Gifted Girls

Since its inception in the 1920s, the field of gifted education has remained in a constant wave of motion when it comes to gifted girls in education. Public understanding and support, as well as federal aid, has simulated this same pattern. This response has been less that adequate in response to national interests and concern from private institutions and foundations. In the last decades there has been a discourse between excellence and equity which has created a tension regarding the education of gifted and talented students. Often mirroring the pendulum swing of society's priorities of "critical need to its elitist luxury" (Jolly and Kettler 2008), gifted and talented students become a national priority when excellence is sought and a critical need is perceived. However, gifted students' needs are seen as a luxury and are replaced with the priorities of students within other subpopulations. Within these subpopulations, gifted girls are often the ones that get left out or just do not make the cut. The launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik and subsequent passage of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) is a example of "a revival of concern ... to building better school programs for youngsters with outstanding ability" (Passow 1960). Gifted education remains negligent in its retrospective examination of its own history.

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In the past couple of decades it has become apparent that gifted girls from all ethnic, geographic and socioeconomic backgrounds are living an invisible life in classrooms across the nation. Kerr (1994) observes: "A society that wastes female brilliance has made it the norm for gifted women to lead an average life, and gifted women have largely adapted to that norm" (p. 171). The subtle and not-so-subtle messages downplaying the value of female achievement often begin early and accumulate over time. By age 11, many gifted girls do not know they have talents. Others, who do know, guard it as a well-kept secret. This means that the abilities they could use to develop their potential are instead wasted on adjusting others' expectations (Eby & Smutny, 1990).
For gifted girls, the discrepancy between ability and self-image may assume different forms, depending on their unique characteristics and background. Gifted girls may be those who:
  • achieve well but remain blind to their accomplishments;
  • perform poorly despite their high ability and attribute their poor performance to low intelligence;
  • are disinterested in school or achievement and excel socially, sometimes assuming popular leadership in negative ways.
These behaviors are signals that gifted girls need help--signals that will become increasingly faint as they grow older.
Useful Resources

  • Davis, G.A., Rimm, S.B., & Seigle, D. (2011). Education of the Gifted and Talented. (6th Ed.). Boston. Allyn & Bacon.
  • Jolly, J. L., and Todd Kettler. 2008. Gifted education research 1994–2003: A disconnect between priorities and practice. Journal for the Education of the Gifted. 31:427–46.
  • Kerr, B. (1994). Smart girls two: A new psychology of girls, women, and giftedness. Dayton: Ohio Psychology Press.
  • Passow, A. H. 1960. Educating the gifted in the U.S.A. International Review in Education. 60:141–53.

  • Smutny, J. F. Understanding Our Gifted Open Space Communications. Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 9-13 Winter 1999.