Diversity: A Rich Resource in American Education
Thinking over the topic of diversity and excellence in American public education, I am prompted to reflect on my own personal experience. How is it that a person from humble, immigrant background who struggled to learn English as a second language, stand before you as president of this unique American organization? A trajectory of “rigor, relevance and relationships,” in the words of Bill Gates, seems to have played an early influence.
As a young adolescent from Mexico, I was fortunate to have encountered inspiring teachers in a small rural community in northern Illinois who were passionate about their content and maintained high standards, even for new English learners. These astute, caring individuals recognized my perseverance, love for languages, and interest in Shakespeare and Hispanic American literature. They valued my knowledge of Spanish and different perspective, introduced me to the discipline of Latin, and spurred me on to the study of world languages and comparative literature—a lifelong endeavor.
More importantly, Ms. Weir and Ms. Bean became my mentors. To me, they embodied the principle that, “Learning is persons—not abstract concepts.” I emulated their inquiring minds, discipline and quiet determination. Along with other motivated immigrant students, we started the first Spanish Club with pen pals across the Americas, were international reporters for the school newspaper, enlivened classes with plays by Shakespeare, Cervantes and Molière, and organized cultural field trips into Chicago. These dedicated teachers displayed multicultural sensitivity, respect for student strengths, and were well into differentiation to maximize individual potential.
The issue of diversity and excellence as discussed by educators today is now more encompassing. Diversity embraces attributes of race, culture, ethnicity, and language, but also varying learning profiles. Included are students who are intellectually precocious and exhibit a disability or behavior disorder, and those who demonstrate creative performance or potential talent and/or leadership ability. Diversity also refers to students from varied home/life experiences, different social or economic class, immigrant status, geographic residence, or age and gender characteristics.
The Association for the Gifted (TAG) of the Council for Exceptional Children recently (April 2009) issued Diversity and Developing Gifts and Talents: A National Call to Action, to remind us of continued underrepresentation of specific groups receiving educational services for the gifted and talented. The document advocates for a global educational system that involves educators, families, communities and business to address and meet the needs of high ability learners. It calls for preparation of school personnel to recognize potential giftedness across widely diverse groups. It also calls for rigorous, meaningful curricular studies that are valued by today’s global society and linked to real-world activities. Finally, the document calls for research that includes and supports diversity and excellence to redefine educational policies and practices.
As president of SENG, I shall endeavor to enlist your support on behalf of the national commitment to develop the “whole child,” in his or her varied diversity. Such effort will enhance both the potential of America’s youth and the potential of our country.
Thank you in anticipation of your support.
Rosina M. Gallagher, Ph.D., NCSP is a psychologist and educational consultant who was born and raised in Mexico City through early adolescence. She has been evaluator of bilingual programs and administrator of gifted programs in a large urban school district. Her research and writings include second language acquisition and working with students and families from diverse cultural backgrounds. Dr. Gallagher has authored and collaborated in several federal grants to include culturally and linguistically diverse students in gifted education. Active in several professional organizations, she is past president of the Illinois School Psychologists Association and past co-chair of the Special Populations Division of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC). Currently, she President of the SENG Board of Directors and has served in the past as SENG’s Secretary and Treasurer. Dr. Gallagher is a member of the Illinois Gifted Advisory Council, NAGC’s Diversity and Equity Committee, and co-chair of the Underserved Populations Committee of the Illinois Association for Gifted Children.