I recently had the opportunity to give some serious thought to Gifted Education. My profession is journalism, which technically is not education. But the way I understand the media is that journalists are, at best, exposing their readership to fresh new ideas that have the potential to educate as well as inform and ideally inspire them too.
So when I was invited to speak on the final day of ‘Project’, an outstanding program for gifted youth designed by The Center for Gifted, founded by Joan F. Smutny, I was happy to accept to be a guest speaker.
I’d been involved with The Center for Gifted at several levels. I had been fortunate to assist Mrs. Smutny who teaches Creative Writing in her program and annually produces a beautiful magazine filled with original writings—both poetry and short prose as well as fine art created by the young people who’d taken part in one of the many innovative classes offered during ‘Project’.
My son had also participated in the Center’s Project a few years back. And so, I had the joy of being a parent who could see the wondrous effects of gifted education on him. He was a bright young boy, but spending three exciting weeks surrounded by both teachers and students who qualify to be called ‘gifted’ had a leavening effect on him as well.
Finally, years before that, I had been a graduate student in the Language Arts and Education with Mrs Smutny so I know firsthand how she values every person’s creative capacities and potential. I also know that she values a global perspective on gifted education. It’s a perspective that I’ve had the good fortune to see and participate in personally for much of my life ever since.
Having won a Rotary Foundation ‘Ambassadorial Fellowship’ to study at the University of Nairobi, I stayed on in Kenya after I’d completed a master’s degree in African Literature. I’ve lived and worked there ever since and have seen how gifted education has become a global phenomenon, even a global movement.
My work in Kenya has given me opportunities to travel to various parts of the world where I have seen and learned about gifted education programs operating in various places, everywhere from Europe and Africa to Asia and other parts of the US. Those experiences have led me to understand that indeed, ‘to be gifted is to be global.’
In Kenya, I have had the good fortune to work practically on a daily basis with gifted young people, mainly with visual and performing artists, but also with innovative young entrepreneurs. I regularly write and bear witness to their creative expression.
The range of what I have seen and had the privilege to write about in truly phenomenal. And every year, the artistic expression of gifted African, Asian and European youth who live in Kenya seems to expand exponentially. In part this is because the quality and quantity of gifted education has grown over the years. It doesn’t always happen in formal classrooms however. Rather it often takes place in workshops, seminars, artists’ cooperatives and even short-term arts residencies. But whatever the program is called, young people continue to seek fresh opportunities to cultivate their latent talents.
This sort of striving for increased self-discovery leading to young people seeking out gifted education doesn’t only take place in Kenya. I’ve seen it happening in South Africa where the government supports gifted programs so fully that they have a whole ministerial department which caters for gifted youth.
I have also heard about it happening in China where, a little more than a year ago, a team of Chinese arrived literally at Mrs Smutny’s doorstep, seeking her guidance on how to conduct programs for the gifted in their country. They were academicians accompanied by gifted youth, and they persuaded Mrs Smutny, together with a team of her talented gifted ‘ed’ teachers, to spend several days in China sharing valuable tips and materials on how to teach gifted education to the youth.
Members of my family currently live in Italy where their children are also taking advantage of the gifted programs that are readily available to youth who are keen to go beyond the ordinary curriculum and partake of education that’s based on appreciation of creativity as the key to tapping into a child’s artistic and intellectual curiosity. Of course, it isn’t every young person who wants to be challenged to cultivate their creativity, but the opportunities are increasingly available all over the world.
The value of the gifted programs run by The Center for Gifted have one big advantage that I have seen. And that is that for Mrs Smutny, every child has the potential to be gifted. She doesn’t see that potential as only available to an elite few; but rather, every child has that capacity however latent it may seem.
And that is why I feel fortunate to be part of the global gifted education movement. It’s a movement that transcends national borders as well as ethnic, racial and religious boundaries. And it does so because it sees the value of every child and his or her capacity to excel and express their creative capacity in whatever they choose to do.
(written for the Innovate! magazine, published by The Center for Gifted)