From the start of middle school, Duke TIP pamphlets and postcards began arriving at my house. It seemed like this vague educational program that was hosted by what my parents thought might be a good university. Personally, I feared it was one of those tutoring programs like Kumon or Sylvan that I kept seeing on TV, so I avoided it like the plague. But there came one point in my middle school career that I could no longer avoid Duke TIP, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I should first address a very important question, one that even I as a participant couldn’t answer for a long time…
What is Duke TIP?
Simply put, it is Duke University’s “Talent Identification Program”, aimed at finding gifted children across 16 US Southeastern and Midwestern states. The program has two waves of “Talent Search” one for 4th to 6th graders, and another one for 7th graders. It’s in the latter one that I found myself inevitable involved with Duke TIP. In this second waves, students take the SAT/ACT and depending on the score she/he can get recognized at a special award ceremony. I had zero interest in this, but due to strong parental persuasion I found myself in a classroom at a high school on a Saturday morning taking the SAT. Half way through I noticed I should be leaving responses I didn’t know blank, and by the end I was pale and tired and glad I was free.
I got a medal and certificate for my scores, which never proved to be useful. And for a long time I thought this was a program dedicated to have middle school students take the SAT. However, there several other serviced this program offers. If a student scores well enough on the SAT, she/he will have the opportunity to participate in Duke TIP Summer Studies, eStudies, Field Work, and other educational studies. There are programs for every grade levels, in a variety of topics, anything from Robotics to Architecture. This was what I was inadvertently ignoring when I discarded the Duke TIP pamphlets.
Was it worth it?
The 7th grade talent search did nothing to increase my knowledge about standardized testing or college. In fact, by the time I applied to college I had mistakenly taken the SAT every year of high school with not so great results. Then, I found that the ACT was a much better fit for my testing style and disregarded all my SAT scores. I really don’t find it effective to throw a bunch of twelve year olds in a classroom for a few hours with a test way beyond their academic level, and then give them a medal if they get a certain number that in the future will be too low for actual college admissions. But in the end, I feel the core of the issue I have with Duke TIP is that it’s aimed at a particular group of students and parents. As an immigrant, nobody in my family had gone through the American college admissions system before. Thus, I was not able to take advantage of the full potential of the program. Now on the other hand, to a family with parents that possess the knowledge of what the SAT/ACT are, this can be a much more effective program.
Moreover, all the affiliated programs cost a fairly large sum of money. They do provide financial aid, but the application process to these programs rivals the college application programs. As a twelve-year old, I did not yet have the skills to complete such complex applications, and I didn’t have US college educated parents to fill them out for me. All of these factors, make me look at Duke TIP as more of commercial enterprise that capitalizes on the desire of affluent, college educated Americans to prepare their children for college as soon as possible; in other words, just an extra hoop to jump through in the ever more rigorous college application process that favors a certain stratum in society. Through language like “gifted”, it really caters to parents’ desire for their children to be special.
Now, I won’t completely condemn Duke TIP; their programs do genuinely seem interesting and instructive: from trips to Costa Rica for high school students to study ethnobiology and tropical medicine to a course about geology and ecology on the Appalachian trail for middle school students. Yet if this program is truly meant to help talented students reach their full intellectual potential, it shouldn’t expose children to the rigorous test taking and application so soon and it should be much more accessible to minorities and other social classes.