Exactly what is a gifted child? Willard Abraham, in his book Common Sense About Gifted Children tells about a graduate student who attempted to find a definition of gifted children, and came back three weeks later with 113 separate definitions, some overlapping and some polar opposites (21). The definition used by the Federal Government defines the gifted children thus: "The term "gifted and talented" when used in respect to students, children, or youth means students, children, or youth who give evidence of high performance capability in areas such as intellectual, creative, artistic, or leadership ability, or in specific academic fields, and who require service or activities not ordinarily provided by the school in order to fully develop such capabilities (Turnball 269)." Current ideas of giftedness state that it comes in multiple forms, is developmental and process-oriented, field-oriented rather than school-oriented, and encompasses people of all races and social classes (Turnbull 270). However, in the public mind, the phrase "talent and gifted" is mainly used in reference to children who are academically or intellectually gifted, and conjures up images of spectacled youngsters poring over books when they should be outside playing. Despite these images and perceptions, there has been a growing movement among teachers, parents, lawmakers, and the children themselves to see that the needs of gifted youth are met.
Interest in cultivating talented youth has a long history. Some of the earliest "intelligence testing" happened in China 2200 B.C., where it was required to pass a series of difficult tests to enter official ranks. Later, the Chinese had a series of contests to pick a Model Scholar, who would receive elaborate recognition from the state. (Laycock 100). In the Western world, as early as 2,000 years ago Plato suggested that children with high intelligence be selected and offered specialized instruction in preparation for becoming leaders of the state. Later, in the 16th century the leader of the Turkish Empire made it a special point to educated gifted Christian youth in the Moslem faith (Kirk 105). In America, Thomas Jefferson believe that because the new government would demand talent, talent must be sought out and cultivated (Laycock 86).
The two main reasons given to cultivate talent in America today are to full society's needs and to promote individual development. Well-trained, talented individuals are needed in all fields to keep a society prosperous. By finding talent and cultivating it, a society ensures that it will have the people it needs for economic stability and cultural enrichment (Laycock 87). Because America is a society "committed to the development of the individual, each person has the right to an education that will lead to his or her fullest growth (Laycock 87)." This means that America has a commitment to assist students in achieving educational goals and encourage individual development. While this applies to all students, gifted students require more education and attention to achieve their fullest potential. As Howard Levene (LAN 84-87) says, "These programs are needed to make sure that we develop intellectually talented kids... Children need intellectual stimulation to encourage brain development. Academically talented kids are the hardest to train, as they demand the most challenging stimuli. We need programs that are tailored to bright kids to make certain that these kids develop to their full potential."
One attempt, of many, to develop the potential of gifted children is the creation of educational summer programs for gifted youth. These programs are usually run by universities or the state. One of the earliest was Johns Hopkins University's Center for Talented Youth (CTY). CTY began when a professor at JHU, Dr. Julian Stanley, took up the case of a 13-year-old boy whose needs were not being addressed by conventional schooling. His interest in the subject sparked, Dr. Stanley, with the help of his colleagues, asked schools to give them the identities of students who were talented according to grade level assessment. These students were given the opportunity to take out-of-grade-level assessment tests. Qualified students then enrolled in mathematics courses. As the Talent Search grew, the Office of Talent Identification and Development was created by the college in 1979 (the name was changed to Center for Talented Youth two years later.) Dr. William George became the first director, and created a number of residential and commuter programs to serve the students identified by the Talent Search. In 1995, CTY was restructured as the Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth (IAAY) and housed both CTY and a second program, the Center for Academic Advancement (CAA), which served students who had not scored high enough on the out-of-grade level assessment to attend CTY, but still were in the top two percent of the population. In 2000, the IAAY name was reverted back to CTY. The name CTY refers both to the entire organization, which includes a multitude of other programs, as well as to the specific three week summer program described in this essay. Unless otherwise noted, "CTY" refers to the CTY summer program for gifted students, not the broader organization, throughout this essay.
