As an organization, WATG is committed to finding and serving children and families from diverse cultures. In June of 2020, our Board of Directors crafted a social justice and equity statement that begins with this quote by Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Our statement reads,
As our nation faces the grave consequences of long standing and systemic racism, the Wisconsin Association for Talented and Gifted remains committed to equity and justice for all. As an organization, we are cognizant of the inequities in identification and educational programming for gifted students of color. We remain committed to examining these inequities, and rectifying these inequities. We pledge to do our part to dismantle structural and institutional racism. We invite partnerships with other institutions, groups, and individuals to share conversations about the impacts of race, and will work to listen, learn, and support each other in this critical process of changing our world.
At our October virtual fall conference, “Hands On - Minds On: Now More Than Ever,” we featured a number of speakers who reminded us that we in Wisconsin have much work left to do to identify and program for gifted students of color in our state. Our data was humbling, and serves as a clarion call for action.
As an educator, a parent, and now a grandparent, I have always believed that working with children provides us with impetus, direction, and hope for the future. In our homes and in our classrooms we can make small differences that lead to big change, and children can help us see the why, the what, and the how to do this.
One of the ways that we can effect change is to utilize books, movies, videoclips, and other resource materials in our homes and classrooms to begin discussions with children about diversity and celebrating the diverse gifts and talents that all children possess. Experience has taught me that children provide powerful insight into what people need to cultivate their gifts and talents. First we must listen carefully to them, and then act on their wisdom.
Early on in this journey to celebrate diversity, teachers and parents were advised to share books and materials which portrayed children and families of color; they were advised to let children see themselves in the text. While this was a great first step, I believe it did not go far enough. Recent research is bearing this out.
This October 16, 2020 article by Jaren Maynard in Edutopia, Going Beyond a Diverse Classroom Library, affirms my beliefs. Maynard states, “Classroom libraries (and family libraries) should include culturally inclusive texts. More important, though, teachers (and parents) should be using these texts to affirm and challenge students in real and intentional ways.”
Maynard also states that most classrooms (and I would add many families) use read-alouds to share books with children of all ages. During these precious reading times, we need to deliberately include diverse texts. Then we need to give children time to discuss, to relate to characters, to analyze problems and issues in the story, and to evaluate and synthesize solutions. We need to allow children time to ask “why,” or “why not,” to express emotions and explore incongruities. We need to encourage them to compare situations in their lives to situations in the lives of characters. These are courageous conversations, and must be handled with care. They may venture into discussions of current events, social justice, equity, and the dignity of all human lives. These are authentic learning experiences, and pave the way for concrete action, for without concrete action, children can be left hopeless. Gifted children are often especially drawn to these kinds of discussions, and have many excellent ideas to contribute. Let’s listen to the children, and let’s let them help us formulate action plans!
John Hattie, a highly respected meta-analyst and director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, offers another reason to infuse well-crafted student discussion into our work with children. He writes in his book, Visible Learning for Teachers, that student discussion has a considerable effect on student achievement. When students are highly engaged in their learning, when it is personal and relevant, rigorous, and built on relationships, student achievement soars. Deep discussion then, connected to real-life experiences, provides extra bonuses for children -- in their moral development and their academic achievement.
But we cannot stop with the children. Adults must also have these courageous conversations, policy makers must embrace change and act, and all of us must assume personal responsibility for change and growth. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he delivered the Baccalaureate sermon at the commencement exercises for Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Let’s all take steps to bending the arc, one step at a time.
Gifted in Perspective
A column designed to link the gifted perspective to other perspectives, and to make you think.