Professor Jack Dougherty
20 April 2012
“How have the goals and methods of gifted education changed since the 1950s? What do these goals and methods say about the intended purpose of gifted education?”
The gifted child in American education is the child who exhibits a high level of intelligence and creativity. Gifted education in the U.S. exists to foster the abilities of these exceptional students in order to cultivate the skills they posses. These gifted programs cater to the needs of gifted students, providing a challenging curriculum instead of holding the child back with a curriculum catering to average or below average students. This recognition of the need to distinguish the education of gifted students from other students has existed since the turn of the 20th century. However, the gifted education provided in today’s public schools is definitely not the same type of education provided then. An examination of the history of gifted education will show that the methods and goals of gifted programs have changed throughout the years. Gifted education is linked to the country at large, morphing to meet the demands that the country places on the student, in an effort to produce good future American citizens.
One of the first demands on gifted and talented education came as a result of the two major World Wars. World War I and World War II brought the United States into the forefront of international turmoil and affairs. In addition, the “involvement of the United States as a force and defender of persons… forced our leaders to seek other leaders” (Imbeau). Seeing how important good leaders were during these two wars, current leaders knew that their children had to be well educated in order to secure the safety and global dominance of the United States. Politicians and educators, therefore, looked to gifted education to prepare the minds of students who had already shown the incredible capability of becoming these leaders. The goals of gifted education during this time were to develop intelligent and globally aware young citizens who would later grow up to use their skills for the betterment of human kind, both within the United States and in the international world, especially when conflicts arose.
Another major historical event changing the goals of gifted education occurred in the year 1957 when Russia launched Sputnik into outer space. This event “caused an uproar because political leaders of the U.S. realized that this country had been upstaged by a potential global adversary” and that “educators who had been berating an educational system that drastically failed to meet the instructional needs… of our brightest youth… were correct after all” (Haenesly). Russia had beaten the United States in a contest of intelligence, and politicians saw that the best way to combat this was to promote the education of America’s gifted. Therefore, the goals of gifted education during the late 50s and early 60s began to focus on producing students who were globally competitive. The country needed youth with the ability to win the intellectual battle against its adversaries. Especially, “the fields of math and science were seen as the means of making sure we had the talent to lead the world in our exploration of space” (Imbeau). As a result, a greater emphasis on the subjects that would produce future space engineers had begun. Gifted education revolved around the need to send America outside the atmosphere.
Haensly, Patricia A. “My View of the ‘top 10’ Events That Have Influenced the Field of Gifted Education During the Past Century.” Gifted Child Today Magazine 22.6 (1999): 33–37. Print.
Imbeau, Marcia B. “A Century of Gifted Education: a Reflection of Who and What Made a Difference.” Gifted Child Today Magazine 22.6 (1999): 40–43. Print.