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Don't discriminate against the gifted

NAACPPTA

I was troubled that Casa de Maryland and the NAACP are against gifted and talented programs in Maryland public schools but I was not surprised ("Rules on gifted education criticized," Feb. 28). These groups that confuse equality with low educational expectations for minorities should step back and chill.

When my children were in school, many PTA members whose children did not cut the mustard for gifted and talented programs went bustling up the school system's hierarchy to destroy those programs as too high brow, un-American and insufficiently egalitarian. They insisted, those educated women and men, that gifted and talented programs excoriated the self-confidence of children who couldn't or didn't get into those programs. These were not poor parents. Their children simply did not have the work ethic or the studiousness at that stage of the game. Some of them were destined to be late bloomers. For others, their talents lay not in scholarly pursuits but elsewhere, like in athletics, gymnastics, drama, music and mechanics. But neither the parents nor the school had the perspicacity to see this. Instead, they bowed to the wrong ethos: what you cannot have, you destroy.

You say in your editorial on the subject that gifted and talented programs should not be removed, but you sound pleading rather than confident, placating rather than assertive ("Best and brightest," Feb. 29). Why? The truth is on your side. With the mainstreaming of disabled children and the political strength of the disability lobby, many teachers are broken and exhausted. They are babysitting disruptive and disabled children in the classroom rather than teaching. Now, there is a new onus on principals not to suspend students who commit minor offenses but to tolerate them, correct them and keep them in school until the situation gets worse.

How is any of this good for the scholarly child who is an auto-didact but also enjoys intellectual interaction and competition with equals? Is competition only good on the athletic field? What about smart students who want to study with other smart students? Of course, smart students should also develop social intelligence and exposure to children with disabilities and children with varying abilities will refine and hone every student's character. But that does not mean the gifted and the focused should suffer every class with students who are disruptive, lazy, insolent and intransigent.

Our country will go to the dogs if it continues on this misguided pathway. While we want every child to reach for the stars, we don't want to stop the children who are able to reach for the stars faster and better — the intellectually precocious — and we don't want to stop the ones who can reach beyond the stars by telling them that they have to wait for all their classmates to catch up, otherwise they may wound the feelings of others less intellectually able.

What nonsense to say that money and parental involvement are the main factors in bringing about gifted students. Natural aptitude is a reality that shouldn't make us cringe. Apparently, God isn't a socialist and neither is the modern day work place. Besides, hard work to develop one's natural aptitude is very important and some students held back by their attitude and lack of aptitude come from rich and middle class families as well.

To say that gifted and talented programs automatically insult minorities is to say that minorities will always be hobbled and will not attain scholastic success. Look at the jazz greats, or the hip-hop and rap stars, the ones who invent new dances, new styles, the ones who play a great game of football or basketball. Can the scholarly get away with saying that students so gifted should tolerate the less gifted in those fields and wait to reach for public acclaim and monetary success? Do we want a basketball or a football team of losers and bench warmers? If a student wants to be on one of those teams he has to excel and be a winner. On the other hand, we tell the scholastically gifted they have to learn to work in the vicinity of less meritorious students so that the average students can benefit. Is that the prime purpose of the gifted student — to be exploited for the benefit of the mediocre student?

It is well known that the scholastically advanced wither if they are not nurtured, recognized, encouraged and shielded from the bullying and the haranguing of the street-wise students who are in schools to socialize, form gangs and generally short shrift those with educational aspirations. Where is the equality for the gifted? Does the very word, "gifted," jangle the nerves of the NAACP? And wouldn't the availability of gifted and talented programs inspire children who do not qualify to aim to qualify?

Science and math education require concentration, ability and hard work. There is no place for disruption and tomfoolery in these classes. The gifted children should be separated for them.

Many Asians who came to this country, escaping persecution in their own, could not speak English and had no jobs on arrival. They were poor but they struggled and their children have taken advantage of gifted and talented classes to become scientists, mathematicians, engineers and doctors. We need more gifted and talented programs, not less, and we need them before the gifted and talented lose interest in education and leave our schools disillusioned.

Usha Nellore, Bel Air

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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