Don’t call them ‘gifties’

At a Chicago middle school, eighth graders in the gifted class didn’t like the T-shirt design selected by vote, so they ordered an alternate design and added their nickname, “gifties,” to the shirt. That label got them in trouble with the principal, reports the Chicago Tribune. Now parents are suing.

(Principal Chris) Kotis told them that no one could wear that shirt because it was not the “official” one and that there would be “serious consequences” if anyone did, the suit said.

The students came up with a petition supporting their T-shirt, the suit said. But Kotis insisted that he was concerned about their “safety” if they wore the shirt to school, the suit said.

On April 1, all 27 8th graders in the gifted program wore the shirt to school, the suit said.

It’s clear what the serious consequences amounted to — they were “confined” for a day? — but the lawsuit is asking that the incident not appear on students’ records. I’d think the principal would want to forget about it too.

When my daughter was in fourth grade, her teacher said she’d been identified as “gifted” in reading and math, but she wasn’t to tell anyone about it for fear of lowering her classmates’ self-esteem. He slipped her a “gifted” book (Tuck Everlasting) to read. That was the sum total of the gifted program in fourth grade.

No Child Left Behind forces schools to focus on low-achieving students, which means less attention and money for high achievers. This story focuses on high-IQ, low-income, minority students but most of those losing out are middle-class whites and Asians.

The law also encourages schools to hang on to their high-scoring students. Ohio is playing a dubious game, assigning gifted students’ scores to the schools they left.

About Joanne


  1. I’m all in favor of programs for high-achieving students, but I’m strongly opposed to the name “gifted”–which implies that it’s about something you *are* rather than something you *do*. As Peter Drucker has argued eloquently, judging people on their “potential” rather than their performance is a pernicious thing to do.

  2. I’ve found that using ‘high-achieving’ doesn’t help my conversations with my daughter’s teachers, either. David, what do you suggest?

    Anyway, my first question was whether Tuck Everlasting was that good a book? The movie was OK, but nothing I did handsprings over.

  3. We teach Tuck Everlasting to Resource English — kids so learning disabled that they can’t be in regular English. I guess it might be gifted for a 4th grader. I’ve noted that my gifted kids have no desire to read adolescent lit — they go for adult fiction. The classics are the way to go. My second grader is really enjoying Great Expectations right now.

  4. Walter Wallis says:

    As someone previously noted here, I assume they also prohibit athletic letters?

  5. They wore the shirts on April 1? I think they bonus points for having a sense of humor!

  6. “Tuck Everlasting” is a good book but not particularly challenging for fourth graders. I’ve seen it taught to mainstream sixth graders. I love Lois Lowry’s Anastasia books for bright elementary students. She’s written some good books for older kids too.

  7. Roy W. Wright says:

    I’m strongly opposed to the name “gifted”–which implies that it’s about something you *are* rather than something you *do*.

    It is something they are. You can’t deny that some children are born and come out of infancy with more intellectual ability than others. Of course motivated non-gifted children can outperform slothful gifted ones, but with equal desire to achieve, some children have an innate advantage.

  8. greeneyeshade says:

    anyone but me remember burns’ line, ‘o would some pow’r the GIFTIE gie us/to see oursel’s as ithers see us!’?

  9. Joanne, your daughter’s experience sounds very familiar. I was tested and identified as “gifted” in fourth grade (1982), as well, but I can’t remember anything at all changing as a result–no advanced classes or lessons, no reading lists, nothing.

  10. PJ/Maryland says:

    David, I see your point about the name “gifted”, but do you think calling the advanced class “hard-working” is any better?

    It’s really the connotations these names pick up that make them inappropriate, and so we have to keep changing names. I seem to recall both “advanced” and “accelerated” being used, but of course that implies that the normal classes are lagging or slow. I’m not up on the latest names, but I recall my brother saying the normal classes at his HS were called “merit”.

    How do you feel about “extra homework”? Or maybe we should just go to the other extreme and call the advanced classes “stupid”. Would probably cut down on parents pushing to get their kids into the classes, at least…

  11. Wacky Hermit says:

    I went to elementary school in an environment where students were just given whatever level of each subject they could handle. Everyone was in a different reading group, math group, etc. according to what they could do. As I recall, nobody thought anything of it. There wasn’t this sense of elitism that people in today’s educational establishment keep harping on as the consequence of giving “gifted” students the education they crave. Everyone just went to their own level, and since everyone was challenged, nobody felt unequal. You wouldn’t even want to be in a different reading or math group, because the work would be unsuited to you.