The CTY summer program allows students between the ages of 12 to 16 who score in the top 1/2 percentage of their age group on the SATs to attend 3 weeks of intensive instruction on one course at one of 6 college campuses around the country. Classes range from psychology to computer science, from writing to math sequence. Every day, students attend 5 hours of class and a two-hour, structured study hall. Each class has between 8 and 18 people in it, and is taught by both a professor and a teaching assistant. Learning is very individually focused, students are assessed by written evaluations, and teachers are called by their first name. Students eat meals in a cafeteria, live in dorms, and participate in various social activities. In addition to daily structured activities, such as theater, sports, discussion group, and letter writing, which the students choose and sign up for the night before, there are a number of scheduled weekend activities, such as dances, movies, and campus-wide carnivals. All activities are facilitated by Resident Advisors who also live on the halls with the students and conduct daily hall meetings.
When CTY began, it was a very small program: the students and staff all lived in one building, fewer classes and sites were offered, and there were a lot fewer rules. However, as the program grew and became better known, many more students began attending. New sites and classes were introduced, and more students attended each site.
Throughout the years, a number of student instigated traditions have grown as well. "American Pie" by Don McLean is always the last song at every dance; Sunday mornings many students gather outside, sit in a circle, and toast their friends in a ritual called Passionfruit; and Ultimate Frisbee, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and Monty Python have long been revered by the CTY community. There is even a distinct lingo that CTY students use- "CTYers" are CTY students, "nomores" or "nevermore" are CTYers who are too old to come back to CTY the next year, and "Meet Market" is the evening social time.
This paper will outline both the academic and the social pros and cons of gifted summer programs, with a particular focus on the Johns Hopkins CTY program. There are a number of other programs similar to the Johns Hopkins program throughout the country and world, such as Duke University's similar TIP or Talent Identification Program. However, CTY is probably the largest, one of the earliest, and the one with which the author is familiar. In addition to traditional books and essays, a large focus will be placed on the commentary of CTY students and staff themselves. A list of question was sent to four CTY-related student run e-mail list. Some list members forwarded the survey to others who weren't on the lists. Though it is difficult to know how many students received the internet survey, it is safe to assume that at least two hundred saw it; of that, 51 students, alumni and staff members responded. The range of students interviewed covers the full twenty years of CTY's existence, and a number of the students interviewed also returned as staff. Because they are the ones closest to the program and the ones who it affects the most, their insights are perhaps some of the most important.
CTY literature claims that the program "nurtures intellectual abilities, advances academic achievement, and enhances personal development" for students who attend the program. CTY is fairly successful at achieving these goals. Most students who attend got something out of their experience. Of CTY students surveyed, almost none had any complaints about the academic program, and most sang its praises. Many said that it gave them in-depth knowledge of a topic they were interested in and that it made learning about that subject enjoyable. Some students were able to use their CTY classes for credit at their home schools, thus graduating early or opting out of basic classes to take more advanced ones. Other students were introduced to other academic programs, such as the PEG program at Mary Baldwin College that allows talented girls to enter college as early as age 14 without a high school degree. Furthermore, as Daniel Zaharopol (CLN 96-97) says, "The academic benefit was not just in the form of knowing more, but in the form of creating even more of a desire to know more, and a better understanding of how one can truly know more." It helped inspire students to make the most of their talents. "I'm pretty sure I'd be pumping gas right now if I wasn't at CTY for four years. Now I'm a Ph.D. student in Computer Science at Stanford, and I'm looking for an academic career," says Greg Humphreys (LAN 88-91). By introducing them to a diverse group of people, it also encourages students to explore new things and become more diverse people, a skill which is valuable throughout life. Nancy Dommer (LAN 88-91) says of the program, "It taught me at an early age that I had better become a well rounded person because I was never going to be the sharpest crayon in the box."
CTY also provides a place where learning and being smart is accepted. Sadly, in many schools, being too smart cause problems for students. Liisa Hantsso (LAN 93-95) tells of the condition at her home school. "At my public school, I quickly found that voicing my opinions and answers to the teachers' questions would result in jealous ridicule and ostracism." She goes on to say that she would intentionally miss answers on quizzes so that she wouldn't have the stigma of getting a 100%. "At CTY, I was not hindered by this problem and felt free to speak in class." After CTY, she was able to get 100%s and be proud of it, she says. CTY not only teaches children, it encourages them to teach themselves, to use their gifts, and to be proud of their ability to learn.
