Promoting Racial Identity Among Gifted Students of Color
Consider this: European American students make up 56% of the total school population and approximately 68% of the students in gifted education programs while African American students account for 17% of the total school population but only 9% of students identified as gifted.
Appropriately challenging curriculum and services are essential for gifted students to excel. Unfortunately, they will often fail to reach their potential if they are not exposed to rigorous work and critical thinking. If we define success as each person or student becoming their very best, then gifted students who are not exposed to rigorous curriculums will almost certainly never be successful.
The most unfortunate thing is that gaps in support and services are much more pronounced for students from minority, ELL, and low-income homes. This perpetuates the stereotype that wealthy Caucasians are somehow more intelligent than their counterparts.
The Excellence Gap
Research on student performance on standardized exams shows that there is an ever-expanding and growing gap at the top of the achievement scale. You have probably already guessed that that gap exists between white students and children of color. The discrepancies are also present among advanced students from low-income backgrounds. This achievement gap is sometimes called the “excellence gap.”
This is especially problematic as the demand for a high-performing and highly skilled workforce grows. Unfortunately, our current education policy focuses on grade-level success. Therefore, if students pass their grade, the system assumes they have been served well. However, gifted students who passed their grade level may not have been challenged at all. Equitable identification is essential for gifted students of all colors and backgrounds.
However, because these disparities do exist, it is crucial that teachers working with gifted children promote racial self-awareness and identity. Students who identify as gifted should also be encouraged to equally identify as a person of color. This type of confidence will serve them well throughout their lives.
So, how can we promote racial identity?
According to the wealth of research out there, African American students’ beliefs and attitudes about self and race are deeply connected to their educational and social development, and those who do not have a healthy racial identity are likely to give in to peer pressure. In short, they sometimes do not feel that they belong in gifted programs, and this attitude results in them being overlooked.
On the flip side, far too many talented and gifted Black students adopt the attitudes, behaviors, and values most associated with mainstream European American culture to “fit in” and succeed. This is deeply troubling because it has long-term negative effects on their academic and intellectual growth. This type of behavior often leads to perfectionism and career indecisiveness, among other things.
Our racial identities are integrated into our personalities. They are deeply ingrained. African American students often feel that they need to prove “investment” in the African American community is worthwhile. This is another attitude that will often keep them out of gifted programs.
Race and social justice should be discussed openly, and teachers and parents should and help students process their feelings regarding race and identity.
It would seem that the first step to closing this gap is to help gifted kids of color become comfortable and proud of their racial identification. Discouraging students from trying to “fit in” or keep with the status quo will help to ensure that they do not attempt to take on traditionally white behaviors or attitudes. Creating a safe place for discussion is a great place to start.