Whatever your political leanings, it’s clear that the anti-1% movement in the US continues to take its toll on Mitt Romney’s chances of becoming president. Are there similar negative feelings toward the intellectual 1% in our country? Chester Finn, Jr.’s recent op-ed in The New York Times entitled “Young, Gifted and Neglected” echoed a sentiment widely felt in the gifted and talented community for a long time now. Support, both financial and non-financial, for publicly funded gifted schools and programs has always been woefully inadequate. The struggle to keep such programs going is one with which we at IMACS are deeply familiar. (Read about our history in the public sector here.)
As Mr. Finn points out, one of the most common but inaccurate criticisms of gifted programs is that they are “elitist.” In math and science, related obstacles to greater support are (1) a lack of understanding of how important these fields are to sustaining and improving the quality of life for us and generations to come and (2) unrealistic expectations about how and when the payoff from supporting talented children comes. Some of this is rooted in the sad state of math and science literacy in the US, and some is influenced by our always-on media culture.
At IMACS, we’re the first to celebrate advances in technology, but one undeniable consequence of our “insta-world” is that people want to see the results of their actions right away. The same may be true of the tax-paying public. By definition, the large majority of parents do not have gifted children. Human nature is such that people are inclined to advocate for what benefits themselves or their own. So how do you convince them that it’s worth supporting someone else’s kid because five or ten or 20 years from now, he or she may discover the cure for a disease that someone they care about might suffer from one day? This is a mighty challenge, but that’s what the gifted and talented community specializes in, whether it’s the amazing work our kids do or the tireless advocacy of their parents on their behalf.
As one “science guy” recently put it, “We need scientifically literate voters and taxpayers for the future.” While raising math and science literacy over time is the best long-term solution for everyone, gifted or not, that doesn’t help today’s bright kids whose growth years are ticking away. It certainly would help if media outlets gave as much exposure to Taylor Wilson’s nuclear research as they do to Taylor Swift’s love life. Let’s get out there as parents and educators unabashedly shining a positive light on our best and brightest students. After all, they’re not here to ruin the curve but to improve people’s lives by solving the toughest problems. There shouldn’t be any doubt that this 1% will give back to society many times over.
Editor’s note: Going forward, The IMACS Blog will be published every four weeks with our next post appearing on October 25, 2012. Thanks to all our readers for your continued support!