Thursday, January 24, 2013

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Socioeconomic status

Students from economically disadvantaged homes are among the most underserved students in gifted programs. Kids from the bottom quartile in family income made up less than 10 percent of students in gifted programs. In contrast to this finding, almost 50 percent of gifted program participants were from the top income quartile (Sherman, 17). It was not that there are less gifted individuals from low income homes versus high income homes or that African Americans do not have as many gifted individuals than the corresponding white Anglo Saxon Americans, but rather that these populations were not discovered, recognized, or identified as gifted nearly as often as the middle/upper class of the white population (Sherman, 17). Again, it needs to be pointed out that many underachieving gifted students are considered high risk because of situational factors that put them in a class that would be considered a double or even triple minority, such as an African American gifted girl from inner city Harlem.

Single Parent Homes

The third factor which often goes hand in hand with low socioeconomic status is that of the single parent home. Gifted children from single parent homes tend to underachieve at a much higher rate than gifted students from two parent households. Students who achieve at or above ability level usually have parents who are highly involved and on top of their child’s progress and school performance. The parent-child relationship tends to be one of trust and open communication and the parents are confident in their parenting abilities as well as are monumental in setting realistic boundaries and expectations for their child (Ford/Thomas, 17). It is not that single parents love their children any less or care any less about their school performance, however, single parents tend to be stretched a little thinner than their two parent home counterparts in that most hold at least one full time job and life becomes an endless series of trying to make ends meet and fulfill everyday obligations and the focus on the child becomes secondary to the basic needs of life. Especially where a gifted child is concerned, parental concern and involvement, in both educational and social settings, is a must to help the child grow and develop into a successful, achieving adult (Ford/Thomas, 17).

In single parent households there is only one person to be the caretaker, breadwinner, and emotional supporter. With the stressful lives of many households today, the emotional needs of many children are not completely or fully met. Hence, we have a generation of stressed out children. These stresses are common in many two parent, two income households, so the stress of a single parent, one income household is capitalized to a great extent. Under involved and nonencouraging parents, negative parental attitudes, family conflict, lack of career direction, and family transitions were all found to be associated with underachievement (Peterson, 001). The underachievement becomes a vicious cycle in which it stops being apparent which came first, the underachievement or the family conflicts. It is most certain, however, that if a child is underachieving and there are many other pressing family issues, than the underachieving might very well take a backseat to the major family dysfunctions. Not only do single parent homes have more potential towards stressful lives, but the factors that have led to the single parenting often come into play. For instance, a child may be from a middle class, two parent home when circumstances change such as a divorce or death, and then the child is living in a single parent, low income home. Such drastic changes are hard for the parent and child alike and if the emotional health is not dealt with immediately and properly, a child stands a high chance of becoming depressed and as grades and school work begin to suffer, becoming what is labeled as a “gifted underachiever” (Whitmore, 180). These gifted underachievers are thought to turn out as relatively nonproductive members of the adult society. “The failure of those children to realize their creative and intellectual potential represents a tragic loss to our society and the world in its need for leadership, innovation, and competence (Whitmore, 180).


Children and adults alike achieve at various rates for a variety of reasons as mentioned above. There are many born with many strikes against them, including a low mentality, yet they achieve at a higher rate than what would be expected, and thus are known as “overachievers”. We tend to call those who fall into the perfectionist category as overachievers as well. We often marvel at the accomplishments of the low ability overachiever in much the same sense that we marvel at the normal achievement of a gifted individual. In reality, if the majority of the gifted population were to achieve at his/her ability level, the possibilities are endless (Raph, Goldberg, & Passow, 166).

We cannot ignore that the majority of the gifted underachievers have one or more contributing, identifiable factors. These factors can usually be traced to minority, low socioeconomic status, and single parent homes. Indeed, it cannot be ignored either, that the prisons and juvenile systems are laden with gifted, talented, and creative individuals who use their abilities in unique ways that cause a detrimental effect on society rather than a positive contribution to society. A waste of the mind in this manner is not only a shame, but a loss to society. Had some of these individuals used their masterful minds in more meaningful ways, would there be a cure for cancer, AIDS, diabetes, or perhaps other diseases by now? Gifted individuals have the same basic needs that all people have, however, the gifted child has a unique imbalance created by an intellectual level that is usually functioning at a much higher level than his/her emotional level and when this is coupled with influencing factors, the gifted mind often reacts by shutting down or moving into a lower gear and not performing at his/her capability level (Whitmore, 180). In addition, gifted children are often expected to perform near perfection on all academic and creative tasks. They are often expected to behave in a certain manner also and if a child falls short in one or more of these areas, typical comments include “he can’t be gifted with behavior like that” or “she has poor spelling and terrible handwriting, how did she get in the gifted program?” When a child hears comments such as these, in addition to comments about the underachievement, it often makes the child question his or her giftedness as well (Coleman & Cross, 001).

