"The Incredibles" might take comfort from a recent report, "A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America's Brightest Students," by the John Templeton Foundation. It summarizes research showing that gifted children thrive with more advanced material and describes their current frustration in prose that sounds like Dash: "When they want to fly, they are told to stay in their seats. Stay in your grade. Know your place. It's a national scandal."But if they do fly, what happens to the children left on the ground? One of the report's authors, Nicholas Colangelo, a professor at the University of Iowa who is an expert in gifted education, pointed to research indicating the left-behind do not suffer academically or emotionally. Other scholars say that these children feel stigmatized and demoralized, and that in practice, a tracking system tends to discriminate against poor and minority students. "The public generally seems to have caught on to the social undesirability of claiming educational privileges for students who are already relatively privileged," said Jeannie Oakes, a professor of educational equity at the University of California, Los Angeles. "Superhero kids don't exist in such abundance that we need to develop special and separate programs for whole classes of them." The movie never quite resolves the issue. In the end, Dash is allowed to race but is coached not to get too far ahead of the pack. The writer and director, Brad Bird, offered a less ambiguous answer in an interview. "Wrong-headed liberalism seeks to give trophies to everyone just for existing," he said. "It seems to render achievement meaningless. That's a weird goal." He sounded very much like Professor Colangelo, who says that children want to compete and can cope with defeat a lot better than adults imagine. "Life hurts your feelings," Mr. Bird said. "I think people whine about stuff too much. C'mon, man, just get up and do it."John M. Broder contributed reporting from Los Angeles for this article.
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