Gifted children and the lesson of passion

In the 1920s, Lewis M. Terman became a noted educational psychologist and was considered by many to be the “father of the gifted movement.” In his words, “It should go without saying that the nation’s resources of intellectual talent are the most precious resources we will ever have.” So let’s take a look at gifted children and the lesson of passion.

After fifty years, educators and the U.S. Congress came up with a definition that would help to identify this precious resource. In 1972 Congress passed U.S. Public Law 91-230 Section 806, also known as theĀ Marland Definition.

Using the Marland Definition a school district could identify approximately 3-5 percent of its students as gifted and talented. The question for many educators was, “How and when do we know they are gifted?”

Several researchers suggested that it takes 15-20 years to determine if a person identified for a gifted program really is gifted. Other educators said that we must wait to see what contribution a person makes to society or how that person uses his/her unusual intellectual ability or talent.

Gifted and talented programs at work
Since 1985, Michigan State University programs have served 1400 students who were identified as having outstanding abilities by teachers, counselors or parents. Three early participants are described below. They all prove that all children have the right to education. No matter what or where!

Tim, a Caucasian, started reading before he entered public school. He was curious and full of questions. He was impatient with the routine tasks he was asked to perform in regular classrooms. Tim excelled in mathematics and was placed in high school algebra twice before he entered eighth grade.

His teachers just didn’t know what to do with him; he had scored at the 99th percentile on all mathematics sub-tests of the standardized achievement test used by the school district. When he was 13 he took the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), now known as the Scholastic Assessment Reasoning Test-I (SAT I), which high school seniors take for college admissions purposes. His scores were 760 in math and 720 in verbal for a total SAT score of 1480 out of 1600.

Tim participated in three of the programs for gifted students at MSU; he graduated from high school with honors and entered Harvard University as a sophomore. He had earned university credit through the High Achievers program at MSU and college credits at Lansing Community College. Tim has earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Harvard University and is currently employed in the computer technology industry. Sure enough, he received enough money in grants and scholarships to stay out of debt, something not all students can say.

John, an African American student, was recommended for the gifted program by his parents. They didn’t feel that the school district understood John. His school counselor recommended that he not be accepted into the MSU programs for gifted students. John was considered a troublemaker; he did not complete classroom assignments; he was impatient with his teachers and he tended to dominate classroom activities-when he wasn’t daydreaming. His achievement scores ranged from the 85th to the 97th percentile. He took the SAT and earned 560 in math and 530 in verbal for a total SAT score of 1090. John was in 7th grade and very unhappy with school.

John was 12 years old when he began participating in the MSU gifted programs. He was never a discipline problem-just happy to be mentally challenged. When he graduated from high school, he received a four-year academic scholarship to the University of Michigan. He is currently employed as an engineer in northern California. He has additionally earned several certificates through online courses which proves he has the discipline required to be successful in online education as well.

Sandy, a Caucasian female, was 13, in 7th grade, and bored with school when her parents recommended that she be considered for the gifted programs at MSU. Her school district had no provisions for academically bright students. Sandy was a high performer in all academic areas. She had strong communication skills and exceptional ability in mathematics. She took the SAT when she was 13; her scores were 600 in math and 550 in verbal for a total score of 1150.

Sandy was placed in the Cooperatively Highly Accelerated Mathematics Program (CHAMP) at MSU. She was the only girl in the program and did not let the male students intimidate her at all. Her only problem was that she was penalized each week she attended the CHAMP class for missing physical education in her school district. She completed four years of high school mathematics in two years at MSU; however, the math credits could not be counted toward graduation because the credit was earned outside of the school district.

When Sandy graduated from high school, she was recognized as one of the ten most outstanding high school graduates in Michigan that year. She was admitted to the Honors College at MSU and has since earned masters and Ph.D. degrees from another Big Ten university. She is currently an assistant professor of mathematics at a university in the Midwest and helps start-up businesses set up authority websites to enhance their business. You’ll be surprised how many students who made it to academic success, first had to earn their GED diploma!

These three persons represent a small sample of the thousands of students who participated in the MSU gifted programs between 1986 and 2000. Have they reached their ultimate potential? Probably not. Are they making a contribution to society? Probably yes-an engineer, a math professor, and a computer designer. They are all building their professional playgrounds. Terman would certainly include them in his ‘precious resource’ category.