Jim Gallagher

JIM GALLAGHER

All right, I’m Jim Gallagher. I’m a professor of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also a senior investigator for the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center.

Well, these are youngsters that generally are developing faster then the average child. That means that at the age of 8 they’re doing things that 10 and 11-year-olds are doing and that’s whether it’s in the area of art, or music, or—or playing chess, or uh doing school work. And so you usually expect these youngsters to be behaving and learning and uh being able to make relationships between ideas and concepts that would be typical of a youngster three or four years older then they are.

Well, identification of gifted has changed, as you know, over the last uh, uh few decades. Uh, it use to be strictly a uh—an attempt to measure their ability by intelligence tests. And now the theme is more or less a multiple in—index of uh giftedness where the test scores will be one idea uh but teacher ratings might be another. Uh, product analysis of what the student is actually doing in school would be another. So uh there may be four or five different indices that when put together would allow a team of people to say, “This person is eligible for a program for gifted students.”

Well, multiple intelligences as Howard Gardner talks about uh is an interesting concept and it is—caused people to broaden their own uh view of what intelligence is and—and who is intelligent. And to that extent it’s—it’s a good idea. Uh, there is a high correlation or a moderately high correlation between all of these things that Gardner had and so you generally expect a—a gifted student to be pretty good in most of those areas. The area that hasn’t been pursued as much, which I’m interested in, is social intelligence uh and the ability to understand one’s self. Because we can know many people who are very bright individuals from an intellectual—a language development standpoint uh and still uh—are not necessarily well versed in their own motives and—and drives. And uh I would think that’s an area that needs some really uh careful investigation.

Well, uh I—I think the—the major difference now that—that makes a difference is that the early view of giftedness focused heavily on the general factor of intelligence, the “G Factor,” and was generally considered to be genetic. And so what that led to was there is a set population of gifted students uh and it’s determined by your genetic uh inheritance and so uh you tend to look for those people. That’s—that’s the—that’s the task of educators is to see if they can find these people. Uh, I think now we’re looking at it as—it’s an interactive factor between the genetic capabilities of the person and the environment and the setting that they put themselves in. And so it’s more then just hunting for these kids now, it is creating an environment, which is enriched in a way that allows the youngsters to develop their genetic potential. And that’s good news for educators because it means that you don’t have to stop when you found 2 percent or 3 percent, or 5 percent of these kids. You can say, “We can develop intelligence, not just discover it.”

Well, I think we’ve all experienced that, anybody who works in this area or parents or children who are in—in it. And there’s a natural element to this uh in the envy that we all have of someone who does things easily that we find very difficult uh whether it’s playing tennis or—we always kind of resent a little bit the uh—the person who is so graceful with what we are so clumsy at doing. So—so there is uh that to it. But um in addition, I think one of the things that people th—think about giftedness and—and—is—that it’s a zero sum game uh and this—this deals with the attitude of society. And they say, “If—if you win, I lose.” It’s as though we’re playing a societal chess game. So every time I win, you lose. Uh when in fact what we know is, is that when gifted individuals win, everybody wins. You take Bill Gates, for example. Uh, he’s won an awful lot in his lifetime but he has enriched and open the doors uh for countless other people to walk through too. Uh, take Jonas Sauk uh discovering a polio vaccine and saying, “Well, he won because he was successful.” But look at all the other people who won too. So life is not a zero sum game. And so it’s in our own interest, our own selfish interests to develop the talents of everyone to their maximum potential because when we do that we’re all winners.

Well, accountability is not just gifted now and, of course, it’s uh—it’s all—everywhere. And to be frank about it, it’s because people don’t trust educators when they’re saying they’re doing a good job. Uh, and uh though there are suspicions around and that’s caused these statewide testing programs and all of these attempts at saying uh, “Is my school doing a descent job?” Ignoring the fact, of course, is that social factors surrounding the school are as por—as important as what’s going on in the school. Uh, having said that, accountability as it’s used in the general terms of statewide evaluations and testing are useless for gifted students more or less. I mean they—they will do these with their left hand and—and it’s no problem at all. But it doesn’t help us. It evaluates what their program is. So we need to spend a great deal more time on provent—performance testing, uh for looking at the products of their work and analyzing the products of their work, analyzing the goals—the specific goals of the gifted program. If they’re enhancing their uh discovery capabilities or their problem-solving capabilities, then that has to be measured separately and these state-wide tests or community-wide tests just won’t do the job.