However, the program is not perfect. Some problems are with individual classes, stemming from the make-up of the class or the teacher, causing the class to be below par for the program. These problems usually are fixed by the next summer. There are also some problems and criticisms which are more inherent in the program and which either have not yet been fixed or cannot be fixed without compromising all the ideals the program stands on and taking away what benefits the program brings. These problems are mainly ideological and deal more with whom the program serves rather than the actual teaching methods.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems with CTY is what it takes to get into the program. The only measure of giftedness that CTY uses is the SAT. "A test is valid if it measures what it purports to measure. An intelligence test used to pick bright children should pick the children who are the brightest. If it is more sensitive instead to good reading or persistent effort or ready memory, it may still be a useful test, but it does not thereby measure intelligence (Laycock 166)." The SAT is not designed to pick out intelligent 7th or 8th graders; it is designed to measure the potential for success in college of juniors and seniors in high school. While the SAT is a convenient way to pick out students, it does not claim to measure intelligence or will to learn. It wasn't designed to test the intelligence of middle school children. Therefore, it is not an entirely accurate measure of intelligence. There are many intelligent students who are not, for example, good test takers. These students might be able to benefit from the CTY program and be gifted enough to attend, but would be eliminated because of their scores on a test that doesn't even claim to measure intelligence. As Jeremy Cooke (LAN & CAR 94-96) says, "[SAT requirements] work on some levels, but it also locks out certain people who may be smart in other ways- and open to experiencing something like CTY- but can't score high enough in the 7th or 8th grade to get in on the ground floor."
The teaching methods used at CTY are very effective. It is probable that students other than the gifted can benefit from small classes, discussion, and other such teaching tactics that currently go mainly to either gifted or troubled students. Many other students, some of whom aren't as gifted, could benefit from programs like CTY. CTY has attempted to reach students outside the main range of CTY students. First, it started the CAA program in an attempt to reach a wider range of students. Second, the program has attempted to spread the concepts behind its program to other places; on its web page, it claims that Institute-trained teachers are bringing CTY teaching methods to other classrooms. Finally, the program came up with a concept called "Optimal Match," which states that each child should receive an individualized education that maximizes his or her potential and finds the place between material that is too difficult and material that is too easy. CTY's job then, is to help gifted students find their Optimal Match, and promote the idea to other groups who could help other students find their optimal match. Sumeeta (YS & JHU 94-98) sums this idea up by saying, "Should the benefits of CTY be extended to students other than the gifted? Of course, but that means that the benefits of the philosophy by which CTY is run (Optimal Match, etc.) should be available to others, and it contradicts or undermines this philosophy to literally open CTY to too wide a group, because then nobody has their Optimal Match." Some students, on the other hand, feel that CTY is almost too diverse to find the Optimal Match of even the students who are there. As L Almagor (YS, SAR, &CAR 93-98) says, "One program can't effectively handle a shy ten-year-old math prodigy intent on gaining high school credits, a sixteen-year-old dropout poet looking for an escape, a sophomore who qualified on a fluke and wants resume enhancement, and someone whose parents made them go." The idea of Optimal Match is a good one, and supports CTY's goals nicely; however, when that concept is combined with the SAT entrance requirement, it means that CTY is ignoring whole groups of people for whom CTY would be the Optimal Match.
Another criticism that it thrown at CTY is that it promotes and even causes elitism. Many people feel that CTYers will become snobby or arrogant about their intelligence once they have received the honor of being allowed to go to this program. When CTYers were asked if they felt that CTY was intellectually elitist, many felt that it was, but that it didn't matter. Though CTY did only take the academically elite as measured by SAT scores, that wasn't a bad thing, they said, because these students were more talented and thus deserved the special treatment. "Some sports camps are elitist, and most kids that (sic) go to CTY can't qualify for those sports camps," says Allie Merriam (CLN & CAR 96-98). "It works both ways" As Laycock says, "[A] way to avoid elitism is to improve the lot of all children (154)." CTY is not trying improve the lot of all children directly; however, with the Optimal Match concept and CAA, it is at least attempting to avoid elitism. It is also interesting to note that none of the students interviewed felt that CTY was socially elite - in other words, they felt that CTY was mostly free from the distinct, limiting cliques and internal rivalries that dominates American high schools.
