The Advocacy Thing….

I was very heartened by the response to the suggestion of a World Gifted Awareness Day. But to be honest, and I’m writing globally here, I was surprised that the notion wasn’t run away with altogether….at least in the ‘Oh…now now ‘ type way. It’s not such a big thing or naive thing really – if the EU can declare a day (April 9th 2011), surely a World Day can be declared also – it just needs a catalyst. So this blog post is partly to examine why this might be the case. I will follow up again with how I think a World Day could run.

1. People are busy. People just can’t drop everything and run the minute someone comes up with a good idea (see 2 below). People have a variety of projects on the go and to get involved (at whatever level) in such a day would distract from their day-to-day activities – even if setting up a global Day would enhance their individual activities. It simply isn’t possible for people to get involved. I can live with that.

2. Good Idea. I can’t believe it is SUCH a good the idea is that no one thought of a World Day before. Indeed, the question I have to ask myself is why no one has thought of it before. Maybe someone has, but in 16 years of teaching gifted and talented children, I’ve never heard of it. Ordinarily, it is difficult to organise a World Day of anything. Usually, an agency like the UN gets a look in and it can take for ever to convince it or its agencies to adopt such a day. The result can be more complicated than needs be. In the end, it can become an uphill battle except we already have an organisation with ‘World’ in its title.

3. World Council for Gifted and Talented Children. The World Council presents on its website its mission statement as follows

The purpose of the World Council is to focus world attention on gifted and talented children and ensure the realization of their valuable potential to the benefit of humankind. To meet these goals, the WCGTC commits its resources to the following activities:

*facilitating the worldwide communication of information, ideas, and experiences through a biennial assembly;

creating an atmosphere of acceptance and recognition of gifted and talented children from any background in any country;

*supporting and disseminating research into the nature of giftedness, talents, creativity, and the education of gifted and talented children and their teachers;

*establishing opportunties for the worldwide exchange of ideas, experiences, and teacher training;

*supporting and enhancing national groups in recognizing and providing for the gifted and talented children in their countries;

*supporting international programs and activities for children; and

*supporting and enhancing parent and family education regarding the development of the potential of all children.

(https://world-gifted.org/who-we-are/our-mission/)

I’m a bit uncomfortable with some of the wording but as a latecomer, it’s really none of my business. What is more of a concern is why, as an ordinary teacher, I haven’t heard of the World Council before this year.

I must be fair. This is as much my failing as the World Council.

The second bullet point in the Council’s mission statement is important. It says the Council’s mission is

*creating an atmosphere of acceptance and recognition of gifted and talented children from any background in any country;

This to me is advocacy. But I would go one step further an call it ‘external advocacy’. The other bullet points seem to me to be all ‘internal advocacy’ – preaching to the converted if you prefer. External advocacy I define as extending a mission to the ‘unbelievers’, those outside the gifted fraternity who have not yet seen the light and who we know would be all the better for seeing gifted kids as we do. In truth, while it is nice to talk to each other, it is in talking to the ‘unbelievers’ that we can advance our cause and avoid going around in circles.

Yet as an ordinary teacher of high school/second level children I have never once received the message of gifted children’s needs – not in training college, not in practice, never in in-service and never by email through Ireland’s many education agencies. I suspect it is the same for other countries. Now I wouldn’t go so far as to say that such is the job of the World Council but it certainly has a role to play in promoting the needs of gifted and talented children among teacher training agencies.

I am thoughtful so I know this is not simple. But if acceptance and recognition of gifted and talented children is the goal, it surely makes sense to target the one place and venue and people with which and with whom G&T children interact the most outside of home – teachers and schools. Sure, training colleges are important too – but I lump all these together – when it comes to advocacy GET TO THE TEACHERS.

4. Advocacy. So to the issue of advocacy. Primarily, to whom are we advocating and for what purpose and where should this advocacy take place? For me the advocacy has to be about meeting the educational needs of Gifted and Talented children so that they can achieve their potential. In Ireland, the government has provided resources and funding to enable less able children achieve their potential. For me, it should be a given that Gifted and Talented children (indeed all children) would have equal opportunities to achieve their potential.

While advocacy has an important role in extending a message of support and providing resources outside a school setting, school acceptance seems to be the bigger issue among parents.

I do not subscribe to the notion that we should advocate for gifted and talented children because they will one day be the saviours of the universe. Most children, with the right guidance and education can become such just as well. This is not to deny the huge potential of a self-actualising gifted individual. But the philosophy of our advocacy should never be reduced to the mere notion that they will save the earth and that therefore they should be treated as special.

Gifted children should be treated with equality, fairness and the same respect to which every child has a right. I think this should be our argument.

Advocacy should never be about what we want Gifted children to be but rather what we would like them to have, as a right, for themselves.

And neither should advocacy be for its own sake. Arguably there is nothing wrong with this but it should not get in the way of the genuine desire to meet needs of gifted and talented children and it should especially not be disguised as meeting such needs when in reality it is something else.

