New paradigms for counseling the gifted and talented pupil

From the Director’s Corner: New Paradigms for Counseling the Gifted and Talented Pupil or Driving a Toaster Through a Carwash: Helping the Gifted Survive the Great Unknown

By Morgan Appel

As a bit of a cinephile and self-proclaimed anachronism, I’ve recently developed a fixation with the manned space flight missions of the 1960s and early 1970s and related films. Beyond the fact that we were able to accomplish these feats with less available technology than is present in most modern automobiles, I never fail to amaze at our ability to realize JFK’s promise to send man to the moon by 1969. This was a clearly defined mission that served as one of the greatest collaborative achievements in the history of humankind. Another such achievement, chronicled in 1995’s landmark movie Apollo 13, was the rescue of the eponymous lunar mission. Through sheer creative force, teams of astronauts, flight engineers and others convened to divine unique and seemingly impossible solutions to save the flight crew and to preserve the delicate reputation of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

A critical point in the movie finds Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert surveying instrument condensation and other factors, commenting aloud that the return to Earth would be ‘like driving a toaster through a carwash.’

One might liken the experience to counseling the gifted and talented pupil in the present environment for teaching and learning. Beyond marked shifts in policies and priorities among policymakers and educators, particular socio-affective characteristics—multipotentiality; indecision; and perfectionism among them—call for great precision in uncertain and sometimes daunting circumstances. Indeed, guiding the gifted pupil toward academic and career satisfaction is not only a team effort—but much akin to driving a toaster through a carwash.’ Swigert’s statement rings especially true when counselors familiar with the gifted and talented are overwhelmed by demand or absent altogether from our public schools.

A presentation currently available from the Education Department considers the cognitive and affective needs of gifted and talented pupils and cooperative counseling paradigms that might best suit them as they move forward through life. The ideas presented therein are often times unconventional and labor intensive—but as we know from Apollo 13 (the mission and the movie), these efforts are well worth it and are likely to lead to ongoing innovation in the field. To paraphrase JFK’s compelling address at Rice University (1962), we do these things ‘…not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because (they) will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.’

For more information about this article, presentation or topic, please contact Morgan Appel, director of UC San Diego Extension's Education Department at We have many courses and programs aligned with your professional interests!

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