Wednesday, May 24, 2017

by Lindsay Sudol

Dumbing Down America by Jim Delisle

The field of gifted education is in crisis, and Jim Delisle has had enough. In Dumbing Down America, Delisle explores the historical background of gifted education, the current reality gifted professionals and students are facing, and – in his opinion – the steps that must be taken at a national, state, and district level to provide gifted students with quality, effective education.

As an educator of gifted learners, the first few chapters are reminiscent of the coursework I completed to become certified in this field. However, since so much of my day-to-day focus is on individual student needs, it was a welcome reminder of the struggles this population has faced throughout the past century: a struggle – according to Jim Delisle – simply to be acknowledged.

In true “best practice,” he begins with the positive, sharing some of the “upsides” – or sources of hope – for gifted students. He then establishes what he believes to be the possible origins of the problem over a series of chapters, calling out everything from “multiple intelligence theory” to “inclusion” and “differentiation” (all of which are foundations in schools today). His book finishes with a long series of “wishes” – although they are worded with much more profundity – specific to the national, state, and local level.

Delisle’s arguments are very emotionally charged, and read like a well-researched rant, of sorts. However, anyone looking out for the best interests of gifted students – be it parents, educators, or advocates – will find in Dumbing Down America affirmation for what we have always known to be true: differentiation alone does not meet the needs of gifted learners. In fact, any one program – alone – cannot successfully do this population justice. What is necessary is a “total-child” understanding and approach to instruction.

My favorite part of the IAGC conference each year is hearing Delisle speak. This past February, he reflected on a former gifted student who – upon finally finding an educational program that met her needs – remarked, “I can exhale.” It felt similarly comforting to read Delisle’s ardent encouragement and support for my students, my colleagues, and my profession in Dumbing Down America – and for that, I am grateful.