Are Gifted and Talented Programs Dumbing Down Our Students?

More and more frequently, parents of young students are pushing for their child to be identified as “gifted and talented”.  Parents might think they are benefitting their children by advocating for that label and, to be honest, parents like the recognition themselves.  We must have done all the right things if our child is identified as “gifted and talented” at an early age. But is this what’s best for our children? 


An article in Time Magazine speaks to our country’s dated and erroneous idea that learning potential is a fixed trait and cannot be cultivated. This results in bright students perpetually striving to prove their worthiness. It also channels educational resources to a small segment of students, failing to challenge and inspire the rest of our youth.  


At the heart of the article is three decades of research by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck and her work on growth mindset. Her research shows if students believe in their untapped potential, they will rise to challenges. If students feel that their potential is fixed, they often shy away from challenges and anything that may threaten their self-concept. 


Having worked with children and adolescents for over 20 years, I see this phenomenon over and over again. Many bright students shy away from challenging tasks and don’t know how to problem-solve or work through frustrations. When bright students, who have been told over and over again how bright they are, encounter a challenge, they often avoid it. It’s a no-win situation – they mistakenly think that because they’re bright, all work should be easy. So, if they struggle with a task, that means they are stupid. This results in bright students avoiding challenging tasks or risk bruising their self-concept. 


Interestingly, students with learning struggles often have more grit, resilience, and determination to work through challenging tasks, as compared to those identified as gifted, since they’ve had to do this their whole lives. 


If we want to cultivate students who can think creatively, critically, and independently, we should be teaching ALL students how to work through challenging tasks, problem-solve, and think for themselves. Let’s stop pushing kids into GT programs and instead, focus on helping EVERY student reach their potential, whatever that may be. Education should be personalized, engaging, and embody that just-right challenge for all learners. Educators and adults need to embrace a growth mindset that is reflected in our teaching and in how we speak to our youth. 

To read about how challenging all students and allowing them the space to fail is a critically important part of the learning process, read our blog post “In Defense of Failure.”

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