Professor James J Gallagher: Advocacy for Gifted Education a national priority.

Posted on: 10/30/2013 Back to all blog posts

ADVOCACY: A Mandate for Education of Gifted Students
(and protection for us all)
by James J. Gallagher

As we seek support for educating gifted students, we must accept the fact that our advocacy efforts have been largely unproductive. At the federal level, the Javits legislation has largely been a bone tossed to quiet us, and state efforts have not been much better. We need a persistent and convincing effort to change our environment. The wise defense lawyer Clarence Darrow was once asked how he was able to get acquittals for so many of his clients. He said that his job was first to get the jury to want to acquit and second, provide evidence for them to do so. Our job is to get the decision makers to want to help gifted students and then provide them with a path to do that.

The Emotional Side

One of my wise professors used to say, “When there is a perfectly reasonable suggestion such as to maximize talent development (or go on a diet), and it still isn’t being done, we should look to the emotions and social forces involved in the situation that may lie under the surface.

In our approach to gifted students, we, and the general public, view them with awe and admiration but also with a certain sense of envy and a concern that their special talents are not wholly controllable. We tell people that this gifted girl may produce the new iPod, but we are still getting used to the old iPod we have and are not convinced that we should help another person produce something entirely different. We tend to forget that gifted students are built­ in ‘change agents’ for whatever fields they are in and maybe we are not eager for change unless someone convinces us that it is absolutely necessary.

The feelings that individuals with special gifts and talents evoke are not unlike that of the left guard viewing the star quarterback who gets all the headlines. Part of him wants to win the game, and part of him wants the star to fall on his face. This can lead to less than decisive action. This is one of the reasons that locker rooms are plastered with signs with sayings such as “There is no ‘I’ in TEAM”-to convince the players that winning the game comes before personal feelings.

Where education of gifted students is concerned, what is the game that we are trying to win? We need to be more explicit in explaining that. We are involved in a serious game of economic and scientific competition with major powers around the world. All the evidence that we have gathered (e.g. international achievement tests) suggests that we are losing that game,and furthermore,that there are many more of them then there are of us. But it is still the first half in this competition, and we can still prevail if we change our approach.

We should not continue this educational disarmament where we attack higher education and teachers with invective and budget cuts. “Excellent education for all” is not just a slogan, it is a path to survival. Everyone on the team must do well, but at different tasks. We should pay more attention to the care and nurturing of our star quarterbacks (the talented and gifted) and look at some of the guards and tight ends to see if they might become star quarterbacks given the right stimulation (talent development).

Under these circumstances, a natural question we should expect is, do you have any evidence that if we educated our gifted and talented any differently, it would make any difference in this vital competition? This is what has stirred my interest in collecting testimony from past graduates of special programs (such as NCSSM and International Baccalaureate) as to the importance of this special education to their current and future work.

What should we be doing to enhance our education?

The Educational Side

1. Find Allies. We use collaborative work in the classroom. We need collaborative work in advocacy with other professional associations and the STEM initiative (among others). Without allies, our work is less influential.

2. Develop Efficacy Evidence. The statistical and rational evidence is not enough. We need personal testimony from those who have received special education for gifts and talents and who can speak of the results without bias.

3. Maintain a Compelling and Persistent Message. This is a national defense issue and we are committing educational disarmament in America. We must compete with China, India,Germany, etc. This is done in the framework of ‘educational excellence for all’ but special preparation for those with superior talent.

4. Ask for Concrete Resources.

a. Research and development for stimulation of thinking

b. Personnel preparation for higher education

c. Curriculum development and collaboration with content specialists

d. Monitoring programs for excellence using products for evidence (e.g. science projects, essays, inventions)

5. Seek Talent. We have learned about neurological plasticity from the scientists. From ourselves, we have learned that extraordinary talent is embedded in all levels and sections of our society and can be extended through early stimulation. Talent search is part of the total plan.

But, we will hear, “We have no money.” This is untrue; we have plenty of money, just not for what you want. For example, one attack submarine costs 1.8 billion dollars. We have fifty of them, and their sole purpose is to end civilization as we know it if worst comes to worst. If we could get by with 49 submarines, we should have enough money to run this suggested pilot program with money left over. Brains, not bombs!

Only our professional organizations can maintain persistence and commitment in advocacy. That is why I call on NAGC,TAG, and SENG to take on this goal. This is a national priority, not something to be done after the rest of our work is finished. This is our commitment to our society’s future.


Professor James J Gallagher has spent a lifetime advocating for gifted and exceptional children.  He is currently Kenan Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he directed the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute for seventeen years.  Previous to this he served as Associate Commissioner of Education in the US Office of Education for three years.  He has been president of the Council for Exceptional Children, National Association for Gifted Children, and World Council for Gifted and Talented.  Among his awards is the Gold Medal for Lifetime Service in the area of Psychology in the Public Interest by the American Psychological Association.

By Professor Gallagher, and published by Royal Fireworks Press: Leadership Unit. The Use of Teacher-Scholar Teams to Develop Units for the Gifted

Sadly, James Gallagher passed away 17 January 2014. We publish his obituary here.

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Comments (6)

  • […] plan, developed by one of my personal heroes and one of our field’s finest contributors, James J. Gallagher, would be a game changer for anyone concerned about addressing the needs of gifted […]

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  • Win Gasperson on 01/26/2014 at 11:00 pm

    Sadly Dr. James J Gallagher passed away Friday January 17, 2014 at 87 years old and a lifetime of advocacy. Please take this opportunity, one of his last efforts at passing the torch, to pick it up and pass it along.

  • Deborah Poe on 11/02/2013 at 9:15 pm

    This is beautifully said! I am a retired Gifted and Talented educator. I have seen first hand what an educational opportunity for these students can do for all. However, I have also seen what the current Test, Test, Test environment can do to these students. I am proud to have been a part of a program to educate and not test to death! The true test for these students has always been what contributions they make to our future!

  • Deborah Poe on 11/02/2013 at 9:08 pm

    This is beautifully said! As a retired Gifted and Talented educator I have witnessed the results of what an opportunity for these students can mean, but I have also seen what the world of the current test, test, test environment can do. I am glad my career was spent in the time of educating not testing. The true test is the contribution that these students turned adults will make to the world!

  • Cathy on 10/31/2013 at 2:09 pm

    Well said. Better yet- you lay out a concrete plan including collecting testimony from students. It is time to realize that what we’ve done thus far hasn’t been working and to join together to focus our efforts.

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