Thursday, July 05, 2007

To Be, or Not To Be

I'm having an epistemological, ontological, existential crisis with regard to my doctoral program. In a recent course geared toward helping students prepare our dissertation proposals, I discovered a huge gap in my education.

The opening essay to Conceptions of Giftedness, by James Borland, makes a compelling case for dismissing with the notion of defining giftedness. My very first reaction was a feeling of validation since I found correspondence between Borland's points and some ideas I had been developing independently since my introduction to the field. One such issue is the need for an umbrella term to describe giftedness and retardation (my suggestion is lamentably uninspired: "differently abled"). I suggested the need for such a term since there seems to be some emotional baggage attached to the term "gifted" that leads some administrators and teachers to believe that gifted students will fend for themselves in an average educational setting. The other point of correspondence that I found was with my idea that early entrance programs are an imperfect solution to the need for accelerated learning opportunities for gifted students. I suggested that instead we should have an educational system that provides access to suitable learning opportunities for students from birth through college, regardless of age.

Borland's solution is simple and elegant. If the end goal of programs to serve gifted students is ability-appropriate educational opportunities, the amount of time and energy we are spending on identification is a ridiculous waste of time, not to mention a process fraught with uncertainty and inequity. Instead, we should spend our resources ensuring that all students have an ability-appropriate education. In so doing, the gifted constituency, however one wants to define it, has their needs met, as do all other students, including those that might have been otherwise marginalized.

Which leads me to my crisis/es. Most of my chosen field has taken up the banner of one or another definitions of giftedness, and usually, some method of concluding that a person meets those criteria. I don't think that we can accurately say what giftedness is, figure out how to determine who is actually gifted, or continue to have a viable field while recognizing the ethical, political, and professional implications of being so unsure.

Ive come to the conclusion that I'm not satisfied with the rigor of my doctoral program so far. I don't have a good command of the literature (as evidenced by my startling discovery), I'm not confident in the soundness of some of the major theories in my field, and I'm not convinced of the viability of my degree. I need to immerse myself in the literature and find my way back out.

1 comment:

Jan Bear said...

I can't help you with your doctoral problem, but I have a story that illustrates your observation. My friend met a girl who was dating her son. The girl said, "He's really smart,"

My friend replied, "Sometimes he doesn't know what day of the week it is."

"That's true," the girl said.