I am allowing my membership in the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) to lapse at the end of Friday, July 31, 2020. This means that I will be leaving the organization.
I do this with a heavy heart because NAGC has been my scholarly home for 12 years, and it was the first scholarly organization that I really felt a part of. I have earned awards from the organization, and it was an important influence in forging my professional identity in graduate school. The colleagues I have met at NAGC’s convention over the years are wonderful people, and they have informed my thinking on a variety of issues in educational psychology.
But a recent turn of events has made me unable to continue to be part of NAGC. On July 14, 2020, the organization’s board announced its “Expanded Vision for NAGC.” This document is the board’s plan “to confront systemic racism and advance equity for Black students in gifted education.” While I support diversifying gifted programs and providing educational opportunities to children from all demographic groups, this document sacrifices open scholarly inquiry on the altar of social justice activism.
A dangerously flawed document
On the surface, the Expanded Vision document is reasonable, and I support some of its tenets. However, the document also mechanisms for enforcing conformity to its viewpoints, as seen in the statements below. (Emphasis added by me.)
- “We pledge to examine our policies, publications, practices, attitudes, and approaches to ensure alignment with our commitment to anti-racism.”
- “Our plan is a working document that will be further informed by an organization-wide audit of our content . . .”
- “Reviewing and revising all policies and procedures to ensure equity is prioritized, well-represented, fairly treated, and emphasized within all networks, committees, work groups, the annual convention, and other programming efforts.
- “Prioritizing and featuring NAGC resources and content that incorporates anti-racist frameworks . . .”
All of these quotes show that the social justice mentality will infuse NAGC’s publications, which includes scholarly journal and two magazines based on scholarship. The organization’s annual convention, which regularly features scholarly presentations from scientists conducting research in gifted education, will now be oriented to serving the social goals of the NAGC board. Apparently, if publications or convention presentations do not incorporate an anti-racist framework or if they promote disfavored ideas, then they are now banned from NAGC. Previously autonomous divisions of the organization, such as the journal and magazines, its networks, and the special interest groups, now must prioritize the NAGC board’s social justice philosophy.
I know what some of you are thinking: “How could Warne possibly be against anti-racism? Why doesn’t he want equity?” The problem is not that fighting racism is bad. The problem is that the document never defines any of its critical terms, such as “equity,” “anti-racism,” “systemic racism,” “scientific racism,” “racial justice,” “social action,” “implicit bias,” and more. Any lawyer knows that leaving critical language undefined invites a dangerous abuse of power. This is especially true for a document that deputizes its authors with power to enforce its goals.
Questions answered, but not asked
Moreover, the document is written under the assumption that inequitable experiences in gifted programs (such as an underrepresentation of African American students in programs) is a consequence of “systemic racism” in policies and practices. But nowhere does NAGC provide evidence that this is true. Indeed, there is no indication that the authors have even investigated other possibilities. They apparently already know the answer.
The reality is that there is robust discussion and disagreement about the causes of underrepresentation and similar phenomena. By closing off debate and prioritizing one explanation, NAGC is robbing its members of the ability to access information to understand this problem. And if any of these other possible causes of underrepresentation are correct, then NAGC is hurting African American and other marginalized students by ignoring those causes and neglecting to remedy them.
A good example of a viable alternate explanation comes from my colleagues Frank Worrell and Dante Dixson. They believe that African American underrepresentation in gifted programs probably has the same causes as the achievement gap between African American students and students from other demographic groups (Worrell & Dixson, 2018). Worrell gave a great presentation on this topic at NAGC’s last conference.
Worrell’s viewpoint is plausible. Indeed, this is my perspective ever since I found that controlling for achievement test scores makes discrepancies in gifted program identification rates disappear (Warne et al., 2013). But, under NAGC’s new policy, this explanation is off-limits unless it then blames the achievement gap on “systemic racism.”
My colleague, Scott Peters, believes that these gaps are a result of differences in the “opportunity to learn,” arising from differences among family environments, with underrepresented students experiencing less verbal stimulation, lower family income, and a lower quality of the home and non-school environment (Peters & Engerrand, 2016). However, one could interpret Peters’s theory as deficit thinking if it is interpreted uncharitably to mean African Americans’ homes provide less preparation for school. Such an interpretation could be considered racist by the NAGC board because it implies that White parents do a better job at this task. Exploring this possibility is valuable, but NAGC could forbid this perspective from its journals, convention, and policy recommendations because it is not “anti-racist.”
NAGC embraces social justice advocacy
NAGC has always had an advocacy component to it. In past years its advocacy was focused on goals like increasing federal funding for research and state funding for gifted programs, improving state laws and policies, and providing advice to parents who seek accommodations for their child’s abilities.
This new activism is a different beast, and I take the NAGC board at its word when it states, “. . . we will make issues of equity and anti-racism central to our planning and activities . . .” NAGC has chosen to make social justice advocacy its highest priority, and it has no qualms about trampling free scholarly inquiry to fulfill its new mission.
That is why I am leaving NAGC. As the organization abandons free inquiry, then a scientist with a commitment to the truth has no place in NAGC. I refuse to disseminate my research or conduct scholarly collaborations in a one-party state.
I invite anyone who values the search for truth or who disagrees with the philosophical framework of the social justice crusade to leave the organization. If you have already paid your 2020-2021 membership fee (which is due July 31, 2020), then email Adrian Wiles at the NAGC office (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask for a refund. If you have not paid for your membership for the upcoming year, I suggest that you quietly choose not to renew it. There are other organizations and outlets for scholarly work in gifted education. Parents, teachers, and administrators looking for ways to help and educate gifted children can find materials that are not controlled by NAGC.
If NAGC wants to be a social justice advocacy organization, that is fine. But I will not be part of it. I wish them well.
Peters, S. J., & Engerrand, K. G. (2016). Equity and excellence: Proactive efforts in the identification of underrepresented students for gifted and talented services. Gifted Child Quarterly, 60(3), 159-171. https://doi.org/10.1177/0016986216643165
Warne, R. T., Anderson, B., & Johnson, A. O. (2013). The impact of race and ethnicity on the identification process for giftedness in Utah. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 36(4), 487-508. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162353213506065
Worrell, F. C., & Dixson, D. D. (2018). Recruiting and retaining underrepresented gifted students. In S. I. Pfeiffer (Ed.), Handbook of giftedness in children: Psychoeducational theory, research, and best practices (pp. 209-226). Springer International Publishing. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-77004-8_13