Keteleeria tree stolen from the Washington Park Arboretum

Last week a tree was cut down in Seattle and is probably now sitting in someone’s living room, wrapped in lights, festooned with glittering ornaments, and draped in tinsel. This would not be much of a story, especially in December, except for the fact that the tree in question was an exceedingly rare specimen of Keteleeria evelyniana, a conifer native to China, that had been transplanted ten years ago to the Washington Park Arboretum. The staff arrived on December 9 to discover that overnight someone, presumably looking for a free holiday decoration, had removed the tree.

Asked about its appearance during an interview on NPR, the plant collections manager for the Arboretum, Randall Hitchin, said, “In general aspect, it looks like a conifer: tall, dark green, symmetrical.” Sort of like your run-of-the-mill Christmas tree? “In the dark,” Hitchin replied.

Gifted children can be like the K. evelyniana. To an untrained eye, or to those who don’t know the difference (or care to know, as in the case of the tree thief), most gifted kids look like your typical, run-of-the-mill kid. In a classroom of students, it is often easy to miss the unique qualities that make them stand out, that make them rare specimens.

Gifted students, like the rare tree in Seattle, have unique needs. They have an often unappreciated value that can seem surprising to some: in their attempt to save sixty or seventy dollars, the arboreal bandits destroyed a $10,000 treasure.

But the real issue isn’t that we so often miss the value of our gifted students. It isn’t that we have a few rare gems to pick out from among the ordinary stones. The issue is that we even consider any child to be a “typical” or “average” one. Every single person in every single classroom is a $10,000 treasure. Every student has unique interests, abilities, needs, and talents. Every child deserves to be nurtured, respected, and cared for.

So why do gifted students deserve special treatment, then? They don’t. What they do deserve is to be treated as the individuals they are. They deserve to be taught at their level, at their pace, respecting and nurturing their unique qualities. Just like every other child in the classroom. If we don’t, we run the risk of allowing someone to come in and destroy our own rare trees.

The staff at the Arboretum are still mourning their loss because the tree is irreplaceable.

So are our children.

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