Graduate students in my university class on Gifted Education included public school coordinators and teachers for what were usually called “Gifted and Talented” programs. Yet, when I asked them to define a gifted student – without using the legislative gobbledygook for it – their answers were all over the place.
“So, what’s the difference between a “gifted” youngster and a “talented” one?” I’d ask.
“Talented kids aren’t necessarily smart, but they can do one thing really well?”
“Does that differ from a ‘savant’?”
“Well, sure. A talent could be anything that doesn’t mean academically advanced.”
“Does that mean that a kid who wins national yo-yo contests would qualify for your program?”
“Define a talent that should get a student into your program in contrast to one that clearly would not.”
They were really stumped when I once gave the following questions as a homework assignment. I taught the class for a few years, and rarely repeated assignments — or I’d have some interesting data from the answer to these questions:
What percent of students in the school district in which you teach are neither gifted, nor have a talent? What evidence is there to support that figure? Are the natural abilities of a student a talent? Identify research that has been done on students’ natural abilities? How do you know giftedness or talents when you see them? When or how do natural abilities convert to ‘talent’? Does your role in your program require you to increase, nurture, or build on giftedness or talents? If not, what is your goal and how will you know if you’ve achieved it?”
You can probably imagine how frustrated my seasoned graduate students were with these questions – and how enlightened I became by seeing their often illogical answers.
Those who just came to the class to get the lesson plans for teaching gifted education were dissatisfied. I was CEO and primary author for Resources for the Gifted, the leading (actually, the only) worldwide publisher of materials for gifted education. They expected me to give them the answers, not ask questions for which they suspected I didn’t have the answers.
My #1 rule for teaching creative problem solving (which I hoped would be what they wanted to learn how to teach) is: Never ask a question for which you know the answer.
“I’ll share the methodology for teaching critical and creative problem solving,” I said, “but I will not limit the discussion to offering these materials to only those labeled’ gifted or talent’ – especially since those terms are not even clearly definable. Every child has natural abilities, and some day I’ll be able to identify “talents” or natural abilities in a way that educational system can not ignore.”
I got called into the Dean’s office:
“Kathy,” he said sternly, “you have the experience and expertise to teach gifted ed or we wouldn’t have you doing it. But if you say you’re going outside that specialty, then there are people who will not be able to use federal funding for gifted education to pay for the class. Don’t make waves.”
That’s when I had to reevaluate not only teaching that class, but calling my business Resources for the Gifted. The 101 books, games and brain teasers I’d written or edited and published would help all youngsters experience the creative problem solving process. I hadn’t denied any kid that opportunity in the five years I’d been conducting my own lab school – and I had no intention of restricting the use of my materials or learning systems. I knew from raising my own gifted kids that their need for these materials was imperative – but that didn’t justify others not having them available.
The next catalog I mailed out had two covers. One said Resources for the Gifted, the other said: Problem Solving Tools. Other than that they were identical. I split our mailing labels into two random groups, and mailed each set out on the same day. Almost twice as many orders came back from the catalogue with the Resources for the Gifted cover.
I asked close friends in education why they thought so many more educators bought from the Gifted cover than the other one, and the answer was what I expected:
Federal funds for “differentiated materials for gifted education” were able to be used only when the materials were labeled for the gifted and were not available to other students.
Proving I’ve never been as driven to be as entrepreneur as to be a crusader, I changed the name of my award winning publishing company to Think Ink, and never mailed out another catalog labeled Resources for the Gifted.
I focused a good deal of my energy on figuring out what truly differentiated giftedness from natural abilities, and the cognitive from those other patterns I’d been observing.
Gifted people, I concluded, can be differentiated by their ability do three things better than others. They:
- (and therefore) Manipulate
Within a year, I had found the other piece to the puzzle. I’d discovered the word Conation and that the ancient philosophers’ had discussed it as being the third part of the mind (along with cognition and affection).
Within days of the goose bump moment when I realized conation was the missing piece of my life-long search, everything in my life came to a screaching halt. The car I was in was struck and I was almost killed by a drunk driver.
While the physical damage was excruciating, the brain damage became one of the greatest blessings of my life. It robbed me of my cognitive abilities for over a year and made me totally reliant on my conative strengths.