Young, Gifted, and Black or Nah?
I was scrolling through my twitter feed when I saw an article that a friend retweeted claiming that a black student's chances of being labeled "gifted" increase when the teacher is also black. Those words triggered a memory from elementary school that I believe impacted my academic development, and consequently in my life, going forward. Allow me preface this post by saying that I don't share this story as a complaint by any means. Rather I mean to share the memory of a personal experience in hopes that it raises awareness and provokes thoughtful discussion. It was 1972 in the small West Virginia town that I still call "home." I started first grade excited for the year ahead. A rule follower by nature, I did everything in my power to be a good student, so naturally I was surprised when my teacher gave me a note to take home to my parents within the first few weeks of school. I knew I talked a lot more than Miss M liked, but other than that I couldn't think of anything I had done wrong, so I wasn't worried. I went home, gave the note to my mom and skipped off to play until it was time for dinner. A little later mom came into the room I shared with my younger sister and informed me that I was to wait for her to pick me up after school the next day because she was going to meet with my teacher. I started to get a little nervous then, but there was nothing I could do about it so I would just have to wait.
Mom showed up at the end of the next day to meet with Miss M while I waited in the hallway. When she came out she was visibly angry. She hardly said two words during the walk home. I started to get that, "oh boy I'm in big trouble" knot in the pit of my stomach. We walked in the house and nothing... No yelling, no spanking, nothing. Her anger wasn't directed at me. I gave her some time and then I asked her what happened. I don't remember getting an actual answer, but she made it abundantly clear that I was to be sure to finish all the work I was given from then on. I agreed and decided it was best to leave well enough alone.
Fast forward to 1982 to the affluent Maryland county we lived in at the time, and my mother is called to meet with my little brother's teacher. Again, she came home furious with my brother in tow. Again, I gave her a minute and then asked what happened. When I approached her she was in tears. This was the day I finally found out what happened in that meeting with Miss M. Apparently my teacher was concerned that I wasn't finishing my work. This led her to conclude (and tell my mother) that maybe I should be moved to special education because obviously I wasn't capable of comprehending the work. She went so far as to question whether I was even capable of learning! (Why oh why did she say that?) Mom proceeded to 'explain' a few things to her... Like the fact that she worked with me at home the previous year so that by the time I started first grade I knew how to write my name, my letters, and my numbers. So yes, I didn't finish her assignment to write a page full of capital letter Ds because, not because I didn't understand it or wasn't capable, but because I wasn't being stimulated or challenged. Mom was upset that the teachers first assumption was that I belonged in special ed as opposed to the possibility that I was gifted and needed a challenge. Now 10 years later she had basically the exact same meeting with my brother's teacher! This time, however, instead of special ed, they wanted to label him ADHD and prescribe drugs. Something tells mom 'explained' some things to his teacher as well. In both cases the teachers were white.
Now, I don't know if the fault lies in the training/education that the teachers received, in their own personal biases, or in the areas where we lived . I do know that my sister, the middle child, was in the gifted and talented program all throughout her elementary school years. No teacher's meetings for her, and all her letters to our parents were to praise her achievements. At this time we were living in Baltimore City and many of the teachers at the school were black. She was challenged and encouraged and she thrived.
I think my bother would agree, but I'll just speak for myself. I struggled with school. I did the minimum to get by and rarely, if ever, looked to teachers/professors for support or encouragement. Looking back I wonder if things would have been different for my brother and I if we had attended the school in Baltimore.
I have since broken out of that pattern of mediocrity. I'm a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and it's all a necessary part of our journey. Even so, I can't help but wonder how things might have been if circumstances were different.
What do you think?
Check out the article here