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What’s a gifted non-achiever? The C student redefining education

“Everything you want to be, you already are. You’re simply on the path of discovering it.” – Alicia Keys

Education usually means opportunity. Opportunity usually means professional accessibility. But what do these words mean to low-income children, especially to those who are gifted beyond the realm of the classroom?

We can preach about inclusivity and diversity all we want, but no matter how appealing those terms look on paper, or when said aloud with an air of false dignity, they are still not wholly present in the American education system.

And so tangled, thus, in the midst of the paradox of our preaching, education, and opportunity are not necessarily mutually inclusive.

At least, that’s the case for those same children who attend often overcrowded schools in underfunded districts, where art programs are cut and curriculums are exam-oriented.

However, if one looks just a tad closer into the funding inequities that permeate national school districts, one would realize that it has arguably more to do not only with income but also with race.

No matter how much federal and state litigation has been proposed and implemented over the years, low-income minority students continue to fare worse as viable solutions remain unfounded.

According to the most recent study from Edbuild, a non-profit organization that focuses on school-funding issues, generally non-white school districts receive $23 billion less in funding than white districts, even if they serve the same amount of students.

This affects about 12.8 million students who are part of school districts where 75 percent of the students are non-white.

What’s disconcerting? According to the same report from Edbuild, this kind of gap is present across all high-poverty school districts.

Apparently, white low-income school districts receive much less funding than their wealthier counterparts. Yet they still receive about $1,500 more per student than non-white low-income districts. 

Gifted, in a school setting, is usually synonymous with excellent academic aptitude, but it would be wrong to consider the word merely through a one-dimensional lens. What does gifted mean for those same children, who are also so-called “gifted non-achievers”?

“I grew up in Bushwick, and I lived with my mom. She was a single parent with three kids. I’ve got an older brother and a younger sister. We all were pretty active kids, but school wasn’t particularly our strong suit; we were always good at other things.” -Anthony Ramos

A “gifted non-achiever,” as dubbed by authors Patricia Roach and David Bell in their 1986 article, “Identifying the Gifted: A Multiple Criteria Approach,” refers to the students who, for any given socio-economic reason, do not fall into the usually ideal standard for students. Instead of excelling in academic subjects, they express their talents best through the arts.

But in low-income districts across America, schools are so hard-pressed about boosting their students’ academic performance and their scores on standardized tests that they lack resources for creative extracurricular activities as well as for school-time arts programs.

The Common Core, introduced across the country in 2009, does mention the arts, in terms of critical thinking, innovation, and creativity, yet students find themselves spending more time preparing for tests.

And minority low-income students do so mostly without qualified instructors and with outdated workbooks. So, what kind of win-win offers do these tests provide for them? None.

It’s not surprising, then, to learn that after working towards the Common Core, these “gifted non-achievers” encounter a culture shock when they start college, one that is caused by a lack of cultural exposure and perhaps also by unpreparedness for their next step: entering the creative job market.

“The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”  – Viola Davis


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That’s when education and opportunity, for them, most evidently begin to lose their promised substance.

Instead of focusing so hard on boasting about “diversity” in schools and on campuses to the point that the word is rendered meaningless, we should take better care of those “gifted non-achievers,” even when their talents do not match the usual standards of the classroom.

What’s the point of promising “diversity,” if these students continuously feel out of place and out of touch? The “gifted non-achievers” need an urgent redefinition of education and opportunity.

“Greatness is not this wonderful, esoteric, elusive, god-like feature that only the special among us will ever taste, it’s something that truly exists in all of us.”  – Will Smith


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They need a sense of practicality and attention. They need to know that it is, essentially not their ability, or inability, to sit still in a classroom and focus on English and Math alone.

But it is their engagement with their inner voices, their production of content, their networking opportunities, their need for reliable mentors, their accessibility to hands-on training. 

Nonetheless, some might object to such a claim and begin to point to the many advantages of this age of technological advancement that in itself has “redefined” education and opportunity. By just a click of a button, some might say, a world of information and opportunity awaits.

That’s perhaps true, but it still offers an impractical perspective on a world that has only become more competitive and more favorable of the very privileged.

Even in schools, digital learning does not necessarily benefit all students. According to a 2018 study from Pew Research, one in five students struggle to do homework because of technological inaccessibility at home.

As much as technology can open doors to an opportunity for those who have 24-hour access to it, it is not so for many minority low-income students. 

Recently, I came across this book, Seeing a Color-Blind Future: The Paradox of Race, written in 1997 by Patricia J. Williams, a well-esteemed American legal scholar.

In it, she claimed:

“The very notion of blindness about color constitutes an ideological confusion at best, and denial at its very worst.”

Although a small excerpt from a text so profoundly important, it speaks to the core of the struggles that those young minority creatives of poor socioeconomic backgrounds face. 

When will education and opportunity for these “gifted non-achievers” become tractable instead of theoretical assets?

As Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist, wrote in his 2016 CityLab article, “The Racial Divide in the Creative Economy,” in more than a quarter of all metros and in over 70 percent of large metros, 40 percent of white workers hold creative jobs; meanwhile, 40 percent of African-Americans hold creative jobs in only 5.7 percent of all metros in addition to only one large metro.

How could we make another practical change, aside from keeping the young and “gifted non-achievers” informed about job market trends and expectations? Perhaps diversity hiring could be another solution. 

With Incluzion, a new platform tailored for hiring managers and launched by Atlanta company, Spendwith Corp, the prospect of diversity hiring seems to hold a little more promise for the “gifted non-achievers.” But employers should also be careful about over-using the phrase “diversity hiring.”

In hiring the creatives, non-minority employers should evoke a sense of trust towards their hires without imposing their own “artistic vision” on their work.

There cannot be any “standard,” strict artistic vision if a company genuinely wants to appeal to more diverse audiences and if it maintains its support of diversity.

Before employers go on to boast about “diversity” within their companies, they must ensure that there is a fair and unbiased truth to that.

Of course, these young and “gifted non-achievers” could work, say, as freelancers, in the comfort of self-employment and schedule flexibility, but that notion is also impractical, for freelancers’ lifestyles cannot promise consistent stability.

“I’m a survivor, and all this struggle I went through—while it sucked at the time—is really helping me now. It has helped me get to where I am, and it will help me continue to improve and do better. It didn’t always feel like it at times, but I truly believe I am blessed.” -Tiffany Haddish

Even while, according to a 2019 report from Upworks and the Freelancers Union, approximately 57 million Americans are freelancers to date, 64 percent of them worry that costs will continue to pose as barriers to training programs and other resources. 

So, as much as freelancers should, even if occasionally, rely on other employers to produce and share their content, their employers should, in turn, allow their creatives’ vision to flourish.

In the 21st century, one would think that we’ve become more accepting, that we’ve moved far beyond those racial, socioeconomic divides that once were so tangible.

But no, even if perhaps less pronounced, those issues are still very much present, and as long as we continue to ignore them, those young and talented children, who’ve never known privilege, will not reach their successes as fairly and as deservedly as they’d like to.

For the sake of those children, education, and opportunity — without a question —  need to be redefined.