The Need to be Challenged

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Intelligence is often looked at something that can be precisely identified. There are specific categories that each person fits in and there is no gray area whatsoever. However, many people see intelligence as ever-changing process children pass through during their entire lifetime. One isn't necessarily going to have the same IQ when they are twenty-five that they had when they were six. Because intelligence is such an unresolved area in the field of psychology it can become difficult to meet the needs of children, as well as adults, who have special needs when it comes to learning. School systems deal with mentally challenged and gifted children every day and sometimes what it is that these children need is lost in the administrative shuffle. The Webster Dictionary defines intelligence as the inborn quickness of understanding and adaptability to relatively new situations and information. This basically says that you are born with whatever mental capacities you will carry with you for the rest of your life. However, there is much evidence to support the contrary as well. A gifted child is defined as a child whose intelligence quotient, or IQ, is above normal, usually 120+. Developmental psychologist, William Stern, created this scale. Stern suggested that intelligence be considered the ratio of children's mental age to their chronological age. Calculation of this number was rather simple, as well. For example, if an eight-year-old child who has a mental age of seven will have an IQ of 87, or below average. Using a bell curve, Stern was able to distribute intelligent quotients evenly. Therefore, knowing the persons IQ readily tells us much about the metal capacities and development of that person. Another aspect that worried psychologists was that there was no known way to measure it. In 1904 Alfred Binet was asked to come up with a means of testing children who might need to have special instruction to ensure optimal learning. Binet and his partner, Theophile Simon began developing a series of tests that children could take to measure psychological sub normality. These tests included many common sense questions and children who had difficulty answering them would be classified as mentally below normal. Sample questions would be something like: which one of the following is least like the other"¦cat, lion, dog, turtle, elephant, or wolf is to flow as 8526 is to"¦? These questions are relatively simple and do not require a lot of thought for a person with an average IQ. For someone with a mental disorder, however, these problems seem as difficult as climbing Mount Everest. There is perhaps no situation more frustrating for parents or teachers than living or working with children who do not perform as well academically as their potential indicates they can. These children are labeled as underachievers, yet few people agree on what exactly this term means. At what point does underachievement end and achievement begin? Is a gifted student who is failing mathematics while doing superior work in reading an underachiever? Does underachievement occur suddenly, or is it better defined as a series of poor performances over an extended time period? Certainly, the phenomenon of underachievement is as complex and multifaceted as the children to whom this label has been applied. In Piaget's theory of cognitive development, he states that there are very distinct stages at which children begin to learn things. This usually happens during the concrete operational stage of development. Most children in this stage are capable of mental operations and internalized actions that fit into a logical system. The child knows basic problem-solving skills and using them readily in every day activities. Children in this stage are about ages six to twelve so this is when they are gaining most of their information from sources other than their parents. School is the biggest influence these kids will ever have and it is important that education is tailored to fit each child's specific mental needs. The most important thing for the faculty to do when a child first enrolls into the school is to access his or her mental capabilities. This is usually done by a standard IQ test and, in some schools, is given to many children at once. This way the child does not feel intimidated or frightened by the test. Just this past fall, Samuel Schandorff took a placement exam at his middle school to see if he was eligible for the advanced, "fast track" program designed for children who excel in certain aspects of their schoolwork. For Sam it was math, but for another child it could be reading, science, music, or art. Programs like these are set up across the country for a specific purpose: to give the gifted child a normal learning environment while stimulating his or her brain in a way that is more beneficial to them in the long run. A few such programs are the TAG (talented and gifted) program that is run overseas for the children of active duty military families. The AT (academically talented) program is run by the state of New Jersey and here, in North Carolina, students are chosen to be a part of a group called the Honors program. Most of these programs run from elementary school up through middle school. Once children reach high school it is difficult to let them out of any class at a particular time. The way the majority of these programs work is to register students in a normal class schedule. Then a parent, and a school official can sit down and decide if and when the child should sacrifice class time to join his or her advanced class. If the child excels in math, it would be best for him or her to miss their math class. Unfortunately, most schools do not let the child be present when this decision takes place. Although it is rare, it has been known for a child's strengths to be mismatched and the child struggles throughout the year in a program that he or she doesn't belong in. The questions parents and guardians