Is it a Cheetah?

Instead of an internal developmental reality that affects every aspect of a child's life, "intellectual talent" is more and more perceived as synonymous with (and limited to) academic achievement.

The child who does well in school, gets good grades, wins awards, and "performs" beyond the norms for his or her age, is considered talented. The child who does not, no matter what his innate intellectual capacities or developmental level, is less and less likely to be identified, less and less likely to be served.

A cheetah metaphor can help us see the problem with achievement-oriented thinking. The cheetah is the fastest animal on earth. When we think of cheetahs we are likely to think first of their speed. It's flashy. It is impressive. It's unique. And it makes identification incredibly easy. Since cheetahs are the only animals that can run 70 mph, if you clock an animal running 70 mph, IT'S A CHEETAH!

Certain conditions are necessary if it is to attain its famous 70 mph top speed. It must be fully grown. It must be healthy, fit and rested. It must have plenty of room to run. Besides that, it is best motivated to run all out when it is hungry and there are antelope to chase.

If a cheetah is confined to a 10 X 12 foot cage, though it may pace or fling itself against the bars in restless frustration, it won't run 70 mph.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah has only 20 mph rabbits to chase for food, it won't run 70 mph while hunting. If it did, it would flash past its prey and go hungry! Though it might well run on its own for exercise, recreation, fulfillment of its internal drive, when given only rabbits to eat the hunting cheetah will run only fast enough to catch a rabbit.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

If a cheetah is fed Zoo Chow it may not run at all.

IS IT STILL A CHEETAH?

And finally, if the cheetah is only six weeks old, it can't yet run 70 mph.

IS IT, THEN, ONLY A *POTENTIAL* CHEETAH?

Schools are to extraordinarily intelligent children what zoos are to cheetahs. Many schools provide a 10 x 12 foot cage, giving the unusual mind no room to get up to speed. Many highly gifted children sit in the classroom the way big cats sit in their cages, dull-eyed and silent.

A zoo, however much room it provides for its cheetahs, does not feed them antelope, challenging them either to run full out or go hungry. Schools similarly provide too little challenge for the development of extraordinary minds. Even a gifted program may provide only the intellectual equivalent of 20 mph rabbits (while sometimes labeling children suspected of extreme intelligence "underachievers" for NOT putting on top speed to catch those rabbits!) Without special programming, schools provide the academic equivalent of Zoo Chow, food that requires no effort whatsoever. Some children refuse to take in such uninteresting, dead nourishment at all.


Adapted from an article by Stephanie S. Tolan, which can be found here.

Image taken from here.

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