By Tosha Woodard, Minding My Bs&Qs
A few months back, I had the privilege of spending time with Jayce, a perspicacious 3-year-old who finds “PJ Masks” and “Motown Magic” as thrilling as landforms and locations. Jayce loves all things geography and I watched as he darted to grab a world-map puzzle and invited my 8-year old to join in the challenge. Piece-by-piece, he would call out the names of countries the world over–sometimes quietly, sometimes with an excited squeal: “Ukraine, Namibia,” he would proclaim, with little to no hesitation while his little hands adjusted and readjusted to secure the pieces that would ultimately match the vision in his head. As we encouraged him, his giggles filled the room and we all joined in to celebrate his progress. Jayce, identified as intellectually gifted, had recently been named to Mensa and seeing this gifted toddler discover his joy led his mom and me into deeper discussion.
As I spent more time with Jayce and learned of the variety of things he and his family enjoyed, we exchanged stories of shared experiences as parents to children with unique learning needs (with similarities extending into the shared name of our boys). Eventually the conversation transitioned into experiences not only as moms but as black moms to gifted children. And though we had each encountered gifted identification through conventional means, we discussed the disparities in gifted identification for underrepresented students and the pervasive systemic issues that still force advocates to remind stakeholders that black and brown folks in America are gifted, too, (and twice exceptional, highly gifted, exceptionally gifted, and profoundly gifted). And remind, too, that being African American is not the obstruction—while the psychosocial and cognitive competencies required of us when navigating the status quo can stand to obstruct. But, overarching, was (and is) the concern that integrity be consistently applied in spaces designed for a different-styled learner and the need to safeguard what is simply just another form of special education—adequate services for the gifted student.
While some students are under- identified and abilities go under-realized, others are over-identified. And this truth cannot be omitted from the discussion. Integrity in gifted identification is hardly about black and brown folks alone. And as we continue to move our discussions of equity forward, let’s continue to remind ourselves that race, ethnicity, or socioeconomics are not identifiers whereas cognition is.
Matters of equity in gifted identification mean not only providing for but meeting the need of a differently programmed learner in an immersive environment (a suggestion also that a once or twice a week pull-out is just simply not enough). Delivering this form of “special education” should have no hint of prestige. And equity protects the space for the gifted to thrive without preferences to whites, wealth or anyone. So, when we find our conversations of gifted ed. turning to the child of color, let’s not pretend that every identified or well-prepared student in the gifted program should be there. Both parents and educators alike should move to protect the integrity of our programs—to protect the space for students like Jayce. These services are put into place when the academic needs of a student are so distinguishable that the traditional classroom cannot give one what is intellectually or academically needed. If this does not happen to be something that you’ve had to grapple with and is not your child’s struggle, then consider yourself lucky.
[Tosha Woodard is the president of Loudoun Diversity, mom to five square pegs in round holes, educator’s wife, law grad, courageous conversationalist and impassioned advocate in pursuit of social justice and the next challenge—of purpose. You can follow Minding My Bs&Qs on Facebook and Twitter @BsandQs.]