The issue of child giftedness is a controversial one. There are many perspectives on the phenomenon in the contemporary literature. For instance, Hollingworth emphasizes the significance of the hereditary factor in the emergence of giftedness and considers that talented children are likely to be born if their parents are to some extent gifted (Margolin 66). Another view is suggested by Khatena who thinks that gifted individuals can come from various social, ethnic, and genetic backgrounds yet their development is largely supported by the social-cultural context (Margolin 75).
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This stance explains why there may be fewer gifted children in minor social or ethnic groups that do not value intellectual capabilities and do not support children’s academic development holding them back by conventional values and traditions. The difference in theoretical perspectives on giftedness prompts the idea that it may not be an attribute of an objective reality but rather is a subjective one and depends on circumstances. Thus, in this paper, I would like to focus on social-cultural aspects of child prodigy emergence and evaluate potential implications of such a stance.
The major criteria of giftedness or talent are the outstanding achievements in any field of performance. However, in the case of adults, we will evaluate accomplishments they already made and, in the case of children, we will mostly speak of their potentials and qualities that are to be realized. Another difference between accomplishments of adults and children is that young individuals show them primarily in the sphere of cognition, learning, and processing of new information while the aspect of creativity and innovation is usually a must in the analysis of adults’ progress.
However, there is no unified criterion according to which achievements can be considered outstanding. Either way, a child’s giftedness can be identified merely in comparison to other normal individuals. Children’s talents are thus closely interrelated with developmental standards, age characteristics, as well as the environmental impacts.
There is an opinion that standards of age-appropriate behavior are nothing but a means of control. Margolin observes that a norm, as well as an image of a gifted person, are artificially constructed and, moreover, intentionally or unintentionally they have nurtured “people’s general belief in the naturalness, sacredness, and correctness of white upper-middle-class dominance” (80). From this perspective, the notion of giftedness has negative connotations as it supports stereotyping and inequality based on both racial and social qualities of a person.
Margolin notes that children from minor ethnic and social groups are underrepresented in gifted child program, and even the very identification of their talents and skills is often associated with major difficulties. On the one hand, it can be regarded as a form of discrimination while, on the other hand, racial and social disparities may indicate the inadequacy of the education system as a whole.
From a certain theoretical viewpoint, all people are born with an unlimited potential for self-improvement and actualization of their best qualities is their main inborn motivation. However, to achieve the peak of self-actualization, individuals should have an unlimited opportunity to function following their aspirations. In this way, personal interior world and individual’s psyche, the conception of self that is being formed since the early childhood under the influence of the environment become the core of the human behavior. The extent to which a person then realizes his or her talents depends on the nature of that environment in which he or she lives and the character of interactions with the outside world.
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This situation may also be linked to stereotyping because, as stated by Ridgeway, unequal distribution of resources in the society is frequently determined by unequal expectations of competence (Branaman 91). It means that children from minor social and ethnic backgrounds may not have equal access to gifted education because others may not expect them to be talented and intelligent. On the contrary, individuals from white upper-class are commonly associated with occupational and academic prestige and, thus, others expect them to be gifted.
Margolin analyses the phenomenon of “disadvantaged” gifted children and states that modern scholars emphasize the need for such children to “distance themselves from their cultures of origin” because the values and traditions embedded in these cultures may hold talented individuals back and interfere with their progress (75). It means that each social-cultural group instills particular value orientations that may dominate over individuals’ inner motivations.
For instance, as stated by Clark, in Asian cultures, people tend to value conformity which does not combine well with a creative and divergent way of thinking (Margolin 75). On the contrary, the families in the white upper class may be deliberately oriented towards the stimulation of academic, intellectual, and artistic motivations in their children. Therefore, both physical environment and psycho-emotional climate in those families may allow revealing the best abilities and talents in individuals.
Motivation to achieve success in either academic or professional field may be considered one of the main conditions for attaining excellent results. For instance, the theoretical concept “need for achievement” indicates the close interconnections between personal desire to accomplish something and the actual level of skillfulness. The combination of abilities and strong motivation define the quality of individuals’ achievement and the likeliness of attaining the desired results.
Many theorists emphasize the importance of internal motivation. For instance, it is observed that gifted children usually demonstrate such qualities as persistence, sustainability of interest in one field, leadership, and often set high goals and ideals. (Margolin 76).
