On Giftedness and Being Bright, Young and Growing up in Ireland
(Quote found on Hoagies G&T Page) ‘..as much as the world has benefited from the contributions of gifted individuals, it is disturbing…to realize that the population least likely to learn and achieve its potential is the highly gifted.’ – Joseph Cardillo, Gifted Children: Nurturing Genius (Part One)
A few nights ago, there was a program aired on Irish television… It was one that we all were eager to see as it dealt with a subject that was rather near and dear to our hearts, being about exceptionally able or gifted children in Ireland. I must also confess that I was particularly interested to see this as the last time a documentary had been made on this subject in Ireland was ten years ago, and I was looking forward/hoping to have seen something that would tell me things were a little better for the young folk growing up today.
The documentary was very sensitively done. It portrayed the children as individuals each with their own set of unique characteristics, as well as some similar difficulties with getting their needs meet. It was apparent that the producers went to great pains to try and find participants that would depict the fact that the incidence of giftedness, or exceptional ability as they are officially known as in Ireland, transcends socio-economic, cultural and special need spectrum’s.. It was also quite apparent, that they sought not to sensationalize this population, but to do the best job they could to film them within their normal/natural rhythms of life, thus giving us a snapshot of how very normal and like other children they are/could be within themselves, and on the other hand how other parts of their nature/behavior or aspirations/family could be more unusual than usual.. and in some respects children who may be, well, just ‘more…….’ If there was one type missing, that I could discern was the child who for whatever the reasons, be it an inwardly more even temperament, resilience,.. coupled with the advent of a rarely found good educational fit and family supports that is comfortable and self assured with their ability, the ones that don’t measure their self worth by a label, although own it just the same.
But then, perhaps, this documentary was not intended to depict those who were fortunate in their place and time. Perhaps pulling heartstrings was indeed a deliberate undertaking in the pursuit of highlighting the challenges faced by those exceptionally able children who in a very real way are not having their needs meet in the mainstream educational system in Ireland. This is ok, if the issue is real, and from where I sit, and in my 20 some odd years of experience in this sector in Ireland, I can tell you with unequivocal truth, that there are many many children in this population, whose needs are indeed not being met.
It depicted many dedicated parents, from many walks of life, who in their own ways were dealing with these challenges, supporting their kids just the same as parents of all children have worked their way through the unknown and sometimes twisty maze we call childhood. I would not pretend to give an opinion on whether one was doing a better job than another, or whether what one was doing for their child was the ‘correct’ thing or not.. probably it was correct for their child’s temperament, needs and situation at that window in time, in that child and families life.
The importance of CTYI in Ireland and in the lives of exceptional children was well highlighted, with Colm O’Reilly focusing on how easy it is for these children to underachieve, and be lost if their needs are just not met. There were some lovely shoots of the students having fun, and their engagement was plain to see.. I would say, however that perhaps there could have been a little more time spent here, within the centre.
I would like to thank the brave students who allowed themselves and their families to be filmed, as it is not always an easy choice to make, and I hope they realize that what they have done this year may be beneficial to some other students who will come along in their footsteps..I can empathize with a decision such as this as my family made a similar one some years ago, and so took a step outside our comfort zone in the interest of advocacy.. standing up for what you believe in is a thing to be proud of, and to hold in your hearts. For us it brought some added help/understanding in school situation.. and at the time, a broader recognition of exceptionally able children. Although things have not changed much, from the looks of things, since then, perhaps this documentary will further things along a little more.. change is never fast in these areas, and it is only with looking back over many many years that one may sometimes see what progress may have been made, however that story will be for another blogpost.
I have one or two observations to make, and I hope that with them I do not step on any toes, I was a little taken aback by the repetition of the students IQ numbers, not once but several times during the documentary. Had it been thought necessary to do this once, for whatever reason, perhaps to emphasize the Intellectual level at which the students were at, would have been fair enough.. but to repeat it.. seemed a bit unnecessary to me, and possibly insinuating an over importance on this one facet of giftedness.. also dependent on the situation students may find themselves in after the documentary, it may possibly be used for unfriendly purposes.
Also absent was a perspective from the education sector, a teachers voice or voices would also have been interesting, and perhaps enlightening as to what they might have found helpful in providing a better fit for their charges.. What would they ask from the Dept. of Ed.. had they the chance… might have been interesting, and bridge building as there are many very dedicated educators and schools out there who do struggle to provide within their means and limited training in the area of giftedness. I have seen it. I have heard it from the educators I have lectured too.. and perhaps this might have given some a voice.
Still all in all, as I said before, albeit quite sad in places, it was well done, and we enjoyed watching it.
As to my original question, as to whether or not there had been any great changes over the last 10 years, between the older documentary and this, I do believe there have been some, in the form of heightened awareness and recognition, the production of guidelines for teaching exceptionally able students and all, however, my fear, from what this more recent documentary portrays, with still no mandated structures, provision, training or funding in place within the mainstream education sector for these students, that the real answer may be no, not a lot has really changed on the ground, or in a practical sense.. and this my friends, I find somewhat disturbing, disheartening, and somewhat sad.. Again, the gifted are gifted 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and not only on the weekends and after school and in the summertime, and until the powers that be.. the government agencies responsible for their education and care, behave accordingly, they may continue to be under-served and disadvantaged.
I really really hope, as others have recently said, that our government wakes up to itself here, and starts to take note of the ‘smart’ it is loosing, of all the creative, innovative, inventive, imaginative quirky intellect and talent out there, that could be players in it’s drive for a ‘smart’ economy… instead of stifling it….
This loss of knowledge, that is being played out every day, in this wonderful country so full of greatness, is something that I find, on a personal basis, soul-destroying.