Well, least—least restrictive environment is uh, of course, a term that came out of the uh children with disabilities area and—and the goal here was that you should remove a youngster from the regular education program no further then was absolutely necessary for them to uh get a good educational environment or setting. Uh, it’s been applied to gifted students there saying, “Well, we did this with children with disabilities, maybe it would be good for gifted students too.” And so rarely, in my judgment, is it—and the older the youngster, the less applicable it is because these youngsters learn from uh, uh each other as well as from the teacher. And they’re stimulated by each other as well as the teacher. And as you get further and further up the grades uh you’re dealing with know—past knowledge that you have as—assembled and remember—can remember. And—and so the base of the knowledge uh is uh much higher for gifted students then it is for the average student. And therefore, they need to be stimulated with one another in that situation. So I don’t think the least restrictive environment is a valid principle for gifted students.

Well, I think uh the ability grouping that uh—that we talk about I think is necessary for the stimulation of youngsters uh for their full abilities. Uh, we did a study not long ago asking gifted students in North Carolina uh whether they were challenged by their classes. And less then 50 percent of them said they were being challenged by their classes uh except for the classes they had in gifted—uh as—as gifted students uh grouped together. When we did that then about 75 to 80 percent of them said they were being challenged by their classes. Uh, so uh ability grouping, when it’s done correctly—uh and that means uh looking at their performance in a particular content area so that I’m going to group an ability in math, not necessarily on general ability, uh and ability in art rather then general ability. But when I do that and teachers are quite capable of identifying who the—who the youngsters are who are doing very well. Uh, then I can create a group, which will comply a lot higher and faster, then they would ordinarily do in the regular program.

Well, appropriated differentiated services is uh—is an important area because this is what the heart of gifted education is all about. Of taking the regular curriculum and modifying it in a way that’s appropriate for this particular youngster or this group of youngsters. And uh when my daughter Shelia and I uh wrote uh “Teaching the Gifted Child,” uh a couple years ago, uh we focused on uh different ways that you could do this. You could accelerate uh the youngster in terms of uh not moving on grade but accelerating the content so that you’d be dealing with content uh they would ordinarily not reach for another two or three years. Or you could go into sophisticated—more sophisticated ideas so that if you were talking about the American Revolution, for example, uh the gifted youngsters might be talking about revolutions in many different countries or what is it that’s the basic cause of revolutions in countries. Uh, so you’d be doing it at a much higher sophisticated level then uh—then the average youngster would—would be doing. Uh, or you could uh have novelty uh, a totally different kind of thing, asking them to write a play about a revolution in a country and—at some time period. So there’s all sorts of uh ways to differentiate uh the program. The question is do the teachers have the—either the background themselves or the support system behind them that allows them to do this effectively.

Underachievement. That’s another area in which there has been some shift, I think in our understanding. We use to look for the individual who was an underachiever. A person who had low motivation, who uh was not uh self confident, uh was not terribly interested in what was going on and—and would almost you say deliberately fail because of some personal reasons or some dynamics in their family or in their early life or some such situation. And that then the task would be to get them some counseling and other kinds of things that would help them overcome these things. We now know that some of underachievement comes from a poor learning environment, a lack of a good match between the youngster and the environment that they’re in. And so part of the uh attention we should be paying to this is not just finding the youngster proper counseling, but to also look and see if we can create a better environment for these youngsters. It’s not just the youngster has to fit into the school; we ought to think about how the school is going to fit the youngster. And that means a broader program then the school has been use to providing.

