By Deborah Ruf, Ph.D.
How can we better encourage and reinforce the most entrepreneurial and talented among us?
We can start by changing the ways we set up schools and the ways we address the very different learning abilities and needs of the students in them.
The well-known “achievement gap” refers to the difference in the average academic performance between our highest and lowest achieving population groups.
Closing that gap has led us to focus our attention on students who are struggling with fundamental achievement.
As little progress is made to close these gaps, it seems we refuse to explore anything beyond external influences as probable causes for our failures.
We rarely speak of individual differences in ability. I recently attended a symposium where speakers repeatedly reminded us that “just because we don’t like what the research is telling us does not mean it is bad research.”
I believe our most worrisome achievement gap should be the performance gap we see within each individual rather than those between any groups of people.
Our society benefits from the support and nurturance of our brightest minds, and here’s what the research tells us: A person’s intellectual profile, capacity to learn within different domains—along with certain differences in personality, gender, exposure to opportunities, and luck—is not greatly responsive to outside influences to change it.
Twin and adoption studies, as well as Head Start and any number of other early intervention programs, indicate consistently that the brain is like a muscle that can be exercised to perform at its own best level, but when the workouts stop, that muscle strength returns to where it was before.
The spread of human intellectual ability is vast across all populations. By the time children are about seven years old and in first grade, the typical same-aged mixed-ability public school classroom already has 12 grade equivalencies of achievement in it.
There is no way to make all people intellectually the same any more than there is a way to make everybody the same sex or the same height.
Every individual should be challenged to grow intellectually, and we’re now generally ignoring those individuals with the highest potential.
The United States has one of the widest intellectual ability ranges in the world because our diverse economy has attracted people from all over the world.
Populations of other countries actually have different ability averages and ranges, different strengths and weaknesses.
For whatever reason (and there are many) only about ten percent of the U.S. population is intellectually capable of professional-level achievement, no matter how hard we push and support everyone else.
We will continue this discussion in my next blog entry.
Originally written for the Center for the American Experience, August 2010, http://www.americanexperiment.org/.
From blog post The Other Achievement Gap, Part 1, by Deborah Ruf, Ph.D.
> To see Part 2, visit the blog section of her site TalentIgniter.
Bottom: United States Academic Decathlon, 2010 Nationals award recipients, First Place: El Camino Real High School, California – from Decathlon site www.usad.org]
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Author: Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.
High Intelligence Specialist
“I founded Educational Options to provide accurate information regarding intelligence, what it is, where it comes from, and how our family, school, relationship and workplace environments either nurture or stifle its expression.
“When someone is highly intelligent – different from the majority in thoughts, expression, and interest – the wrong environment can lead to confusion, sadness, and underachievement. My continuing purpose is to open the eyes and awareness of adults in ways that will benefit them and the children under their care.”
Deborah Ruf is also the founder of TalentIgniter, and is an international authority in gifted assessment, test interpretation, and guidance for the gifted. Having been a parent, teacher and administrator in elementary through graduate education, she writes and speaks about school issues and social and emotional adjustment of gifted children.
See the Ruf Estimates of Levels of Gifted Online Assessment on her site.
Article published here courtesy of the author.
> Also see more articles by Deborah L. Ruf on gifted children, teens and adults.