted category. Inspired by this statistic I created a virtual gifted education program for incarcerated youth as part of a project for one of my TC classes. Too many potentially gifted students, especially from low-income backgrounds, find themselves disenfranchised because they aren’t being educated to their full potential. These same students too often get caught up in illicit activities as a result of all of the disconnects in their lives. I firmly agree with Rodov and Truong when they write that more needs to be done about reaching this population and about the educational services provided for gifted prisoners.

How can we teach delaying gratification?

Clicking on the “Annie Casey Foundation” link from the first paragraph of the original newsletter, led me to a site where foster kids tell their stories. Reading about one young girl, Megan Hill’s, journey though a myriad of schools, Hill eventually, “went to the Community College of Philadelphia for a month but could not keep up with her classes while living on her own and working”.  It’s a story that hits close to home, in my family of eight kids , only two of whom went to college. Though foster care kids are specifically mentioned in this article I think the underlying reality of an unstable and inconsistent household is certainly implied. With that said, opening the discussion to inquiring about about how an unstable living situation, with frequent moves and changes, can be so detrimental to education, I thought of the question – How can we, as an educated person or an educator, impart to our students , how vital an education is when attempting to navigate our journeys of life in this country?

When the reality of one’s life is such that each day may bring an immediate challenge, who could possibly focus on long term goals or plans? To me, the idea of being able to think ahead , past today, past tonight, or next year – is a luxury. It’s not a luxury I always had in my life, and because of this , and because of the freedom I found through education, I want so badly to motivate , mentor and push others towards education, yet I understand how quickly it can become an abstract or unpromising “solution” to how to fix the “right now” issues that in some way or another hold back, restrict, or stand in the way of continuing one’s education.

This concept and ones similar have often had a debilitating affect on me , because of the paramount size of the issues at hand. Today, I want to choose to believe in something Socrates said.

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.”

Re-thinking Skills for Student Success

Every Monday night, I leave class, like most of us, with a million thoughts. When I applied to participate in the class, I never imagined that memories I had forgotten about, would flood my mind when our class talks about certain things, or when we look at images and hear stories. We talk about making things “visible” for our students and the young people we work with, and I can see that that is happening for me as well.

Also, I thought of all of this today as I was listening to a podcast from “This American Life”, about what children need to succeed in life/school etc. There is an interview with author Paul Tough who wrote “What Children Need to Succeed.” The children he is mostly focusing on is children that live in poverty. A guest comes on the show and elaborates on flight or fight response, referencing executive functioning in similar ways as our guest last night. I think it’s worth listening to. The podcast is an hour but the guest speaks about brain activity relative to what our guest would call “Chronic Trauma” at 17 minutes and 40 seconds in.

What is interesting about this podcast, is that it is not just discussing and offering research percentages. It offers suggestions about what specific skills these kids need in order to fight against the unfortunate reality that they will continuously be exposed to trauma and stress.

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