Is It a Cheetah?

One of the big reasons we’ve decided to bring our daughter home for school is her “selective achievement”: at home she does amazing things, when tested she is off the charts, at school . . . well, not so much.

I’ve read this essay by Stephanie Tolan that relates to the subject several times but it is still a favorite:

It’s a tough time to raise, teach or be a highly gifted child. As the term “gifted” and the unusual intellectual capacity to which that term refers become more and more politically incorrect, the educational establishment changes terminology and focus.

Giftedness, a global, integrative mental capacity, may be dismissed, replaced by fragmented “talents” which seem less threatening and theoretically easier for schools to deal with. Instead of an internal developmental reality that affects every aspect of a child’s life, “intellectual talent” is more and more perceived as synonymous with (and limited to) academic achievement.

The child who does well in school, gets good grades, wins awards, and “performs” beyond the norms for his or her age, is considered talented. The child who does not, no matter what his innate intellectual capacities or developmental level, is less and less likely to be identified, less and less likely to be served. A cheetah metaphor can help us see the problem with achievement-oriented thinking. The cheetah is the fastest animal on earth. When we think of cheetahs we are likely to think first of their speed. It’s flashy. It is impressive. It’s unique. And it makes identification incredibly easy. Since cheetahs are the only animals that can run 70 mph, if you clock an animal running 70 mph, IT’S A CHEETAH! But cheetahs are not always running. In fact, they are able to maintain top speed only for a limited time, after which they need a considerable period of rest. . . .

While body design in nature is utilitarian, it also creates a powerful internal drive. The cheetah needs to run! Despite design and need however, certain conditions are necessary if it is to attain its famous 70 mph top speed. It must be fully grown. It must be healthy, fit and rested. It must have plenty of room to run. Besides that, it is best motivated to run all out when it is hungry and there are antelope to chase. If a cheetah is confined to a 10 X 12 foot cage, though it may pace or fling itself against the bars in restless frustration, it won’t run 70 mph.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah has only 20 mph rabbits to chase for food, it won’t run 70 mph while hunting. If it did, it would flash past its prey and go hungry! Though it might well run on its own for exercise, recreation, fulfillment of its internal drive, when given only rabbits to eat the hunting cheetah will run only fast enough to catch a rabbit.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah is fed Zoo Chow it may not run at all.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah is sick or if its legs have been broken, it won’t even walk.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

And finally, if the cheetah is only six weeks old, it can’t yet run 70 mph.

IS IT, THEN, ONLY A *POTENTIAL* CHEETAH?

A school system that defines giftedness (or talent) as behavior, achievement and performance is as compromised in its ability to recognize its highly gifted students and to give them what they need as a zoo would be to recognize and provide for its cheetahs if it looked only for speed. . . .

There is a bit more to the article, which can be found several places on the Internet, including Hoagies Gifted Pages.

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Filed under Gifted Ed, Why Homeschool?

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