Gifted Black Girl – Uninterrupted

In Fall 2007, Understanding Our Gifted published a short article of mine about my daughter titled: May I take your order please?: Preventing attitudes that foster underachievement and stress in diverse gifted children. At the time my beautiful daughter was a kindergartener. Kinder-garten is an interesting word. Derived from German, its approximate meaning is a garden for children or where children are grown, a transition of sorts from home to the schooling process. A place where their first academic nutrients are daily fed. Naturally, the process begs the questions: Are they all fed equitably and in ways to help them reach their full individual growth potential? Should they be? The boys? The girls? Those financially struggling? Those financially well off? And what of race? Do (and should) the African American child and the European American child, the Native American, the Asian American, and the Latinx American children ALL receive the same nutrient-rich academic sustenance in the schooling process?

More than 10 years after writing that short essay, I reflect on the idea at the heart of the article, which provided the answer to all the questions I asked above: Yes, kindergartens and primary education should feed all children equitably; but no, they don’t.

But back to my beautiful daughter, whose kindergarten experience involved walking outside each day, singing, and looking at nature: the bugs, animals, trees, and the sky. She discussed colors and textures and OMG! the questions never ended. She loved everything about school. Little did she know she would face subliminal race-clotted questions, comments, and actions throughout her next 10 years in the form of micro-aggressions that, if not for strong, WOKE parents, would have crushed her self-esteem, and rendered her insecure, sad, and frustrated. To save word count and avoid digging into the nitty-gritty details, like Olivia Pope, I handled these various situations. But I could not have, if I were not an engaged parent.

Nearly 65 years after the founding of the National Association for Gifted Children--the same year of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision to dismantle segregated schools--school equity for non-European American children (especially, high-achieving children) is still woefully inadequate. For years educators and researchers have warned us of the failing school system.

Parents, teachers, and administrators/policy makers, what is your role in this failing process? Dismantling segregation and building equitable schools for our best and brightest should be the goal for all. To do anything less is not only morally wrong, but just bad for all of us.

  • Parents – As a parent of a talented child, I know that my involvement in her life matters. I have never considered it a sacrifice to check on her every day—in fact, several times a day— every day of the year. My job is to guide her during her early years. Prepare her for what she cannot yet imagine (good and bad), and then hope that the bad never happens. I check on her in the morning before school. After school. I attend functions at her school. Get involved in school governance (if/when possible). If you cannot do these things—recruit a friend, a relative, or one of your child’s friend’s parent or child’s friend’s parent’s friend (you get what I’m saying). You can work it out. Neither my mother nor father were involved in any aspect of my education. I know there had to have been moments that they were there, but the fact that I remember or can only recall once here or there means that strangers guided me. Thank goodness for the numerous great mentors (teachers, coaches, peers, etc..) who saved me. Don’t count on luck, be involved when and wherever possible.
  • Teachers— Teacher expectations influence student achievement, simply put, your students will give you what they think you expect. As a veteran martial artist, city, state, and Olympic level runner, swimmer & triathlete, my coaches expected nothing but my best. Through the bruises of the martial arts, the chlorine, and cold Boston winters while on swim team, the hours on the track and football fields, the coaches expected that I had more in me. Many of my classroom teachers—not so much. To reach and inspire your students: (1) Build a relationship. Get to know your students, do not embrace the stereotypes projected via mass media. Do not perpetuate the negative thoughts projected through your family’s history, or the culturally inadequate education program you (we) all go through. Read, read, read and learn about others’ ways of seeing the world; (2) Build relevance. Once you have become more well-versed in other cultures and communities’ experiences and understandings, you can begin to infuse that new knowledge into your daily teaching. Making the curriculum more relevant will make it more interesting to all high-achieving students; and (3) Build rigor. Pressure makes diamonds. Do not mollycoddle students. Set high standards for ALL students. If a music teacher, or a gymnastics coach, or a ballet instructor can motivate a child to greatness, then any teacher can, IF THEY HAVE GREAT EXPECTATIONS of the child regardless of their race, gender, or financial situation. Equitable rigor makes gifts and talents shine brightly.
  • Administrators/Policy Makers— Often times the buck stops here. The standards of communications are set here. Accountability matters. Principled leadership matters. The standards of operations typically begin and end with you. Consider how many Black and Brown gifted and talented children who are suspended or expelled, or never make it to the class in the first place, fall at your doorstep. If a teacher has a reputation of disproportionate discipline referrals, what should/will you do? If a parent does not feel welcome in the school, what ought/will you do? If the students who perform less well or needs more academic support are kept in the poorest conditions in the building and the children who display gifts and talents are in the “corner office” or there is no program for children with gifts and talents, what will you do? You should do everything in your power to empower your faculty and support your parents. Your job is to fight for equity wherever inequity exists, to expect greatness and high expectations from your teachers and require parents (when possible) to remain in contact with their children and the school.

My daughter, now 16 1/2, just received a 5 on her AP World History. She is the 2018 Nashville Youth Poet Laureate, a National Gold Medal winner in French, 1st chair cellist, a singer, a dancer, a member of the Mayor’s youth council, a young philanthropist and an outspoken young person on the rights of sexual assault survivors, human trafficking, immigration, teen suicide, and issues related to #Black Lives Matter.

In America, race matters and far too often non-European-descended children with gifts and talents are left behind or made to feel like they don’t belong.  We must build a strong scholar identity in every child. It is possible, if we don’t interrupt but nurture their progress. This is only possible with the support of the family, school, community, peers, and mentors.

Author

Gilman W. Whiting, Ph.D.

Resources 

Discretion and Disproportionality

Who Believe in Me? The Effect of Student-Teacher Demographic Match on Teacher Expectations