The Presumption That Individuals of One Racial Group Are Smarter Than Others Is A Myth and Stereotype

Joy Davis.jpg
Joy Lawson Davis
George Betts

Black, Hispanic, and Native American Students are Underrepresented in Gifted and Advanced Learner Programs in Schools Across America

Joy Lawson Davis and George Betts

The presumption that individuals of one racial group are smarter than others is a myth and stereotype. Even efforts in the early 20th century to align high intelligence with the majority or White culture were refuted. The groundbreaking work of Martin D. Jenkins who studied and published papers telling descriptive stories of highly intelligent Negro children that he had worked with as early as 1934 provided more than sufficient evidence of the intellectual capacity of Black students. Historical archives over time and across cultures provides substantive evidence of the multiple ways that people from all ethnic groups have demonstrated their ‘smarts’ the sciences, humanities, and  through great works of literature, art & music.  Being smart is not just the purview of any one group of people.

Last month we read a very disturbing article written by parents of two girls who obviously were able to demonstrate how smart they were in the home environment, even in school, but due to identification protocols that rely too heavily on one piece of data or information, their children were not eligible for the school’s gifted programs.

Unfortunately, this story could have come from many, many parents in almost any school district in the nation. Black, Hispanic, and Native American students are underrepresented in gifted and advanced learner programs in schools across America.  Discriminatory assessment procedures, poorly trained teachers, and limited engagement with culturally diverse families are a few of the reasons that these tragic conditions persist.

The National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) recognizes that underrepresentation of culturally diverse students is a national problem and works diligently to provide support for educators, researchers, and parents as more effective practices and programs are developed. At its most recent annual convention, NAGC held several special sessions dedicated to recognizing giftedness in diverse populations and to honoring national scholars who have tirelessly dedicated their careers to attacking this national problem. Through the NAGC conventions and website, school district personnel and parents can have access to the diversity materials and experts who work in this specific area. We applaud districts and communities that have taken action.

The parents who wrote the article have every right to desire equitable access to educational programming that will enable their children to reach their highest potential. We encourage school districts everywhere to be more attentive to their identification procedures, ensure that all forms and tests are culturally fair, and do all they can to provide culturally responsive training for classroom teachers who have the future of high ability children from all cultural groups in their hands. Working together, providing the best resources, and recognizing the problems inherent in any process that excludes students is a big step towards equity, inclusion and access in gifted education.

Joy Lawson Davis is a member of the NAGC Board of Directors. George Betts is the President of the NAGC Board.