Part of the special education department of most schools. Devoted not to teaching the children at the lowest end of the bell curve, but at the highest, the so-called "gifted" students. A good idea if implemented well, and I've talked to many people who've only had good experiences with their school's program. A bad idea if implemented poorly, as it is at all but the richest and best schools, see my own below. Regardless of whether the program is good or not, it usually attracts excellent teachers who are either overworked or go to waste (this seems to be universal among schools).

Whether you want to admit it or not, everybody had or has an opinion of the gifted program at their high school. The usual opinions are: "Not in it, don't care about it," "In it, don't care about it," "Not in it, hate the pretentious assholes who are," and finally "In it, because I'm better than the rest." I was in the second category, and I had contact with people from all of the others many times.

My idea in this writeup is to share my experience in the program so those of you who didn't participate can know what it's like, and those of you who did can compare your experience to that of another.

In my school, the magic qualification test was called the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) which we took in third, sixth, and ninth grade. The students who scored in the upper percentiles were tested with a general IQ test of some kind. If you scored above 135 or so on it, you were in. At a parent's request, the IQ test could be done before the third grade, and their child could get in on the merit of that alone. Every once in a while, there'd be a student who scored high enough on one or the other, but not on both. They were allowed to stay in the program based on, as far as I could tell, the phase of the moon, or possibly whether or not the board of education liked them. I never understood the reasoning behind the decisions, as it was usually people I liked who were kicked out, and complete jerks who got to stay in.

At any rate, once you were in (and still in grade school), the fun started. You got to miss class two or three times a week, and more often than not you didn't have to make up the work you missed. You got to take field trips while the other kids were stuck in their classrooms. You got to play with all manners of scientific apparatus, sharp knives, expensive computers and other cool stuff that most of the students would never even see. You got to meet people who had many of the same advantages and problems in school as you did, and in some cases felt just as alien as you.

You learned stuff, too. Our class once spent a month disassembling owl pellets and reassembling all of the mouse skeletons and such inside. We made stickers using materials provided by a local printing company. We built a scale model town out of matchboxes and salt cylinders painted to look like buildings. We learned to code in Logo. In grade school, gifted really was what the school had intended it to be -- a place for students to learn in a way that they were suited to, but that the general school populace was not.

At least where I went, that changed in middle school. Some schools are Academic Decathlon schools, some are Mock Trial schools, some are Quiz Bowl schools. Ours was an Odyssey of the Mind school. Two or three teams from the school had gone to the world OM competition, and the school board wanted to keep that number rising. So we worked. Incessantly. From one to four hours a day, most days of the week. For ten hour long marathons on the weekends. It was like Texas high school football for nerds, and it kept going strong until our second or so year of high school.

OM was actually pretty fun sometimes, especially since our team ended up going to world one year. It just tended to get in the way of other things the program was supposed to be accomplishing, like, say, education of the students.

The program was even more of a waste in late high school, where we spent all of our time -- again, mandated by the board -- studying ACT and SAT preparatory materials and filling out scholarship applications. It was so mind numbing that many students (myself included) ended up staying in class in lieu of going at all.

enth leaves out the fifth important category of thought on the program: "in it, still can't stand the pretentious assholes."

i think there was only one other sensible human being in that class, at least while i was there. we were never close, but we supported each other's arguments against the arguments of the catholic athelete majority in there...especially on the subject of the base test score for the program, which was lowered our freshman year, from 130 to 120. being the only two students in the program that year who had topped the previous year's standard, we figured we had a right to complain. why were we suddenly surrounded by people of medium intelligenece, who believed themselves to be geniuses, but couldn't keep their social and religious issues out of the classroom? ("i don't like you, you're a satanist!" etc., etc.) one girl actually started *crying* in the middle of a debate because she felt that our arguments about prostitution were meant to weaken her belief in the truth of the lord! we, of course, were properly confused. we never even mentioned the moral questions of prostitution, just the medical/social/financial aspects.

the year we graduated, three schools dropped their gifted programs because not enough students could meet the new, lowered standards. *sigh* i have less faith in public education every year.

The Mentally Gifted Minors (MGM) program in California, U.S.A., was, in my experience, a money-maker for the schools. The school received an extra chunk of money to give me a better education. I don't know what it was spent on but I don't think it was spent on me. Nor do I know what good it would have done if they had spent it on me.

Here is what I remember getting because I was in this program:

  1. When I tested into the program in fourth grade I was allowed to join the school band a whole year early. That's it. It was irrelevant that I had no musical talent other than the ability to distinguish two notes with a little as one hertz difference between them. I quit band after three years.
  2. After seventh grade I was allowed to take a summer class in photography. The teacher helped us make one of those silly stop-action movies where you look like you're scooting along on your butt in an invisible car. I never saw the resulting film.
  3. I was harassed by goons in eighth grade partly because I was an introverted, underachieving nerd. Contrary to stereotype, two jocks (one of them was the richest kid in school and an MGM student) threatened the goons to keep them from pestering me. Because of my standing as an MGM student, I was allowed to take my ninth grade year at the local high school instead of at the junior high school.
  4. In high school, I declined the option to stay after school and play war games with the other MGM students.

These benefits surely did not cost the school as much as they received for providing them. If I received anything else I never heard about it. On the whole, I believe that the people in my state would have been better off if they had, instead, directed that money to inner-city or rural schools.

The existence of this type of program means that either:

  1. school officials don't know that "gifted" students would learn more regardless of the environment.

  2. OR
  3. school officials know that the education provided at their schools is detrimental to learning ability and they don't want to subject "gifted" students to it (but it's okay for everyone else).

Either way, it's an indictment of U.S. public school policy.

The MGM program was replaced in 1980 by GATE ("Gifted And Talented Education") according to California Education Codes 52200-52212. The amount per student at that time was $250 and the code allows for a six or seven percent annual increase. At that rate, the current per-seat value of GATE students would be approximately $850 per year.

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