Some students felt that going to CTY actually made it harder to learn at home. For example, Nancy Dommer said, "It left me extremely frustrated with the method of teaching in my local high school... having experienced an environment where I could learn at my own pace, it was hard to go back to the old way." Another criticism is that when students take classes at CTY to skip classes at their home schools, they receive the same academic stress as normal classes condensed into three weeks, and further isolation from their peers at their home schools. One CTYer, a student in 1990 and a CTY teacher and TA between the years 1995 and 1998 (JHU) says: "I don't see why smart kids need to rush along... let them take math problem solving which will help them in other classes as opposed to a class which will push them ahead with older kids in their high schools and make them feel even more different than many gifted kids already do." CTY tries to defuse the pressure to complete a set amount of work by not allowing students to work outside of class or study hall, but this practice is not entirely successful at relieving the stress. Furthermore, it still doesn't prevent student from the social strain of being younger than everyone else in their classes at their home school, or from feeling like the education they are receiving at their home school isn't good enough.
The effect CTY has on students is not only academic, though. Many of the students take part in intense social culture and friendships while they are at the program. "[One of the] most socially encouraging aspects of CTY was the intense culture. Ultimate Frisbee was amazing, if for no other reason than the fact that the players were never mocked for lack of ability. American Pie has brought CTYers together for years after they left the camp," says Daniel Zaharopol. Many CTY students are outcast at their home schools due to their intelligence. Leslie Kaplan states in her article about gifted students and stress, "Finding a peer group can be difficult, particularly for adolescents. Some experience a conflict between belonging to a group and using their extraordinary abilities." Many CTY students tell stories of how they would "act dumb" to be accepted by peers at their home school. Others say that their intelligence made them outcasts. CTY provides these students the opportunity to interact with other intelligent students with similar interests and an opportunity to be accepted for who they are, regardless of their intelligence. Ali Moss (JHU 97-98) describes the social benefit of CTY to gifted children by saying, "[Academic summer programs] can most greatly benefit those who are so 'talented' that they are unique in their home environment. It presents them with a chance to meet other people who are as misunderstood and lonely as they are.... they gain admission into a community of peers, one that for the first time is not defined by age but by 'talent.'" Heather Nicoll (LAN 90-94) puts it more simply: "It's nice to know that one isn't the only geek in the universe."
Adolescence is a rough time, especially for students with few friends. The process of making self-discovery and making friends at home is a rough one, and it often takes a lot of time. It is a process every teen goes through, but often it is more difficult for gifted students. Willard Abraham says, "High intelligence apparently does not help the individual meet everyday stress situations any more adequately than does the average person... the brighter students react pretty much like the average ones in trying to overcome the annoyances everyone must face, more or less in life (196)." Furthermore, a study by Dr. Ruth Strang sited in Abraham's book says, "These children have many of the same difficulties others do except earlier and 'more so.'" and says that gifted students reported to have a greater desire for acceptance with their peers than the average student, have a greater lack of self-acceptance, and are more concerned about boy-girl relationships.
"[High intelligence] should be an asset, but it sometimes evokes reactions that send the pupil off into unhappy and unproductive behavior (Laycock 141)." CTY helps alleviate this problem by providing students with a place where their intelligence is not the primary thing they are judged on. Once the label of "brain" or "nerd" is removed, many students have found that the road was clear for them to discover who they really are. Beth Simmons (CLN 95-98) states, "CTY is the best thing that every happened to me." They discover that under the labels, they are real and valued people. Katie Davenport (CAR 96-98) says, "When a bunch of severely gifted kids live together, they naturally put themselves into positions they would have never otherwise attained. It is very interesting to be a social outcast at school and the ringleader of a cool crowd at summer camp." One student described being teased all through elementary and middle school. After CTY, he says, he begin to think that maybe the reason he had been teased wasn't his fault, but rather the issues of the people doing the teasing. When CTY students gain this confidence in themselves, they find it easier to make friends in their own schools. They sometimes gain social skills that their labels had prevented them from gaining at home. "The most important lesson that I learned at CTY was not how to set a scene in writing a story or how to translate Plautus, but to accept others for who they are, and not to prejudge them," says Liisa Hantsso.
