Socio-Emotional and Psychological Issues and Needs of Gifted African-American Students

In “Socio-Emotional and Psychological Issues and Needs of Gifted African-American Students,” the author started by discussing the definitional shortcomings in regards to social-emotional and psychological needs of gifted children. It stated that it wasn’t until 1993 that the federal definition became more inclusive, but continues to lack mention of the affective and culturally-influenced areas of giftedness (Scott, 2012). In reviewing the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) Regulations Governing Educational Services for Gifted Students (2012), no mention is made of the social-emotional or psychological needs of gifted students. Definitions for gifted students are limited to “those students in public elementary, middle, and secondary schools beginning with kindergarten through twelfth grade who demonstrate high levels of accomplishment or who show the potential for higher levels of accomplishment when compared to others of the same age, experience, or environment” (2012). I find it particularly interesting that they specifically mentioned public schools, as this leaves no room for the identification of gifted children in private school. There is also no mention of these additional needs when it addresses how the academic needs of gifted students are met.

Next, identification shortcomings were discussed, specifically the ways in which traditional measures are used, while self-esteem, self-concept, and racial identity instruments are largely missing and lead to under identification of low-income or underachieving blacks. What is most interesting were the specific needs and issues Ford identified which related specifically to gifted African American students. Of these traits, the fear of success and the need for social acceptance and affiliation, seem to be one of the most damaging to African American students. Scott (2012) noted that because African American gifted student do not have the traditional needs and characteristics, their needs and giftedness are often overlooked. This is partially due to the refusal of some whites to acknowledge the abilities of African American students. This becomes a cyclical issue where blacks begin doubting their abilities and defining academic success as akin to whiteness. Additionally, in an effort to preserve their affiliations and social acceptance, they distance themselves from this type of success. In Long-Mitchell’s (2011) article, the theoretical framework addressed the ways in which attitudes about school achievement orientation affect Black student’s success. These two issues go hand in hand. When students are not able to see the value of education in their lives because their is a misconception that education is for others, the harmful side effect is that it they no longer have positive attitudes or beliefs about school, therefore becoming less likely to have academic successes. This may serve to reinforce already low self esteem. For those students who want to do well, the fear of isolating themselves from their peers can also become paralyzing.

In my first school, the population was 99% African American. Over 90% of students also qualified for free or reduced lunch. There was a general devaluation of education and this was always our biggest battle. As teachers, we were also trying to battle the assumption that education was for the “other,” in this case, white people. One would often overheard conversations among students, where insults would be thrown around if a student tried to act “too smart” or “too white” in the classroom. As the article mentions, this thinking lowers the self-esteem of students when they believe they are not valued as intelligent. Another way I would see peers cut one another down in the classroom was through insulting one another as thinking they were “so smart,” as if wanting to be educated was a bad thing. This social pressure to not be too smart was  way to force kids back into their place, among their peers, and kept students from demonstrating their abilities.

I do see schools attempting to make moves towards educating the whole child, specifically paying attention to their social-emotional needs. Unfortunately, these programs rarely address the different needs of students across race, class or other identities. These attempts in schools usually come packaged as a one size fits all approach to meeting the needs of all students in one swoop. This causes a disaffected attitude from staff and students who can not see the value in these programs, because they do not address the individual child. These attempts will continue to fall short until districts recognize the ways in which student identities affect students’ experiences in school.

References

Long-Mitchell, L.A. (2012). High achieving black adolescents’ perceptions of how teachers impact their academic achievement. In J.A. Castellano & A.D. Frazier (Eds), Special

Populations in GIfted Education: Understanding Our Most Able Students from Diverse Background. (99-123). Texas: Prufrock.

Scott, M. T. (2012). Socio-emotional and psychological issues and needs of gifted African-American students: Culture matters. Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning 2(1), 23-33.

Virginia Department of Education. (2012). Regulations Governing Education Services for Gifted Students. Retrieved from http://www.doe.virginia.gov/instruction/gifted_ed/gifted_regulations.pdf

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