So, World Day or not, I think that if we are to talk of advocacy, we should recognise that there are enormous resources available to help parents understand and help their gifted children. What is missing, in Ireland, is informed teachers who are aware of gifted issues, are unafraid of the challenge of gifted kids and who can help your child become their potential in collaboration with you.

As a teacher, I can speak with some authority to teachers on how simple actions and varied methodologies can yield huge gains for both teachers and children. However, and it is a very big however, I am still only one individual………………….

7 Comments

  1. Hi Peter,
    I would like to congratulate you on the piece that you have written. I have heard you speak on the Giftedkids.ie webinar before, and yes if we could get more teachers like yourself on board I think that would be great. For me I think one of the most powerful statements that you have made is with regards to “Advocacy should never be about what we want Gifted children to be but rather what we would like them to have, as a right, for themselves.” For me as a parent this is a fundamental right, and all the research, throughout the world is pointing to the fact that these children do have “special needs” with regards to their education. It is not about elitism it is about equality. In our current legalisation children who are on the lower and middle section of the spectrum are covered with regards to what they legally are entitled too.

    This was a long hard fought battle for the parents who advocated so tirelessly for their children’s special needs. It is seen now on a national and international level that children benefit greatly from inclusive education. I know that this area too has many flaws, but they have achieved so much . Parents of EA and 2E children in Ireland, I believe are the stage of advocacy that these parents were many years ago. We are an ever growing group of people who need to target the right areas. The myths about EA and 2E children need most urgently need to be dismissed. You made reference to about converting the non-believers I believe this is a huge issue.

    I agree with you again, the TEACHERS NEED to be got to,( this is not having a go at teachers if they are not educated themselves on this topic how to we expect them to educate our children) or even more so, the people who are instrumental in devising course content, for the up and coming primary and secondary school teachers. Who are these people who decide what should and should not be taught to our future school teachers. Is it not a core aspect of any course to cover all aspects of special needs on both sides of the spectrum and make this part of the course compulsory. Teachers and schools need to be singing from the one hymn sheet and in order for this to happen the change needs to happen at this level. The other area that needs to change is how EA and 2E children are viewed by law, while they are recognised as having a special education need, legally they are not covered to get resources etc because they are not viewed as a special education condition. This loop hole is very very frustrating , so morally they know that they have this need, but legally they won’t cover it, so therefore no duty is upon the school or boards of management to implement a Gifted Education policy in their school. While some schools are being brave and devising their own policies, again I think that their needs to be uniformity and set standard policy set out for all schools in Ireland. Similar to what they have set up in countries like Canada, New Zealand. The policy needs to come from the top down.

    Could we try and bring about some debate on this issue at a more public level by having a NATIONAL GIFTED EDUCATION AWARENESS WEEK IN IRELAND.
    We have all other types of days and weeks to highlight different issues in this country why not try and get some more airtime on radio tv, local radio, newspapers, information to schools etc. It might be great then to have it run the same week that the CYTI conference is on, maybe have it on the week running up to the conference and maybe this may generate more interest and the amount of people who attend the conference. Would it be possible to invite some one along from the Dep to attend the conference who has links with the type of curriculum that is put into place in the colleges that train our student teachers.
    I have often thought to myself especially with the way the economy is now. If you invest in the right type of education for all children, so that they have a life long love of learning, ( which is another whole issue, the methods by which are children are taught !! ) they will become happy contributing members of society, and so many people keep talking about the smart economy. We have to get smart about our Education System in this country first and the rest will naturally follow, thats my belief anyway.

  2. >> I do not subscribe to the notion that we should advocate for gifted and talented children because they will one day be the saviours of the universe. <<

    Hear, hear. I can understand the logic of trying to advocate based on potential future benefits for society, but what most people completely fail to realise is the extent to which what's being asked for is simply education at an appropriate level for these kids.

  3. I am trying to put a proper policy together for our school,one of the big issues for me is to how to define giftedness and how we go about identifying children who are EA. Teachers need help to begin a policy, the NCCA draftguidelines are excellent but not always the most practical under our current system.

    The only training I am aware of at primary level is the ICEP course and it is most worthwhile. We need to be getting this kind of info into colleges of education.

    Parents of EA children are often well-read and have done so much groundwork in this area that they are well-placed to help the school. As a teacher I say:”Don’t be shy!”

    DO “get to the teachers” by whatever means you can,you will (hopefully) be pleasantly surprised.

  4. Brid, the policy a school adopts will be very much individual to itself (despite having some general characterisitics). Many schools are already provide activities that help G&T children (support Young Scientists, take part in math Olympiad etc). But like many things, it’s making that first step.
    The other issue for a school is the need to be careful about what they can do versus what parents expect. Given that there is no specific resources available for G&T children, schools have to be careful about what they write in a policy. Parents can help by being aware of this. Obviously for a parent, their child comes first, but it does nobody any favours if one parent puts a school in a bind. So a degree of realism about what is possible within the limits of the systems as it stands is helpful for teachers.

  5. We have run a Gifted Awareness Week in New Zealand for a few years now – not sure how much it has raised the profile – but manning the activities and stalls in malls I can say it has certainly given many people an eye-opener to something they NEVER new existed.

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