Identifying young Einsteins
Davidson Institute for Talent Development

This article is an op-ed column by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development. It highlights the tragedy in not challenging our gifted students appropriately in the school system. Educators are encouraged to identify their gifted students by providing a list of characteristics common to these students.

For most students, school provides an opportunity to learn. Unfortunately, this is not true for all students, particularly the gifted and talented. As the school year commences and words like remediation and accountability take center stage, now is the time to consider the quality of education for all students -- those who could be left behind AND those who want to get ahead.

Although gifted and talented students have great potential to make positive contributions both as children and as adults, educators and policy-makers often fail to recognize that for genius to thrive, it must be nurtured. It is a commonly held misconception that intellectually gifted students can and should fend for themselves.

It is a fact that gifted students not only think and learn differently, but also have in-depth knowledge of many subject areas. But our nation's brightest young people often are stuck sitting through class after class covering information they already know. What an awful waste of time and potential! All children in America should have access to an education appropriate to their abilities, whether they are struggling or achieving. As it is now, we are failing our most gifted students.

Research indicates that 1 out of every 5 high school dropouts tests in the gifted range. Almost 40 percent of states have no laws requiring that gifted students be identified, and even fewer require that they be served. The picture is just as bleak at the federal level. Out of every $100 of federal funding allocated to public education, less than 2 cents is dedicated to gifted education.

Recognition of genius is the first step toward meeting the needs of our nation's brightest young people. As students start back to school this fall, the Davidson Institute -- a nonprofit organization that supports profoundly intelligent young people and their families with free services -- urges teachers and parents to be on the lookout for these common characteristics of highly intelligent young people:

  • an extreme need for constant mental stimulation
  • an ability to rapidly learn and process complex information
  • an insatiable curiosity; endless questions and inquiries about how things work
  • a need to explore subjects in surprising depth; to understand the why and how, as well as the what
  • an ability to focus intently on a subject of interest for long periods of time
  • a need for precision in thinking and expression; answering questions with "that depends..." is a clue that the child may be very intelligent
  • differences in topics and styles of play or interactions as compared to chronological-age peers

Identification is the first step in providing bright children with an appropriate education. Students who demonstrate these traits should be offered educational opportunities commensurate with their abilities. Assessment of both their intellectual capacity and their academic achievement also would be appropriate in many cases. Students who are not challenged can become bored and often become underachievers.

If we are truly a country that cares about its most valuable asset, we will see to it that all children are encouraged to develop their gifts and talents, whether it's on the ball field, on the stage or in the classroom.

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