“Gifted:” Privilege & Oppression In Public School

April 11, 2017
By Mollie March-Steinman

I attended Pittsburgh Public Schools from kindergarten through high school, and it was an honor to do so. I loved being surrounded by vibrant, talented young people, and the fact that everyone came from a range of backgrounds and ideas made the community even more beautiful. However, as a privileged white girl, my experience was different than most. Black students were yelled at and even suspended for being themselves, talking in class, wearing a hat, or because the teachers just automatically thought they were misbehaving. At the same time, me and the other white kids were prioritized and given opportunities just because we were perceived as more deserving, cementing the systemic racism and implicit biases that have always existed in the public school system.

We need to stop defining intelligence by Eurocentric terms. It only serves to enforce racism and white supremacy in very real ways. A person’s intelligence and creativity cannot be measured by a standardized test, homework completion, attendance rate, or ability to sit at a desk for eight hours a day. Intelligence varies from person to person, there should not be a standard!

These standardized measures of intelligence cause permanent harm to students, and disadvantage them later in life. An “IQ” test that I took in the second grade gave me an opportunity that so many other students didn’t have the chance to receive. I was bussed out once a week with other students to the “Gifted Center” all the way through middle school. Most of my classmates who attended were white.

At Greenway, or the “Gifted Center” as it was casually, problematically called, we were able to participate in an English Festival, learn ceramics, perform science experiments, and take a number of creative, fulfilling classes. Meanwhile, hundreds of other students were left behind at school. The things that we did at Greenway were so privileged and didn’t take much effort! Often, the students I saw there with me were relatively lazy and continued to coast by in high school, where we had access to advanced classes, again based on a ridiculous test we had taken years ago.

The students who were not allowed to attend the center were denied those creative opportunities that any young mind requires for development, and were told they were not “gifted” enough to deserve them! These same students were less likely to come from wealthy or privileged families. Some of them missed homework assignments or were late to class because they had to help their younger siblings get ready for school, or had trouble focusing during the day due to missing meals. While some of the more privileged students I knew could successfully argue their way out of a missed homework assignment or bad grade, others were not given that same leeway.

The entire “gifted student” phenomenon is oppressive, racist, classist, elitist, and should be abolished. In its place, we should transform existing public schools to expand their curriculum to include more creative lessons.

All students are gifted. It is long past the time to end any hurtful myths that suggest otherwise.

If you want to learn more about the discriminatory process of selecting “gifted” students, check out this article, or this one.


Mollie March-Steinman is currently self-designing an Economic Justice major at Chatham University. She is passionate about promoting peace and justice for all. Mollie is an intern with the NewPeople Editorial Collective.

1 reply »

  1. Your article, while hitting all the “right” notes of modern day political discourse, reifies the racism of low expectations.
    Some of the earliest women to achieve educational, financial, and business success not long after the Civil War were former slaves.
    Turning in homework, not wearing hats to class, and maintaining decorum are not something minorities cannot do. The fact that you believe this is “being themselves” is patronizing to people of color.
    I hope you learn more and continue to grow once you leave your racist assumptions behind you.

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