Update from the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development

2e Center News

November, 2017

About this Column

The 2e Center is located on the campus of Bridges Academy in Studio City, California. In this column, we share what’s happening at our center and report research findings, teaching ideas, and parenting suggestions we have found to be successful in helping 2e kids thrive.
— SB

On October 13 and 14 the 2e Center for Research and Professional Development held its second biennial symposium at the Garland Hotel, minutes away from the Bridges Academy Los Angeles campus. This year’s symposium had two main purposes:

  • To bring together those involved in 2e education, especially school founders, from across the U.S. and internationally to allow the sharing of philosophies, strategies, and techniques
  • To honor seven of the “pioneers” in the field of twice-exceptionality.

The symposium began on the evening of Friday the 13th with dinner, followed by Susan Baum’s brief history of twice-exceptionality. Following that, seven pioneers were honored:

  • C. June Maker, whose book Providing Programs for the Gifted Handicapped was one of the first to highlight that students with special needs could also be gifted
  • Joanne Whitmore Schwartz, who began a program for highly gifted underachievers in Cupertino, California, and turned her experience there and later academic research into the book Giftedness, Conflict, and Underachievement
  • Linda Brody, an editor of the seminal work Learning Disabled/Gifted Children: Identification and Programming
  • Lois Baldwin, author and director of one of the earliest programs in a public school to address students with gifts and handicaps
  • M. Elizabeth Nielsen, principal investigator in one of the first Javits grants to identify and serve gifted students with exceptionalities
  • L. Dennis Higgins, the district coordinator for Nielsen’s Javits project, who became the first full-time teacher of a designated 2e classroom in 1995
  • Mary Ruth Coleman, for her long-time leadership roles with the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Association for Gifted Children in creating recognition for 2e students.

From left: Elizabeth Nielsen, Dennis Higgins, Lois Baldwin, Mary Ruth Coleman, Susan Baum, Bridges Academ Head of School Carl Sabatino; C. June Maker, Joanne Whitmore Schwartz, Linda Brody, and Scott Barry Kaufman (photo credit: Heather Lembcke, Bridges Academy)

Finally, academic researcher Scott Barry Kaufman gave a brief talk bridging the work of the pioneers with the work to be done in the future.

Saturday brought a variety of keynotes, panels, and forums. Read coverage of two keynotes below and watch our website and future issues for more.     

Session: Talent Development as a Key to Success

Presenter: Sally M. Reis, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, Neag School of Education, University of Connecticut

Sally Reiss provided a keynote address on Saturday morning of the symposium that was very personal. In it, she talked about her daughter, who struggled in school at an early age and was classified as “low ability.” She talked about herself and her husband, Joe Renzulli, she with a Ph.D. in educational psychology of the gifted, he with an Ed.D. and specializing in the same subject. And she talked about Susan Baum, who was in the room, and how Susan helped the couple deal with their daughter’s learning challenges.

According to Reis’ story, she was on the way to an IEP meeting for her daughter when she ran into Baum, who then accompanied her to the meeting. After a litany of deficits from the educators in attendance, Baum said, “Well, tell us what she can do.” That was the beginning of a new way to look at their daughter — through the lens of talent development. The daughter wound up at a private high school where, as an honors student, she won a history prize and a debate prize. She went on to earn a master’s degree in school counseling and then a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. Today she works with at-risk students.

Since that experience, most of Reis’ work has been in the area of strength-based education for the twice exceptional, and she has discovered that education methods good for 2e students are good for all students. Her approach includes:

  • Talent development and enrichment opportunities, the right types of which can change a child’s life
  • Extending the pedagogy of gifted education to twice-exceptional students to make learning more effective and enjoyable
  • Creative and joyful teaching to increase achievement.

Reis believes that schools should be places for talent development, and she asserts, “The most important predictor of success is early development of interests, task commitment, and learned reaction to challenge.” For 2e students, Reis says she dreams of a time when every IEP for every 2e student will have a talent development goal included.

What is it that 2e students need? According to Reis, it’s:

  • Opportunities in the areas of strength and interest
  • Time to explore interests
  • The chance to see that learning can be enjoyable.

Reflecting on her personal family experiences and subsequent work, she said, “When you raise a child like this, you’re affected for life.”

Session: Celebrating Diversity

Presenter: Jonathan Mooney, author and advocate

In his Saturday afternoon keynote, Jonathan Mooney shared both his personal experiences as a child growing up with learning disabilities and thoughts and experiences from his grown-up life as an advocate for those with learning challenges.

Mooney has ADHD and language-based learning disabilities. He says he didn’t learn to read until he was 12. He was often the butt of the questions “What’s your problem?” and “What’s wrong with you?” Those questions do not enhance one’s self-esteem, he said. He was one of “those kids.”

Mooney, in his adult life, has been able to turn the problem around, restating it in terms of interaction with the environment. In his case, his disability was the school desk. At the symposium, here’s how he described his interaction with the desk, and it’s also part of his recent opinion piece in The New York Times:

Five seconds into class, the foot starts bouncing; 10 seconds in, both feet; 15 seconds, I bust out the drums! After a few minutes, it’s all over. I’m trying to put my leg behind my neck. No, that desk and I didn’t get along.

Mooney says he spent lots of time “chilling with the janitor” and “hanging out with Shirley the receptionist.” In the middle of sixth grade, he dropped out of school for a year and a half, dealing with severe anxiety and depression. He says he had a plan for suicide. His mother, as he also relates in the NY Times opinion piece, was his savior because she knew he wasn’t “broken.”

Mooney is convinced that individuals don’t have disabilities, but rather are disabled by environments that don’t accommodate individual differences. So rather than fix the kid, we should be fixing the environment. “Imagine a school system that embraces the diversity of minds that comes from being a human being.”

“Normal” is something we create with our biases, with policy, and with our actions, says Mooney. “And we can change the way we define normal.”

He took aim at IEPs, noting that for every strength documented in an IEP there are probably 10 or 20 challenges — a deficit bias that affects how students see themselves, a deficit bias implying that students are broken and must be fixed by the adults around them. “Let’s stop fixing folks and start empowering folks,” Mooney urges. “Let’s do strength-based IEPs.”

At the end of his keynote, Mooney challenged the idea that there is a “normal.” “The only normal people are the people you don’t know very well,” he said. He pointed out that the American hypocrisy around respecting the individual begins the first day of kindergarten, when children are all told they’re special. Then, when the bell rings, as he says, it’s “Now sit your ass down” and do what everyone else does.

Mooney’s attitude and tone during his keynote are also expressed in the conclusion of his opinion piece, which is good reading:

A fundamental battleground for every civil rights movement has been the rejection of the idea that you’re the problem and a demand for cultural and systemic change. Whether one believes that people like me are disabled or persons with a disability, or simply different, we all require the same things: schools, workplaces and communities that are inclusive of the diversity of human minds and bodies. We have to fight for every person’s right to be different. [Source: https://goo.gl/EsRgvG]   

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