CTY students who gain social skills from CTY do not go home and have a new circle of friends in a week, nor does CTY solve all the problems of adolescence. The process takes months or years. In the meantime, these students still have problems to deal with. Often, friends from CTY become a support group to help them through rough times. Long distance phone calls, E-mail, and on-line chat become a primary part of some CTY students' lives. When they are in need, many CTY students turn to their friends from CTY for help. One student, who asked to remain anonymous, says, "I became clinically depressed for 6 months and suicidal for 3 of those. I honestly believe that the only thing that pulled me through all of that was thinking about all of my wonderful friends at CTY and how I'd see them all again in just a few short months." Similar claims have been made by other clinically depressed CTY students.
However, not all students agree that CTY is beneficial emotionally. A number of gifted students have social and emotional problems stemming from their ability. While studies, like the Terman study of gifted individuals, have show that gifted students are no more likely to be unstable than the general population (Beckman), just like in the general population there are going to be a few students with emotional problems. These students are all thrown together in a very intense environment for three weeks without parents. Lisa (CAR 96-98) describes CTY as "the only place where I've found people as screwed up as I am." While these students are not the norm, they do form a very distinct subgroup. Most students find that this contact with peers with similar problems is beneficial and allows them to form support groups, as previously stated. Yet, there are a some students who believe that the social interactions at CTY can actually make emotional problems worse. Katie Davenport says: "To be blunt, I know a lot of messed up people in CTY. I can't say whether CTY caused their problems, or exacerbated them, or perhaps created a sort of haven that became very painful to leave.... something about living together, alone, without parents... can lead to emotional growth or emotional disorders, and perhaps both." Not many students hold this view and even the ones that do admit that despite the danger, there is much room for emotional growth.
Students who believe that CTY environment can cause or enhance emotional problems are not really clear on how they believe this happens, but they present several theories. One theory states that in a group of people in which each individual has his or her own emotional issues, all of the emotional issues and problems of each person in the group will feed on the problems of the others and thus get worse. Another says that when unstable students create support groups made exclusively of other unstable students, as the CTYers of concern in this issue are apt to do, they don't receive the calm rational advice they need or the stable shoulder to lean on. It is also proposed that some students who attend CTY will become frustrated with their home life, because it isn't as "perfect" as the CTY experience seems to some students. A final theory is that some CTYers who have problems making friends will feel that their friends from CTY are enough and instead of using the social skills they learned at CTY to make new friends at their homes, will withdraw more into their shell. Though there is no documented evidence of these problems, the few students who hold this theory of emotional damage being caused by the social scene of CTY cite stories of individual CTYers they have personally known. This proof does not give any indication of how valid the observations are or how widespread the problem is if it exists. When asked about this subject, CTY's spokesperson, Charles Beckman, urged caution. "CTYers are a diverse group, and I would even say we have some eccentrics among us. But I can't tell you how often I, as the media relations person, need to debunk the notion of the "eccentric genius" that reporters want to seize upon. I think it's the worst kind of stereotyping of our students, and studies have shown that the image is just not true."
Another, more major, issue within the CTY community is the relationship between the staff and administration, and the student. In recent years there has been a growing group of CTYers who feel that the program cares more about money than students, that the program is not responsive to their comments and criticisms, and that the staff and administration fail to recognize the importance and validity of several types of deviant behavior. Matt Weber (CLN 96-98) voices a common complaint when he says, "Sometimes it seems like CTY as an institution cares more about rules than individual students' well-being." Matthew Belmonte, a CTY student between the years of 1982 and 1983, and a staff member for eight summers between 1987 and 1997, wrote an essay about his experiences at CTY and his criticisms of the program after he failed to be rehired in 1998 because of "fundamental differences in philosophy" between him and the administrators of the program. Since then, he has worked with current and former CTYers in an attempt to create open dialogue between the administration and the students. He has also started the unofficial Boston CTY Alumni Association, which in addition to hosting reunions and such, also provides free classes to students. His essay, titled "On Leaving CTY," addresses many of the concerns some students have about the program and has been widely circulated around the Internet.
