The world of education is filled with labels. There’s gifted education, special education, and one of my all time favorites, exceptional education. Looking only at the words themselves, there would appear to be little difference among those three. In fact, I decided to look up those three words in the dictionary. Here’s what I found:
- of a distinct or particular kind or character: a special kind of key.
- being a particular one; particular, individual, or certain: You'd better call the special number.
- pertaining or peculiar to a particular person, thing, instance, etc.; distinctive; unique: the special features of a plan.
- having a specific or particular function, purpose, etc.: a special messenger.
- distinguished or different from what is ordinary or usual: a special occasion; to fix something special.
- extraordinary; exceptional, as in amount or degree; especial: special importance.
- being such in an exceptional degree; particularly valued: a special friend.
- forming an exception or rare instance; unusual; extraordinary: The warm weather was exceptional for January.
- unusually excellent; superior: an exceptional violinist.
- Education. (of a child)
a. being intellectually gifted.
b. being physically or esp. mentally handicapped to an extent that special schooling is required.
- having great special talent or ability: the debut of a gifted artist.
- having exceptionally high intelligence: gifted children.
So, being special means being exceptional. And gifted means having a special talent. And exceptional means being gifted. Umm, if the terms are pretty much interchangeable, then why is there such a disparity in how the terms are used as labels in our school systems?
In my school system, having a gifted label means the student is extra smart. Those students are taught in challenging classrooms and exposed to many different teaching techniques. They go on different field trips – more intellectually stimulating ones. They are strongly encouraged to take part in intellectually-slanted extracurricular activities – things like the Chess Club, Destination Imagination, and Knowledge Master competitions. Having a label of special or exceptional, however, means the student is one of the lost.
Special education or exceptional education students often are not included in field trips. It is rare to see a student with one of those two labels even participate in extracurricular activities, much less have the opportunity to participate in intellectually stimulating after school activities. Often these students are further classified by such terms as learning disabled, educable mentally retarded, trainable mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, and severely and profoundly retarded. The majority of students with any of these labels are often not taught with any approved curriculum, but rather spend their days working on functional skills such as toileting and handwashing or going on community based instruction trips to the mall or bowling.
Gifted education students are encouraged to explore and learn in many different ways. Exceptional education students, most often without encouragement, explore and learn in many different ways. Wait a minute, does that mean both these types of students might actually be learning the same way? Does it mean that the same supports and encouragements will make the learning experience successful for both these groups?
My goodness, I believe it does….