National Collegiate Honors Council


Date of this Version

Fall 2018


Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 19.2 (Fall/Winter 2018) ISBN 978-1-945001-01-7 ISSN 1559-0151


© Copyright 2018 by the National Collegiate Honors Council


Gifted programs and honors education have evolved along parallel tracks in the past decades with little interconnection or cross-communication. Exploring what these two fields can teach each other should allow us to collaborate in addressing their overlapping goals and potential conflicts in order to better educate bright young students. At both the high school and college levels, teachers often assume that gifted students need no special attention, that we can simply get out of their way and focus our attention on students who struggle academically. Those of us in both gifted and honors education know better. At the University of Iowa, scholars and teachers in the two fields have shared our insights into how to help this special group of students, and we hope to encourage increased collaboration throughout K–16 education.

My introduction to gifted education took place in 1973 as a research assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Counseling Laboratory for Superior Students (Lab). Until then, I had been a seventh-grade social studies teacher, and while I had some very bright students in my classes, I had no experience or training with gifted education. Neither I nor any of my teaching colleagues had given any thought to issues that might affect gifted students in or out of school.

Over the next four years at the Lab, I worked with high school students who were identified as gifted. Many were from small towns in Wisconsin who had received little special attention to their exceptional academic/artistic abilities, especially in terms of counseling. I learned that being smart in school was a complicated issue. Through individual and group discussion sessions as well as their written responses to open-ended stems, I learned from these Lab students about hidden issues regarding giftedness. Three takeaways from my four years at the Lab formed much of my later work in gifted education:

1. Students chose to deliberately earn lower grades and did not answer questions in class so that they would not be ostracized by their classmates as brains or nerds.

2. Teachers took subtle and not so subtle swipes at their students’ intelligence. Comments by teachers such as “Of course you should know the answer to this question, you are gifted” were not viewed as compliments, nor were they meant to be. What these students figured out was that in a school setting, it was not always smart to be smart.

3. Often these students were ready to learn more complex material and at a faster pace, but the curriculum did not allow for such customizing. Educators felt that students in the same grade should take the same curriculum.