TAG, You’re It!

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My wife’s and my latest dilemma has been over Talented and Gifted (TAG) programs. She favors them, whereas I do not. She believes students in these programs have better access to a school’s latest and greatest resources (e.g. equipment, books, and teachers). She believes our son would be better challenged academically in a TAG environment.

I agree with my wife that TAG programs have better access to a school’s resources than mainstream classrooms. However, I also believe that TAG programs are elitist programs meant to establish social and intellectual hierarchies. I am afraid throwing our son into a TAG program would cause him to support the unfair and condemning social and intellectual hierarchies that exist and subvert the notion of social responsibility and conscience that I hope to instill in him.

I Googled “dangers of talented and gifted programs” and then “negative impact of talented and gifted programs” (and then I Yahoo!ed) but didn’t turn up anything – though I am sure there has been research done on the impact of TAG programs on the social and intellectual development of TAG students and mainstream students. I did manage to find an opinion piece regarding the impact of a TAG program on students that do not get selected.

I wonder what the impact would be, if you provided low performing students with TAG access to resources? Among the resources, you would have to include a “safe” environment. One where the student felt confident about letting his or her “guard” down and fully exploring the content assigned.

New York Magazine ran an article about the New Explorations in Science, Technology, and Math school (NEST+m), a TAG school that was to serve as an example to the rest of the public school system. However, in my opinion, the principles on which it was founded were misguided. NEST+m was founded on the desire to build a “private school” in a public school setting. Instead of building on the positive aspects of the New York City public school system, NEST+m adopted all of the negative aspects of the private school system – elitism, social Darwinism, profiling, etc.

Why do people believe that the education in the private school system is superior to that of the public school system? I am not convinced that the private school system provides a better education than the public school system. For me, it is an issue of nature v. nurture. For me, if you provide low income students with the same environment upper class students are privileged to in private schools, you could generate the same results. Of course, you would also have to address issues of “safety.” BUT provide a safe environment for students to learn and they will learn.

Students stop learning when they stop being challenged. In my surfing for information about the negative impact of TAG programs, I came across a legal sounding document from Virginia regarding how TAG students are identified. It was a long piece about the racial inequities inherent to TAG programs. It stated that the criteria for determining TAG students often overlooked those students labeled as troublemakers or had a history of acting out. It stated that some of these students might be TAG students. It stated that these students acted out because they were not appropriately challenged.

Like any other parent, I like to think my children are filled with great potential. As a parent, who is also an educator, I struggle to distinguish “true” academic potential with parental pride. Would my son make a good TAG student? Would he be able to be both the TAG son my wife wants and the socially conscious son that I want?

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