The United States needs to develop the intellectual potential of its next generation to remain competitive in the world of tomorrow. Our top students generally do not perform as well as their counterparts around the world. Yet our public education system seems to neglect excellence as it stresses proficiency. For these reasons, effective advocacy for gifted education is crucial.
What exactly is advocacy? Many perceive it as a political process by which individuals plead their causes to policy makers and government officials. However, it can be as simple as effectively communicating your child’s educational needs to a teacher. All children in the public schools should receive an appropriately challenging and engaging education. Many schools do excel at providing appropriate services for gifted children, but others have much work to do.
All children in the public schools should receive an appropriately challenging and engaging education.
Without appropriate services, many children may not develop to their full potential. Thomas Edison’s mother withdrew him from school when his daydreaming during class drills led the schoolmaster to believe that he was unintelligent. How many other young Edisons were dismissed?
Tips for the Advocate
When advocating for your child, communicate with the teacher as soon as you can. Help the teacher understand your child by sharing stories and perhaps a portfolio of past work. Form a partnership to help the teacher meet the needs of your child without neglecting those of other students. Be positive, proactive, and persistent. You will be more effective if you build relationships through participation in school activities.
If you have any concerns about your child’s education, address them first with the teacher. The school counselor, gifted program coordinator, and psychologist should be invited to meetings as necessary. If the group does not agree on a satisfactory solution, the concerns should be raised one step at a time to the principal, then the district’s administration, then the school board. Be aware of the details of state laws affecting gifted education and how your district’s rules and regulations meet the standards outlined in them.
Advocating for an appropriate education for gifted children requires skill and diplomacy. Effective advocacy emphasizes the fairness of allowing children to develop their potential and promotes the benefits of gifted education to society. The community sometimes perceives gifted programs as elitist and should be reminded that gifted children are not “better”; they just learn differently and therefore have their own educational needs. Gifted programs should not be elevated as status symbols, because that inevitably diminishes general support for gifted education.
Parents can be the most effective advocates for their children’s education. Participate in your local, state, and national gifted advocacy groups. Such groups can influence local, state, and federal legislation that directly impacts your child. They also provide valuable information about gifted education, scholarships for students, and networking opportunities for children and adults. Visit their Web sites and join them to strengthen the voices speaking on behalf of gifted children.
Although the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) and your own state organization provide information to both members and legislators, you should become a part of the process. It can be as simple as using the legislative alerts issued by the state or national group as the basis of a personal appeal to your representative. Good legislators appreciate the opinions and the supporting stories of their constituents. Stay connected through your parent groups, because legislation can change quickly as compromises lead to revisions. Become known as a reliable source of information to your representative.
Appropriate education for all students, including the gifted, offers both short- and long-term benefits for society. Your advocacy will be an example to your own children of the value that you place on their education and of your initiative and commitment to make a difference.
—Raymond F. Peters
Raymond F. Peters is an engineer at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and president-elect of the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented. He and his wife, Mary, joined with other parents in their sons’ public school district to revive the local parent advocacy group, Hurst Euless Bedford Association for Gifted and Talented (HEBAGT).