The main problems many students see with the administration fall under three main categories: lack of flexibility with the rules, failure to show interest in the students after they leave the program, and failure to listen to and understand students. Once of the earliest incidents of uprising over the creation of a rule happened in the mid-eighties with the institution of what student dubbed "the Veil Law." Prior to that summer, students were allowed to gather in opposite sex dormitories. However, after problems arose from this practice, the administration made a rule stating that any student found on an opposite sex hall without a RA would be kicked out of the program. Students were outraged, saying that next the administration would make all the girls wear veils. Belmonte blames the controversy this rule caused on a lack of communication between staff and students. "The problem here was not necessarily the rule itself but the manner in which it was imposed on the students. They were given no opportunity to be presented with the problem and to be involved with finding an acceptable solution. Too often, the summer's frantic pace prevents administrators from recognizing that if students are treated as responsible people, they'll behave responsibly." However, CTY continued the practice of making rules after problems occurred to prevent future problems from happening. Rules such as no swinging lanyards, no barefeet, and no dying hair without a note from home upset students, because while they know the program is trying to prevent hurt students and angry parents, they also feel that such rules imply that the program doesn't trust them or respect them. Though there are a few rules which are site-specific, making it easier for students to talk to the creator of the rules, many major rules are passed down from higher-ups in Baltimore, people most students will never see. Often, the reasons students are so upset is because the reasons behind these rules are rarely explained to students. Sumeeta says, "A problem I've seen with CTY is a lack of continuity in the staff, which makes it difficult to maintain traditions, relationships with particular RAs, and to address questions like why someone (seemingly) spontaneously decided that the students were not competent/responsible/ safe enough to walk to and from class unsupervised." It is difficult to keep a continuous staff in a program such as CTY where RAs and TAs are mostly college students who are only employed for a summer or two. Belmonte, too, doesn't blame this issue on individual staff members, but rather on the tendency for so large an organization to develop away from the original motives of its creators. "[By the late 80's] the institution seemed to be developing a will of its own, independent of the altruistic motivations of the individuals who comprised it." If CTY were to create an open dialogue between staff and students, it would help alleviate this problem; however, to date, such a dialogue has not been established.
There is a CTY Alumni Association. In the past, it organized reunions and other CTY get-togethers and maintained a newsletter. Due to staff changes and a lack of time of staff, the Alumni Association did not organize such activities for several years. Instead its main focus was raising funds for the program. This was detrimental in two ways. First, when a student's only contact with the program after he or she leaves is a fund raising phone call, he or she sometimes begins to feel that the program cares more about money than the students themselves, causing resentment. Secondly, it discourages students from continuing their involvement with the program and with gifted education. Many students who might have considered returning later as staff didn't because they grow disillusioned with the program after they leave; these students would make valuable members of the staff because they would understand the spirit and traditions of CTY as well as hold a greater understanding of the students based on their own personal experience. While the official CTY alumni association is attempting to reach out to students with more activities, most of their efforts are still in the development stage, while CTY students often organize their own reunions, publish their own newsletters and webpages, maintain their own mailing lists, and have even discussed creating their own unofficial alumni association without the help of the program. This separates them from the program, and causes many complaints and comments to go unheard. Belmonte says, "By failing to recognize and to work with networks of CTY friends, CTY encourages another sort of bunker mentality. In this case, it's students for themselves and their friends, set up against administrators, teachers, and parents." In addition to the lack of time, the assumed reason that CTY does not host such activities anymore is one of legality- they are afraid of getting sued if an accident happens. Many programs face similar pressures. While CTY doesn't have a legal obligation to involve itself with CTY students on the "off-season," many believe that it has a moral obligation to support the community that the program has created, even when the program is not in-session. CTY's spokesperson Beckman acknowledges the legitimate need that alums feel to stay involved with the organization and says that top administrators at the program have heard this desire.