  12. I got to do the “gifted” thing up to 6th grade; beyond that, it was just different levels for different subjects. We had tracking in grade school, too, but we gifties had an extra class we got to go to. We had to do all the work everyone else did, but once a week we got to go to our special class, where we did fun stuff like dissect frogs (4th grade) make super 8 animation (6th grade), play chess (2nd grade), write books and all sorts of things.

    In a way, it seemed like they were trying to keep us from getting bored and making trouble, because there wasn’t much in the way of coherent academic content in those classes. I remember I used to race the other couple kids in my homeroom to get our classwork done before the special class. We usually finished well before time.

    Boy, that sure was fun.

  13. Meep mentioned that there wasn’t much in the way of academic content in the special gifted classes s/he attended. At least you were in the other classes as well, learning. I was in full-time gifted classes in middle school, and especially in English they were entirely focused on creative projects. I got to the regular ninth grade English class when I started high school and immediately became aware that I was actually behind my non-gifted classmates in grammar and in knowledge of literature. Makes me very skeptical of gifted classes now, even though that was 25 years ago.

  14. Here in Texas, I and my brother were identified as “gifted’ in the early and mid 80’s. Because of this were were but in special programs in our schools. We were usaully referred to by the program’s acronym. TAG kids, LEAP kids, etc..

  15. It sounds, from the article, as if the principal was the greatest threat to the kids’ comfort at school. Again, from the article, it seems that he objected to anyone wearing that particular t-shirt; although, if he allowed students to vote on a design, he should have had the good sense to allow the results to stand. Doesn’t dictatorship always lead to disdain? Many gifted kids have a strong sense of morality, so punishing them for protesting his unfair actions is, in a sense, punishing them for being gifted.

    If one-third of the students in this class are enrolled in the regional Gifted Program, then they are a significant minority in the student population. Their presence can’t be a secret, and I doubt that their classmates need a t-shirt to identify the gifted kids.

    I don’t think I’d be fighting to get this removed from the kids’ records, though. If anything, this is something for the kids to remember, and to learn from. As the parents claimed that the principal threatened to suspend the kids, and retaliated in other ways, it’s the school which comes across as heavy-handed, and lacking any sense of proportion.

  16. Unfortunately, as one book said, the word “gifted” implies its opposite.

    I have a bit of a unique position as I am the mother of an LD/ADHD child and a diagnosed gifted child. I must say that making demands for my LD child is a lot easier because the law is there.
    When one advocates for their gifted child there is a good chance that the school system will not buy it. Many schools are hyper-sensitive to the elitist complaint, plus they’re often dealing with pushy parents of bright kids who are just fine in the placement they are in. Luckily I had an IQ test, as well as other tests, to bolster my case.

    Part of the problem is that, like the LD/Developmentally Delayed or low IQ child, the gifted child simply falls out of some or all aspects of the curriculum for that year. Period.
    Often, they can master the curriculum in a couple of months, but their maturity is not such that it is wise to skip them. Then you have a bored, miserable child on your hands for the rest of the year.

    Public schools are pretty good at hitting the center and outer portions of the bell curve, but they get into trouble when dealing with the outer extremes. Everyone accepts this with the bottom. The regular classroom teacher can no more meet the needs of my gifted child who falls in the 97th-99th percentiles in most subjects, any more than he/she can meet the needs of my LD/ADHD developmentally delayed child who consistently lands in the bottom 3 percent. This is not the teacher’s fault. It just is.

    Even with that fact, gifted children are often desperately in need of the fundamentals in education. The problem is often that they aren’t simply smarter, but that they think DIFFERENTLY. This is a critical distinction and is truly what separates the gifted from the bright. Critical thinking skills kick in much earlier, so they are often interested in thinking the BIG THOUGHTS and not bothering to memorize basic math facts and such. Teachers must be aware of both facets to the gifted and not be threatened by it. The gifted child’s intellectual capacity is often greatly hobbled by not having the fundamentals–just like everyone else.

