By Kristen Olson Lanier
"Bright" is a pitiably vacuous and small word. Yet it resounds in our education circles with the greatest of import and timbre.
"Bright," or its more bare-faced sister word "smart," is used so commonly and so unthinkingly to describe a child or a group of children that it has become an invisible part of our schools' architecture of concepts and assumptions. How commonly do we hear the term "bright" in our school lives? Three, four, ten times a day?
The very notion of describing some children as bright suggests the existence of a vast number of non-bright children. And, in my experience, the non-bright people are usually some undifferentiated, unspecified group of "Others" - those who don't "get it," those who won't be nominated for the gifted program, those who will fill the remedial tracks, those who will drop out, and those who, too often, are students of color.
A child who reads early in kindergarten is often described as bright. A four-year-old who can place dinosaurs correctly in the Triassic period may be described as gifted. A senior admitted by early decision to Stanford University is considered obviously smart.