The third issue that causes problems is a discrepancy between what the students see as acceptable behavior and what the staff sees as acceptable behavior. Often, but not always, staff try to discourage a wide range of "deviant behavior," ranging from building sculpture out of food to crossdressing, both long standing CTY traditions of sorts. While the amount of controversy this issue causes ranges from site to site and year to year, when it is present, it is loudly spoken of by both students and staff. One TA said that it felt like students were encouraged to be creative in class, but once they left class they were told to put their creativity on hold. Belmonte describes the situation thus: "There has been pressure to halt deviant behavior at CTY. Unfortunately, halting deviant behavior usually means halting creative behavior."
A prime example of students speaking out about this issue occurred at Carlisle in 1997. The Dean of Residential Life that year (who was not asked back the next year) reprimanded students for a variety of actions, ranging from discussing non-mainstream religions to same-gender relationships. He did not allow the Talent Show MCs to perform a song mocking the New York Times' excessive coverage of the discovery of deaf Mexican slaves, but did allow a song entitled "Things That Aren't Sexy." His reasoning behind his actions was that he didn't want students to "offend" anyone. After a student got in trouble for cross-dressing, a protest was organized. About 30 males wore skirts and make-up for a day, and about two hundred students, many of whom didn't know the student who had gotten in trouble, wore signs saying things like "I am not offended" and "Censorship makes me very uncomfortable." The administration had no official reaction to the protest.
Belmonte claims that the reason CTY administration is so against deviant behavior is two fold: first, CTY has to market to parents with varying ideas about what they want their children to be exposed to and thus the program has to keep up an image as "a place where normal people go," and second, that deviant behavior may be seen as a "threat to authority" by tired administrators. In fact, this deviant behavior is usually not a threat, but rather part of the very active CTY community.
According to CTY spokespersons Charles Beckman, "CTY program administrators are assigned something close to parental responsibility for the care of students of minor age in our day and residential programs. So we need to act prudently to create safe, nurturing environments for all students attending CTY programs." While this justifies a large number of the rules CTY students live under, many students feel that there are quite a few rules and administrative actions that cross the line between protecting students and encroaching on their freedoms.
Nearly every year, many older students claim that CTY is "declining" and worry that future generations of CTYers will not have the same wonderful experience that they have due to the problems outline in the past section. They site stricter rules and increasingly tense staff/student relations as support for their opinion. Despite this most, though not all, of the students who attend CTY find that the social and academic benefits outweigh their concerns with staff/student relations, and continue to attend the program.
Perhaps the most complex problem that faces CTY is that of money and economic class. This problem spans all of education. It is a well known fact that less money means less education. Because it costs about 2000 dollars for a session of CTY, most poor families cannot afford to send a child to CTY without financial aid, and until recently, not enough of money was available to serve all the students who need it. This means that most of the students who are able to attend are of higher socioeconomic standing. As Katie Davenport put it, "going to CTY resulted in me having a lot of rich friends."
The United States Department of Education's report on gifted education addresses the issue briefly. "It is clear that students from economically disadvantaged families and students with unorthodox talents are not being identified in equitable proportions.... intensive summer programs serve only a fraction of the secondary students who might benefit from them." A number of CTY students also see the problem caused by the cost of CTY. "Bright and curious people can come from any social class or neighborhood and the poorer should not be kept from having such an important opportunity," says Matt Weber, who also points out that the less wealthy students who did attend CTY were not persecuted because of their poverty. "The kids with less money who did make it were no less a part of the group than those with more." The issue is also a touch one because of race. A. Modi (CLN 95-98) calls CTY "a playground for smart rich suburban white kids and Asians." The lack of racial diversity at CTY is a result of cultural racism that causes minorities to have less money, and thus less education. The U.S. Education Department reports that while 8.8 percent of public school students participate in Talented and Gifted programs, 17.6 percent of Asian students participate in such programs, 9.0 percent of white students, 7.9 percent of black students, 6.7 Hispanics, and only 2.1 of American Indian Students. Of students participating in TAG programs, 9 percent of students were in the bottom income quartile, while 47 percent came from the top income quartile.