should ask before registering their children for these programs is: does the program do what it says it will do? Do the children leave feeling like they accomplished something in class today? If the children are being properly stimulated then, go ahead, enroll them, but ask these questions first. There was a case at a school in Warwick Rhode Island where the gifted and exceptional children were being treated very poorly in comparison to the rest of the school's students. At Warwick elementary school, children who are classified as gifted by the terms mentioned above often have certain behavioral problems. To combat these problems the school began dispensing sedating medication to calm the children. The medication is similar to what is used to calm down hyperactive children and mentally retarded children. Tranquilizers are administered through the health office frequently throughout the day. Mrs. Friedel, of Warwick, says she is declaring war on the school until this inhumane treatment ceases. As a mother of two, she sees no benefits of drugging the children. "This is supposed to get them to learn better. I certainly think not!" She tells the Warwick Tribune. "Children who are mentally gifted need to be challenged at school, not restrained." Mrs. Friedel has since removed her children from that school and has made it her long-term goal to get rid of programs that use such drastic measures to make children learn. School systems across the nation are quick to defend their severe actions by citing a connection between children who are mentally gifted and children who suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). According to the Educational Resources Information Center, more than 25% of gifted children have this disorder. This conclusion was drawn from the amazing similarity between characteristics of a child who is not being challenged and a child with ADHD. For instance, a child with ADHD and a child who is mentally gifted may both have shortened attention spans, high activity levels, and a lack of interest in a task (if not shown the immediate consequences or rewards. These similarities make it difficult to decipher between children who are behaving badly in class for no apparent reason and those children who are bored with the work because they are not being challenged. Principal Johnson, of Warwick, contended, "We cannot have distractions in the classroom from any children. It prohibits the rest from learning all they can. I want to be fair, but acting up in class must be dealt with, regardless." While difficulties and adherence to rules and regulations has only begun to be accepted as a sign of ADHD (Barkley, 1990), gifted children may actively question rules, customs and traditions, sometimes creating complex rules that they expect others to respect or obey. Some engage in power struggles. These behaviors can cause discomfort for parents, teachers, and peers. However, are things so out of hand that some schools must resort to medicating children to make them concentrate? Certainly, there are other ways of encouraging a child to work to his or her full potential. One main source of this encouragement good behavior is the child's parents. Unfortunately, the child who is failing one subject and excelling in another may be labeled an underachiever before they are ever given the proper attention and help they need. Clinical psychologists have defined underachievement as a behavior leading to problems with attitude or work habits. (Delisle & Berger) Gifted children who do not succeed in school are often successful in outside activities such as sports, social occasions, and after-school jobs. Even a child who does poorly in most school subjects may display a talent or interest in at least one school subject. Schools are slow to see this and the child is the one who suffers from it. Underachievement is in the eyes of the beholder. For some students (and teachers and parents), as long as a passing grade is attained, there is no underachievement. After all, this group would say, a C is an average grade. To others, a grade of B+ could constitute underachievement if the student in question were expected to get an A. Recognizing the idiosyncratic nature of what constitutes success and failure is the first step toward understanding underachieving behaviors in students. (Delisle & Berger) Joyce Van Tassel-Baska has devised a scale for disrupting this downward spin that gifted children get sucked into. To her, the answer is differentiated learning. In laymen's terms that means segregating gifted children into a learning environment that only they can benefit from. To many parents this seems like a harsh thing to put their child through, especially if their children's friends are not in the special classes with them. This could lead to a socially withdrawn child but Tassel-Baska insists that the benefits outweigh the negatives. Tassel-Baska concludes that by the time children enter the eighth grade they have a pretty strong idea of what subjects they like and dislike. By the end of seventh grade "Jane" should know if math if fun for her or if she likes to write stories and essays more. While the learning profiles of children change rapidly as they continue to develop there cannot be one template for all middle school children. This can even be extended back to fourth and fifth graders. Children who have strengths in certain subjects while doing very poorly in others cannot all be put into one large learning situation and be expected to learn the same way as the kid sitting next to them. That is just common sense from a psychological standpoint. No child is creating the same way or will have the exact same cognitive processes as another. To sum up the studies and arguments of all these different psychologists there is a center, solely dedicated to the work done on gifted children. The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented is a collaborative effort of the University of Connecticut, the City

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