Excellence and equity. Uh, these are two of the fundamental values of our society uh, uh I guess a western society, you could say. On one hand we want and we admire and we reward people for excellence that they do in their—in our society. And we’re uh pleased that they’re there because they do things for us. But on the other hand, we also value equity and say, “Everybody should have an equal opportunity, an equal chance, to get a good education, to free an appropriate public education.” That’s—that’s a good slogan. And uh so what happens is sometimes they bump into one another and—and so when we talk about equity, we mean equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. And—and what happens sometimes is that in the interest of equity we sometimes ignore the—the capabilities for excellence that—that these youngsters have. And all you have to do to realize that you’re doing that is to ask the youngsters. As I said uh earlier that when we talked about uh the youngsters feeling bored, uh the youngsters do not feel that they are being challenged. They’re a kind of 6-cylinder car running on 4-cylinders and uh that gets you dissatisfied with yourself, it gets you dissatisfied with the people who are responsible for doing this, and that’s why a lot of gifted youngsters are not really fond of school when you think they should be crazy about school because they’re getting good grades all the time.

In the curriculum uh interdisciplinary—I—I think that is extraordinarily important and uh actually should be being done at a—at a greater uh level. That means that when you raise the sophistication of the curriculum so that you’re integrating math and science or you’re integrating language arts and social studies, uh these are the youngsters that are much more capable of doing that. They can see the linkages between uh the uh things they have learned in chemistry and the things they have learned in physics uh and ought to be challenged to do so. So uh to a degree to which we can set up an interdisciplinary curriculum for these youngsters as advanced placement programs or special honors courses or other kinds of things, I think that’s just wonderful.

Well, that’s interesting. I’ve always thought that uh in terms of public policy, parents of gifted children ask “Why isn’t there more special resources for gifted students? After all, look at all the other uh moneys that we’re spending in education on all kinds of different kind of students.” And uh I try to explain to them there’s a hot problem—there are hot problems and there are cool problems. And hot problems are problems that have to be dealt with immediately. Uh children with disabilities is a hot problem and violence in the schools is a hot problem. And those are things that have to be met now. Uh, gifted, unfortunately is a cool problem meaning “I can wait a while to do that.” And in a democracy uh you tend to deal with the hot problems first. Uh, I think there’s a lot of people now who understand that uh even the—the cool problems such as uh air and water uh, uh resources and clean air, uh those are cool problems too but that doesn’t mean to say that we can ignore them. And I think there’s a lot of people now that are looking at gifted students the same way and say, “This is our future. This is our intellectual uh key to uh the new century. Uh, and if we’re going to be first in the information age, then we cannot afford to ignore the needs of these youngsters even though they don’t scream out for special attention right now.”

I think I would try and organize a system of personnel preparation that would be much more adequate then the—the current—our current procedures. We often find our teachers of gifted students have picked up a workshop here or a summer session there and uh of uncertain quality. Uh, and in any other specialty uh what makes a specialist is the special training that they get. And so uh we need to find a way to uh strengthen that. And I’m actually uh making some suggestions to the National Association for Gifted Children uh as to some steps that they can take to be a more active player in this because higher education is not doing it because it—it doesn’t pay on a short-term basis for them to do that. Uh, there are small numbers of students, uh they have to buy the faculty and then so they don’t—they don’t it. State departments of education may have one or two consultants in their department and so they’re not in a position to do it. So it’s my thought that the professional associations have to organize a systematic set and exper—set of experiences and trainings that would allow for a much more professional and sophisticated personnel that will work with gifted students.

Oh, I think we uh suffer from uh a lack of research money that is targeted for this—this particular area. Uh, we need to know an awful lot about the cognitive processes of gifted students, why they’re able to think at the level that they can think and how we can stimulate them more effectively. Uh, most of the research that’s been done has been done out of uh, um the pain and sorrow of the investigator because they haven’t had the resources to really do the right kind of investigations. Now we—we can get some support from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development but uh when we look at how research money is being allocated in this society, uh the gifted uh certainly are being ignored and the—the president, Marty Seligman, of the American Psychological Association has uh decried this. He said, “This is the area we really should be doing investigations in.” And many other people, including myself, feel that way too. Uh, but until we get the Federal agencies that support research to say, “This is an area of special interest to us—us,” then we’re not going to be able to get the resources that we need to do the investigations that need to be done.