    Having said all of that, I think the kids that wore the shirts created ill-will in an area in which we desperately need more understanding. What they did does smack of elitism and I cringed when I read it. Having a “giftie” t-shirt isn’t rewarding them for “hard work.” Many gifted kids don’t try hard at all. If that was what it was about, I’d be all for it. They’re flaunting their IQ’s, and as the mother of another child who has a low IQ, I think it’s divisive and quite frankly, arrogant.

  17. Steve LaBonne says:

    SD, I’m sympathetic to most of what you say. But like others, I’m still troubled that we hear no such complaints about the flaunting of _athletic_ gifts. That still suggests misplaced priorities to me. Unless this middle school is quite a Utopia, the psychic harm those “gifties” shirts would supposedly have inflicted on others seems awfully far down the list of things the principal needs to be worrying about.

  18. And why shouldn’t gifted kids flaunt it? Because they ‘didn’t work for it’?

    I got that load of garbage spewed at me all through school. Yes, I was gifted. But it didn’t mean that I didn’t work. There is a difference between working harder and working smarter, and in today’s world, those who work smarter get ahead of those who just work harder but keep doing the same old thing.

    What’s ‘elitist’ about being better at something than others? Apparently it’s ‘elitist’ to be better at academic subjects, but not ‘elitist’ to be better at sports.

    Instead of following the usual pattern of trying to pull everyone down to your own lowest level, why not break the pattern of petty human behavior and work to elevate yourself to their level? But of course, its easier to just tear down the ‘elites’, and then you can take smug satisfaction in their being ‘no better than me’.

  19. Steve,

    We could have a huge discussion on the “place” of athletics in schools. I’m as disgusted as you about that kind of stuff. I guess if the shirts used a term that was synonomous with “worked hard and achieved this,” rather than their educational label, I’d feel a little better.

    And unfortunately, other parents feelings do play a part in gifted ed funding. They’re voters. See, when you talk about your LD child’s problems, other parents may not really understand, but they are sympathetic. But try talking about your gifted kid with any old parent, and, well, you should see the look. I now keep any concerns to myself or with the teachers.

    Claire, Claire,

    Touched a nerve there, eh? Sorry, I didn’t mean to. We are in the same camp and I don’t disagree with you at all, but you may have read too much between the lines with my post. You say you were gifted, worked hard and achieved big things. Then ABSOLUTELY should the school and community make a big deal out of it. But should you be rewarded simply for your god-given IQ? Well, maybe, but please don’t flaunt it in front of some LD child struggling mightily to keep up–that is all I am saying.

    I really do see where you’re coming from, and maybe I’m splitting hairs. I think that Nashville’s decision to not post honor roll students because it might hurt someone’s feeling is jaw-droppingly stupid.

    But here’s the reality–unfortunately. Schools are cutting programs right and left. Most public schools don’t even have adequate gifted programming as it is. In my state, gifted ed is not mandated before third grade. I can’t DEMAND my school do anything about my gifted kid before the testing in the third grade. The states are going to eye for cuts what they don’t think is important. They have to deal with special ed, not only because of the ADA, but also because private LD schools cost around double what other private (including gifted)schools cost (believe me, I’ve checked),so more LD parents are stuck with dealing with the system. Those voting parents that are threatened by gifted progams can and will do a lot of damage if they don’t see what is wrong with letting an extremely bright child just languish in the classroom, even if it is not their own.

    That’s really all I was saying, even though I took way too many words to say it.

  20. i was one of eight grade students who attended that school. what the article didnt say was that “gifties” was a term, coined by the ‘regular’ students, and assigned to us in a derogatory manner. Instead of complaining, or taking it personally, we chose to turn it around. We put a name that we were teased with on the back of a shirt we wore proudly.

    Another thing that wasn’t mentioned was that there were tireless efforts made to try and convice Kotis that his threats of ‘severe consequences’ were not only unjst, but also absurd; and that the shirts were definitely not a ‘safety threat’. There was a petition formed, that was signed by us as well as the majority of the regular students, stating that they didnt mind if we wore our shirts. We stated our case at an Local School Counsel meeting. At last, Kotis called in the “crisis control” team, (the school psychologist and counselor) both of whom confirmed that the shirts were in no way a threat to any student’s safety.