I’m not done processing, but these are the things I noticed:
1) The struggle is real. The first panel I heard talked about disparities in gifted education access. Academics talking about all the barriers to finding gifted kids and funding their education. Very interesting. Someone mentioned how relying on the involvement of parents leads to self-segregating because the parents with wherewithal to help are usually not the parents of the kids whose needs are not yet being met (read affluent white parents). I asked the panel a question based on my own experience: let’s say you get to the point where the teachers are woke, the kids are getting assessed properly, and they’re showing results. How do you fight the zero sum game with the school board when the principal wants to buy equipment for the football team instead because gifted education funding is unfair.
The answer I got: the parents need to fight for the education. I thought that answer was ridiculous, given what had just been said about parents. So I pressed. How? What’s the message? Michael Postma has a great answer. Put the academic at the hands of the parents. Give the parents the data they need to support their arguments.
This is exactly what I needed to see more of this conference. There is data. So much data. Statistics, brain scans, personal narratives. And all of this can help in the real world. But if we don’t bridge the gap between ivory tower egghead types and the people in the trenches, then it’s intellectual masturbation all for not while actual people suffer.
And suffer they do. I met a woman in the hotel who was not part of the conference but brought up her struggles with her daughter. She asked me about the conference, and when I told her about it, she asked when we were going to help her. I gave her my reassurances and some practical wisdom, but here this woman was, in spitting distance of the purported experts, and she felt helpless, and rightfully so.
This conference needs to invite journalists. And lobbyists. And politicians. And activists. And Madison Avenue types. And frogs and pigs and chickens and stuff. The problems that were talked about at this conference were not just that kids aren’t getting the best education. It was that human beings in this country are suffering because we don’t understand their needs and struggles. People have all sorts of mental health issues just related to their needs as gifted people not being met. They are depressed, attempting suicide, self-harming, dropping out of school, abusing substances, commiting crime and being punished.
So yes, there’s a need. A giant gaping wound in society that won’t be closed until we got lots of other people involved on finding solutions. Because the current lineup is not talking to each other and they need help.
2. Who am I? I went to the conference with few expectations, but the hope that someone might elucidate who I am and maybe offer some helpful ideas I can implement to cope better. What I got instead was an insight into my privilege and how I might be of assistance to others.
Honestly, the conference didn’t present any help to me. It reassured me of everything I already knew and let me know that no one was coming up with anything novel to make my life better. While frustrating, it was also nice to know that I had come up, all on my own and without any influence from the community, with coping mechanisms that work. My instincts are good. And while it’s crushing to find out that I have only myself on which to rely, it’s helpful to know that I’m at least capable of being relied upon for that.
With regard to privilege, I mean that of the tireless, brilliant gifted education crowd that shaped the lives of so many kids in Nogales, Arizona in the 1980’s and 90’s. If it weren’t for people like Jackie Scott, Young Audiences and The Very Special Arts Festival, the International Baccalaureate Program and all the magnificent people who gave of themselves, I wouldn’t be here today. I saw what happens in the absence of those opportunities through this conference, and I am thanking my lucky stars that someone saw me and helped me and stuck me with a bunch of likeminded kids who I still call my friends today.
But along with that gratitude comes a lot of anger. Why didn’t everyone who needed these things get them? Why aren’t they getting them right now? How do I use my optimal experience to help raise awareness? How do I manage to not come off as a pretentious jerkface?
3) Inclusivity is key: when everyone is a group is asked to state what is fact, what is universally known, what is normal, what is commonplace, and all those people are drawn from the same background (in this case, college educated white women), you’ve just created an echo chamber. And you reinforce stereotypes. And you make it harder for someone with a different point of view to feel comfortable to engage. The crowd at SENG was white. White white. Not just race wise. Like mayonnaise white. You should of heard the women singing in one of the breakout sessions. I know this is bad for making advances. But I don’t know how to fix it. Except that we need more voices like mine presenting along with the parents and teachers and academics. This is key. People need to know what it’s like to actually be us. Not what it’s like to know us.
4) Still more work to be done: I was at a conference where everyone purports to be well-versed on the sensitivities of gifted people. How students can’t be expected to thrive when their needs are not being met. And yet, time after time, sensitivities were being ignored. The conference rooms were too cold. The rooms were set up in ways that weren’t conducive to hearing problems and conversations. People were asked to touch strangers or share sensitive information with one another without regard to triggers. I could go on but the point is that if you’re not even implementing solutions to problems at your own conference, you’re losing a very important teachable opportunity to model theses behaviors to people to take them home and implement them.
In the same vein, there are experts who are not experts. How can you, as a self-proclaimed therapist, purport to make a blanket statement about what everyone in a population does if I am one of them and I don’t do that thing? It’s the opposite of making someone feel seen. And it shows that experts need to do better. And that the subjects of their expertise still have a lot to teach them.
Also, never blindly trust an expert. Kill the Buddha you meet on the road.