The internal motivation means that a person enjoys what he or she is doing. The interior stimuli should thus be distinguished from the exterior ones because a person may engage in the development of intellectual or artistic skills under the influence of coercive power, external circumstances, etc., and not necessarily enjoy the activities in which he or she is involved. It is true that even in such a situation, a child may achieve significant results and success. However, when applying the concept of the need for achievement to this case, the likelihood of attaining success and self-realization will decrease as the child will be less persistent in his or her endeavors due to the lack of internal motivational component.
Motivational sphere also includes self-esteem − one of the central elements of personality reflecting the originality of the interior world. Self-esteem is involved in every phase of psychological and emotional self-regulation and it defines individuals’ responses to failure and success (Branaman 92). It participates in the identification of personal goals, objectives, and programs for their achievement, as well as the realization of the formulated plan and analysis of results. Many researchers indicate close links between the level of self-esteem in individuals and their social environment and family, in particular.
From the sociological perspective on human thought and cognition, individuals are largely influenced by “social categorizations and more generally by social context” that determines the manner of human relationships (Branaman 89). It is also stated that “people act on the basis of their perceptions of the world” (Branaman 89). It is possible to say that the social and psychological domains of human cognition and behavior are deeply interrelated, and the links between them may be especially well seen in parent-child relationships as they largely contribute to the formation of self-identity in young individuals.
The parent-child relationship is the example of social interrelations in which a young individual receives feedbacks from adults. These feedbacks are related to self, and they influence the child’s psychological development. It is possible to say that this social context created in relationships with parents is of greater importance in the period of transition from childhood to adolescence and adulthood. Some individuals may preserve their giftedness despite the character of parent-child communication, for some of them, the motivation to self-realization may also be supported by the reaction to a hostile environment because the preservation of talents is the only way to survive for them.
Nevertheless, it is possible to say that most of the people feel the urge to be creative and can engage in all sorts of activities their like only in favorable and safe environments. Therefore, it is important for parents to interact with their children in a way that develops the sense of security in them, facilitates the formation of sound values and mindsets, and so on.
Although nowadays the global society undergoes the period of widespread democratization of social and gender roles which allows some deviation from traditions, individuals still may experience excess social pressures. Parental support may provide protection against the unjustified acceptance of others’ opinions, conformism, fear of failure or success, low self-esteem, and so on. The assumption that micro and macro social and cultural environment may interfere with or, on the contrary, support the expression of individuals’ giftedness seems valid. However, it does not explain “the continual underrepresentation” of ethnic minorities in gifted education programs (Margolin 81).
Margolin explains this by the deficiency of the education system as a whole. She states that although education programs may appear democratic, most schools fail to provide an inclusive environment for students. From her point of view, it is wrong to regard the core of the problem outside the gifted education itself because, in this way, it will lead to greater discrimination and stereotyping.
Overall, it seems that the issue of child giftedness is a complex and controversial one. The phenomenon of giftedness and human perception as such can be interpreted from social-cultural, educational, genetic, and many other perspectives. However, it will be valid to presume that giftedness comprises all those factors and, what is more important, like human though, it is very individual.
There are no specific recommendations on how to reveal hidden talents in children − sometimes they may assert themselves despite all adverse circumstances and emotional turbulences, while in other cases, a person may fail to realize him or herself without substantial support. Therefore, the role of adequate parenting and democratic environment exclusive of stereotyping which does not compel young individuals to conform to conventional norms and traditions is emphasized in the literature. It is possible to say that the present-day school environment may not provide appropriate context for students to realize their potentials.
The roots of the problem may hide in the curriculum design, instruction and assessment practices, as well as the overall climate in the classroom and general dominant culture. Democratization and diversification of values in the society should continue and must be integrated into educational institutions in order to stimulate the thriving of talented people. It is also possible to say that, no matter how difficult it may be to implement, an individualized approach to instruction and learning, as well as the development of educators’ multicultural competence, may provide much more opportunities to eliminate potential ethnic and social biases in the identification of gifted children. Ideally, a high-quality personalized education may help to reveal and develop strengths of every person.
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Branaman, Ann. Self and Society. Blackwell Publishers, 2001.
Margolin, Leslie. “Goodness Personified: The Emergence of Gifted Children.” Self and Society, edited by Ann Branaman, Blackwell Publishers, 2001, pp. 62-96.