sealPurdue News

March 1996

Gifted education leader argues for reform

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- John F. Feldhusen has spent his career studying and helping "gifted" children, but now he's leading a national campaign to describe such children as "talented" and to change the whole concept of giftedness.

"We need to recognize and nurture the special talents of children, not just intellectual ability but talents in all fields and professions," says Feldhusen, the Robert B. Kane Distinguished Professor of Education at Purdue University and the founder and co-director of Purdue's Gifted Education Resource Institute. "The field of gifted education needs to be converted to this new point of view.

"'Gifted' is a general term with heavy genetic connotation -- you don't work to receive a 'gift.' 'Talent,' on the other hand, is a specific term that describes a strength, a possible career path."

Feldhusen and other educators successfully lobbied to replace "gifted" with "talented" in a 1993 report from the U.S. Office of Education called "National Excellence: A Case for Developing America's Talent." And he is leading discussions about changing the name of the National Association for Gifted Children, of which he is a Distinguished Scholar and a past president.

So what about the name of Purdue's Gifted Education Resource Institute? "You'll note that we don't use the word to describe a child," he says, "while that's not true of the association's name."

He has several other arguments against describing children as "gifted," and he presented them recently at the annual meeting of the National Association for Gifted Children in Tampa, Fla.

One is that "gifted" has come to mean academically or intellectually talented, failing to recognize that many children have exceptional talents in other areas such as leadership, technical problem-solving, organization, and the visual and performing arts.

He notes, too, that labeling a child as "gifted" sometimes can cause the child to slack off in school, bragging that "I never cracked a book." And such a label may harm the child's brothers and sisters, who, by inference, are "ungifted."

"I think that we, as educators and parents, should be trying to find each child's talents, something that they can be a star at, instead of deciding how to label them," he says.

The School City of Hammond, a 13,000-student district in northwestern Indiana, and the Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township near Indianapolis are two districts that have adopted much of the philosophy that Feldhusen espouses.

"We've accepted the premise that all kids can learn, that education should be inclusive instead of exclusionary," says Michael L. Kobe, director of gifted education for the Hammond school district. "We don't necessarily try to identify the top 5 percent of students -- we try to develop programs with more depth, as far as the number of students they will appeal to.

"This is a dramatic shift from the elitism of the top 5 percent."

The school system offers 16 special "expanded studies" classes on Saturdays for students in grades two through eight and summer courses for grades kindergarten through eight. Pupils must be recommended by a teacher. About 330 students are taking the three-hour Saturday morning courses.

The classes are in four general areas -- academics, the performing arts, the visual arts and psycho-motor skills, such as gymnastics and dance.

The 14,000-student Lawrence Township school district, the fastest-growing in Indiana, restructured its middle schools five years ago, and at the same time redesigned its gifted and talented program for middle school students to reflect the talent approach.

Janice Fulkerson, the district's coordinator for staff development and gifted and talented education programs, says the redesign eventually was extended to all grades in the district, including kindergarten.

Lawrence Township's Talent Recognition and Development Program focuses on four talent areas: academic; visual/performing arts; technical/vocational; and leadership. Classes for children with exceptional talents in those areas are provided during the regular school day.

"This approach has allowed more children to participate in the program, has helped the community to recognize talents beyond academics, has provided more emphasis in the curriculum for the talented learner, and has provided additional options for the exceptionally talented students."

That final item is a point that Feldhusen stresses, too. Making education more inclusive does not mean eliminating programs for the highly talented. "Education aims at the center," Feldhusen says, "and we put in much effort -- justifiably -- for those children at the low end. That means the highly talented can be neglected and languish."

It is helping those highly talented children realize their potential that has occupied much of Feldhusen's career since he joined the Purdue faculty in 1962. He is a former editor of Gifted Child Quarterly, the journal of the National Association for Gifted Children, and he now is editor of Gifted and Talented International, the journal of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children.

The Purdue School of Education's Gifted Education Resource Institute, which he founded in 1978, has achieved an international reputation for its education and training of teachers and parents of talented children. It also conducts research, develops programs and offers Super Saturday and Super Summer programs for highly talented children.

Sources: John F. Feldhusen, (765) 494-7236; Can be reached in Florida during January, February and March at (813) 351-8814
Michael Kobe, (219) 933-2400
Janice Fulkerson, (765) 546-4921
Writer: Frank J. Koontz, (765) 494-2080;Internet,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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