"No geographical area, skin color, or occupational group has a monopoly on giftedness (10)," says Abraham. However true this may be from the nature side of things, nurture does affect the issue. "...city ghettos and rural or isolated areas do not offer students the programs or broad social support found in prosperous towns and suburbs.... [This has] particular importance for the brightest because they are the ones who need sustained schooling the most (Laycock 159)." Students who come from households with more books, higher income, and parents with more schooling more often tested as gifted than those with fewer. "The correlation between socioeconomic status and school performance may arise from the distribution of 'families educogenes' [well-educated families whose attitudes towards school are supportive]. At each step up the social scale, there are more of these families (Laycock 165)." This means that students who come from poorer families, no matter how naturally bright they are, are less likely to make high enough scores to qualify for CTY. This is not CTY's fault, but rather a problem in society, which affects CTY. According to CTY Spokesperson Charles Beckman, the attempt serve less economically advanced kids in greater number is one of the major pushes of CTY right now. Recently, they received several large grants, allowing them to do more for economically disadvantaged children. In the summer of 2000, they gave out 1.5 million dollars in financial aid, and they are making aggressive attempts to recruit and serve students in the urban areas of Boston, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, San Francisco Bay area, and greater Los Angeles.
In addition to scholarships, there are some other ideas that might be helpful in addressing this problem. One alumni proposed a mentor program, where CTY alumni work on a volunteer with poorer gifted students on both a social and academic level. Matthew Belmonte has started free CTY-type classes in Boston. If CTY were to sponsor such volunteer based programs like this and lend its knowledge base to the work of students and staff, it would help it do more to extend its services to a larger group of people while still remaining economically viable. As Robin Bose (JHU & CAR 94-96) says, "It sucks that CTY can't sample a wider diversity of socioeconomic and backgrounds/lifestyles.... While I agree that CTY is a business, it is also an experiment. Let's add some more variables."
CTY is a highly successful program which accomplishes most of its goals. Most students who attend find it to be at least a beneficial experience if not a life changing one. Two main problems face the institute. One is the issue of inclusion, of who can benefit from the program and how to reach those people and see that they do benefit. CTY and CTYers are attempting to solve this problem to the best of their ability. CTY serves over 8,000 children annually through residential and commuter programs and offers scholarships and financial aid. Students have also suggested an alumni-staffed mentoring program for less financially gifted students, and the CTY Boston Alumni Association offers CTY-type classes free of charge. The second problem is the relation between the administration and the students. The best way to solve this problem would be open dialogue between both current and former students and administration. Though there has been talk about this, it has not yet been followed through on by CTY administration. These problems, however, do not negate the value, both academically and socially, of this program to students who attend. Though controversial and flawed for many reasons, gifted summer programs, as represented by CTY, for the most part are beneficial to students who attend.
Abraham, Willard. Common Sense About Gifted Children. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1958.
Belmonte, Matthew. "On Leaving CTY." Unpublished Essay.
Johns Hopkins University IAAY web page. http://www.jhu.edu/~gifted
Kaplan, Leslie S. "Helping Gifted Students with Stress Management." Web page: ERIC EC Digest, http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content/stressmanagement.html
Kirk Samuel A. Educating Exceptional Children, Second Edition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1972.
Laycock, Frank. Gifted Children. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1979.
O'Connell Ross, Pat- Project Director. "For Improvement of Practice National Excellence: A Case For Developing America's Talent." Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 1993
Turnbull, Ann, et al. Exceptional Live: Special Education in Today's Schools Second Edition. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Merrill,1999.
Personal Letter: Charles Beckman, spokesperson, Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University. November, 2000
Various Personal Letters and Interviews. L Almagor, Matthew Belmonte, Robin Bose, Jeremy Cooke, Katie Davenport, Nancy Dommer, Liisa Hantsso, Howard Levene, Allie Merriam, A. Modi, Ali Moss, Heather Nicoll, Beth Simmons, Phil Sandifer, Matt Weber, Daniel Zaharopol, Lisa X, Sumeeta X, and two anonymous sources. March-April 1999.