What Does Being Gifted Mean?

Justin Hudson, a recent graduate of Hunter College High School, told his fellow students at graduation last month that they didn’t deserve the benefits of having attended the elite high school. (NYTimes). “I feel guilty,” Hudson said.

The point of contention is the admissions exam that is used to select incoming students. Hudson said it was due to “luck and circumstance” that they did well on the exam and thereby received the educational advantages that attending Hunter provides. Most of the faculty apparently believe that the ability to pass the 7th grade admissions exam is largely a reflection of the schools the students have attended to that point and that because better schools are located in middle-class neighborhoods, the students are undeserving in comparison to students who are attending poorer schools. They’ve passed that viewpoint on to some of the students – half of whom gave Hudson a standing ovation at the end of his speech.

This year’s enrollment numbers at Hunter are instructive. 47 of the incoming students were Asian, 41 percent white, 8 percent multiracial, 3 percent black and 1 percent Hispanic. In 1995 the numbers for black and Hispanic were 12 percent and 6 percent respectively. The figure for whites was not given. It seems as if Asian children are taking the place of blacks, Hispanics and undoubtedly whites as well. That fact seems to belie the argument that problem lies in the neighborhoods where the students receive their elementary education.

Being labeled gifted as defined by the Hunter College High School admissions exam lines up with the characteristics of many Asian Americans. They are able to master the skill sets favored by schooling and they have a higher level of educational ambition than do most whites, blacks and Hispanics.

It appears as if the administration at Hunter College is not open to changing the admissions criteria in a way that would change the mix of students at its High School. That would be my recommendation as well. It sends a clear message to the parents of children who aspire to take advantage of what Hunter offers. Your child will truly have to be gifted educationally to get in.

In response to those who say that truly gifted children who are attending poor schools are thus disadvantaged, I would demand proof. It has always been my experience that truly gifted children overcome such disadvantages with the help of parents and teachers who recognize and reward talent by providing whatever resources are required – a library card, extra assignments, etc.

My message to Mr. Hudson is that it is good that you recognize that you feel guilty. However, you’ve drawn the wrong conclusions from that emotion. Instead of feeling unworthy, you ought to take advantage of the fact that you truly are gifted. That doesn’t mean you are a better human being or get two votes on election day. It means that you now have an obligation to those who are not so fortunate to do something with your gift. Make a contribution to the world that rewards your parents, your teachers and others who saw your gift and nurtured it. The wrong thing to do is deny another gifted child that opportunity by giving her seat away to someone who is less talented.

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