In some cases it might actually be hard to define which came first, the negative comments which compound the underachievement or the underachievement which invites the negative comments. Children from disadvantaged homes are often overlooked for the gifted programs anyway and hearing comments that stereotype what a gifted child should act, look, feel, or be like is quite a burden on a child with several strikes against him/her to begin with. Indeed, even when most people think of a gifted person or a person with genius, what comes to mind is a slightly odd, white male child, usually small in stature with glasses. The idea of a gifted adult usually is a picture of someone who is somewhat eccentric and usually a loner working in a laboratory or some other research type environment. With these stereotypes, it is not a surprising coincidence that the majority of those who are overlooked for the gifted programs and those who tend to underachieve are females, ethnic minorities, and those from low income households that do not fit the stereotypical mold of the gifted child from the mid to upper class American family. The issues of underachievement and why it occurs are just now being truly brought to the forefront and steps to remedy the underachievement are being researched and strategies taken to reverse this unnecessary phenomena (Coleman & Cross, 001). Perhaps in the not too distant future, children of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds will be adequately identified and represented in the gifted population, as well as implementations to reverse underachievement and utilize the true gifts of this underrepresented population.

Remedies and strategies

Remedies to reverse underachievement can be utilized and help the underachieving gifted student reach his/her full potential. The role of the family is a big and constant issue in achievement. Due to the complexity of factors associated with broken homes and low income, there is a sizable portion of able students who are at risk for not maximizing their potential during their years in secondary school and beyond (VanTassel-Baska, 18). First of all, it has been determined that perhaps individuals and institutions other than the family may play more significant roles in these students’ lives. If the family is disadvantaged due to economic hardship, single parenting, or minority influences, there are other individuals and institutions that can perhaps fill this void for these disadvantaged youngsters (VanTassel-Baska, 18). Of course, individuals closest to the child are going to play the biggest role of influence in the child’s life, but there are others than can be positive, contributing factors.

There is also a way to help the child’s disadvantage work to his or her benefit. Being raised in a low-income home, having only one parent, or being a member of a minority group may be a powerful stimulus for some individuals to succeed beyond expectations for their socioeconomic level in society (VanTassel-Baska, 18). There are many individuals that have overcome many obstacles in their lives and achieved at a rate and to a degree above and beyond expectations. The world is full of gifted scholars, athletes, artists, and musicians who were raised in ghettos with little food or parental support. The difference in what these disadvantaged children have compared to the underachieving disadvantaged child is the inner drive to succeed above and beyond the expected. The desire to not only rise above, but to get out of their present situations is a strong factor for many successful individuals.

In 188, Congress passed legislation to promote the interests of gifted students in U.S. public schools. The Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program was authorized under Title IV, Part B of the Hawkins-Stafford Elementary and Secondary Amendments of 188. The legislation calls for the U.S. Department of Education to carry out three major activities that are designed to provide national leadership in gifted education. The first type provides funding through grants to assist state and local educational agencies in meeting the various needs of gifted students. The second activity is the creation of a national research center on gifted and talented students. The center is the first comprehensive research effort on gifted education in the United States. The third activity responds to the legislative mandate that the Javits Program serve as a national focal point in gifted education. Therefore, it calls for additional and much needed attention to the needs and concerns of gifted children (Ford, 16). These programs, by addressing the issues and needs of disadvantaged gifted children, shed light and hope on reversing the debilitating pattern of underachievement in gifted students. In addition to changing the means of gifted identification in minorities and implementing unique programs for the gifted minorities, it is evident that there is a need to change the teacher attitudes and behaviors toward targeted students and to empower parental input and influence. School partnerships with postsecondary education institutions, community organizations, and business and industry are also important contributing factors in the reversal of underachievement for gifted children (Ford, 16).

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