Amid the plague that surrounds us, essential attention is properly getting paid to the education challenges of out-of-school kids: What can their parents, their schools, and their districts do to compensate for missed classroom time and the learning loss that’s bound to occur between now and the resumption of something resembling normalcy.
Within that universal concern, there’s been special focus on the educational needs of children with disabilities and those who were already lagging before their schools closed. All necessary, all important, all good.
Yet the plague also highlights—albeit indirectly—another set of students that’s so far receiving no special attention that I can spot: gifted and talented youngsters and their need for acceleration, enrichment and advancement designed to make the most of their abilities.
What’s the connection? Look at the population of adults we’re counting on to get us out of this mess: scientists, doctors, bio-statisticians, microbiologists, demographers, inventors, industrial leaders and economists, not to mention government leaders with the intellect and training (and discipline) to see beyond their immediate political interests.
Where are tomorrow’s Dr. Faucis to come from? The infectious disease expert that The New Yorker dubbed “America’s Doctor” grew up in southwest Brooklyn, then attended a top-flight, selective-admission (but free) Jesuit high school, which propelled him on to Holy Cross and Cornell Medical School, where he was first in his class.
But it’s not just Tony Fauci. What about all the researchers now hard at work on better tests, vaccines, and therapies? How about the brilliant team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, our foremost source of the intricate “modelling” that enables everyone else to plan around forecasts—and constantly-revised forecasts—of what lies ahead? (You can glimpse the “credentials” of those folks here.) Not to mention the next generation of medical practitioners such as those now struggling to save thousands of lives?
Nor is it just COVID-19. It’s also the next pandemic. Climate change. Bold new technologies. Inventive social policies. Fantastic musical and literary works. And much else, including—while I’m at it—far better strategies for educating children.
Isn’t it obvious that the more of these folks we have the better? And the more diverse they are the better? Yet to oversimplify just a bit, it’s today’s smart kids from every sort of background who are by far the strongest candidates to play those roles tomorrow. But will they—enough of them, from across enough of the demographic and socioeconomic boards—be well-prepared to succeed in those roles with the levels of expertise, knowledge, and skills to generate the breakthroughs that we’ll need?
That depends in large measure on how well we educate them today—while they’re out of school—and next year when (we hope) they’re back in school, and the year after that, and on into the future.
It may be counterintuitive, but the present situation actually poses an unusual opportunity to serve these kids better than many have been served in regular classrooms. They could be learning more right now when they’re not twiddling their cognitive thumbs sitting through lessons pitched too low for them and enduring painful efforts by regular teachers to differentiate instruction in ways that benefit them as well as the strugglers.
If America’s fate thirty years from now ends up relying on the small population of mostly-privileged smart kids whose parents can get them into elite public and private schools and supply auxiliary programs and opportunities that challenge and fulfill them intellectually, we won’t have nearly enough of the experts that we’ll need—and those we have won’t much “look like America.”
So let’s keep all those other smart out-of-school kids in the forefront of today’s education concerns, too. Or you can be sure we won’t be ready for what’s coming.