I recently had a conversation with a coworker about his childhood impressions of grade school. He spoke begrudgingly of two close friends who were given the opportunity to study in “gifted and talented” classes. Most schools have these programs, which are made available and offered only to the especially bright and talented students. Held in a separate building, students of these classes were removed from their regular schedule in order to attend them. Known to be unconventional and creatively geared courses, the students bragged and told tales of video cameras, outdoor games, and daily finger painting sessions. My school had such a program, and I too remember the vast difference in teaching techniques, as I was promoted my final year of elementary school to the gifted learning classes and couldn’t believe how much fun these kids got to have- on a daily basis!
Of course, my coworker was jealous of these benefits. What kid wouldn’t be? But mostly he was aggravated with the evaluation techniques used by the school board in order to determine the lucky few who would attend. For example, his two friends. One of them was genuinely smart. His other friend had guile, faking dyslexia in order to attend. They both got in. How? Well, because there was a shift in the mid-’90s. Some learning disabilities became creative abilities.
Oh, he can’t write numbers in order? He must be a genius.
No longer would children suffer their issues, but instead were rewarded for them with a curriculum full of nonlinear learning techniques, videos instead of books, and finger-painting their feelings instead of writing a daily summary. The education system began to embrace the fact that some children aren’t able to learn things in a traditional sense. Some children are more right-brained.
I recently read an article in the times about left-handed people, and how the stigma has lifted over the years. The article stated that people no longer associate left-handed children with learning disabilities, which is true. Many years ago, a child was considered mentally inept if they were inclined to write with their left hand. It just wasn’t allowed. Teachers were instructed to re-educate left-handed children, saving them from a life of mental and social struggles. In the ’70s and ’80s, re-education became less of a requirement, but more of a suggestion. In the ’90s things started to change.
I had just moved to Delaware, and was thrown into the PAT program, yet another goofy gifted program. I’m still not sure what “PAT” actually stands for, if that says anything. I recall my study partner, Lauren, writing with her left hand. I also recall my English instructor pointing out Lauren’s left-handedness, and then commenting on how it makes sense she’s so creative… being left-handed and all. I was instantly seething with jealousy. Why couldn’t I be left-handed? And why couldn’t I have glasses and braces? I felt creatively doomed. Like, she was born with an innate gift that I could never attain. And while Lauren was given a natural leap towards a creative destiny, I would have to suffer a more manual and arduous journey… with my stupid right hand.
Now, nobody cares? I don’t buy it. Being left-handed is no longer against the rules, sure. But it’s definitely viewed as a pretty cool attribute as well as being an indicator that someone has a secret genius for some creative method. Isn’t that a stigma of its own? I mean, it’s a stigma for the right-handed people who have talents too and can’t help that they were born with properly aligned brain activity. Right-handed people are special too. Right-handed people are creative too!