There is a wonderful article by Stephanie Tolan on how public educators define and recognize giftedness (http://www.stephanietolan.com/is_it_a_cheetah.htm). She talks about how, if we define cheetahs solely by their ability to dash about at nearly 70 mph, we'd never be able to recognize a cheetah in a zoo. It is a terrific metaphor - zoos don't usually have the space for cheetahs to reach top speeds. Even the most remarkable zoos, if they offer the space for a cheetah to really stretch out, don't give cheetahs any need to. Cheetahs only reach top speed if they are chasing something remarkably zippy. Cheetahs that are fed pre-killed meat simply don't need to dash like that.
Likewise, gifted kids may be hard to recognize in public schools. While the gifted and high-achieving kids are pretty easy to recognize anywhere, not all gifted kids fit that mold. The little girl that teaches herself Greek and complies with everything at school quickly and easily - sure. But, the gifted kid that is bored by the curriculum might just not comply - and, therefore, not fit the criteria in achievement to be recognized as gifted.
But, some zoos don't stop at feeding cheetahs pre-killed meat - they make them chase fish. What if the school cares about reading and writing skills first in identifying gifted kids? What if, further, the school documents an inability to sit at their desk and finish their work as a criterion. The little boy that doesn't care about reading because he is busy studying the clock and imagining how different gears might make the hands go at different speeds is basically the cheetah ignoring the fish. Because, cheetahs don't swim. Then, the little cheetah that is bored by fish, but fascinated by the ducks that come to the pond will soon be not only passed over by the gifted program - but, passed over by even moderate treatment by the zoo.
We are parenting some cheetahs that hate the pool. Sure, they aren't much into reading or writing, but they all played competent chess in kindergarten (beating 4th and 5th graders regularly). You want them to read? Give the boys a technical manual on construction, building, or sports. Yeah, they don't like coloring, but they can build anything you want out of Lego. You don't think that they can follow step-by-step instructions? Instead of having them follow your step-by-step art instructions, you should see how they built the "mini-weapon of mass destruction" from the design manual. They hate memorizing their times tables, but they've solved algebra problems for our Easter "clue" hunt since they were three. Sure, you complain that they don't show their work in math, but they don't actually miss any of the answers. You don't like that they didn't solve the problem using the method you were teaching? You should realize that they were solving it while you were talking - and, got the right answer using a different method. Writing sentences about how Suzie "felt" in a book may provoke moans and tears. But, ask them to explain the importance of "gearing up" vs. "gearing down" and sit back to enjoy the lecture. They may not remember to bring home the correct books to complete their homework assignments. But, on the way home, they can disassemble the car's seat belt (the manufacturer didn't think that it could be done). My kindergartner couldn't remember to take his shoes with him when we left the house, but he explained a graphical model with null cline analysis to my college seniors.
I constantly feel like we battle the ability of the teachers to recognize and reinforce the value of students that have exceptionalities in areas that are not the stalwarts of early education. The losers here are the kids - their exceptionalities are not valued by anyone at their school. The are learning to hate school - it feels (to them) like hours of uninteresting work punctuated by little or no time out of their seats.
If only we can survive early education - it will be amazing to see where they can go.