The creation of this Internet-based support community is one of those "Field of Dreams" type stories -- we built it and *they* came. Our mailing lists are part of a project at St. John's University (SJU) in Jamaica, NY USA started by Dr. Robert Zenhausern.
In late 1994, an invitation was extended to Valorie King to create and run a support mailing list hosted by SJU; the charter for the list was (and is) "to serve as an online support community for talented and gifted individuals and their families -- TAGFAM."
In March of 1995, the TAGFAM mailing list was announced via the New-List. A support community was born.
Like children, the support group mailing lists didn't come with instruction books. Each listowner was handed the task of establishing the culture for his or her mailing list. Some of the support groups at SJU are primarily informational. Others emphasize personal sharings. All of these support group mailing lists are breaking new ground in the arena of "community building" -- using the Internet.
Each mailing list at SJU has one or more volunteers who handle the day to day affairs of the list and the associated administrative tasks. These volunteers are called "Listowners."
The primary listowner for TAGFAM and the other TAG mailing lists is now Kit Finn. We have been fortunate as well to have additional volunteers who assist in the "on stage" and behind the scenes administration of our mailing lists.
It gets confusing for folks, especially newcomers or those browsing our website, for us to refer to the group of five mailing lists and the support community using the same name -- TAGFAM. "The TAG Project" refers to the five mailing lists and the structure underpinning them. We'll just have to live with the confusion over the name "TAGFAM" relying upon context to figure out if the person is speaking about the mailing list itself or the support community which takes its name from the mailing list's name.
For the TAG Project mailing lists, the primary listowner -- Kit Finn. Other people are asked for their opinions and input but, "The Buck Stops Here" sign lives on Kit's computer monitor.
Yes. Access, however, is restricted to subscribers only. The TAGFAM archives are pruned periodically due to a chronic disk space shortage at our host site. We archive almost 10 times the average amount of messages. Thus, we consider ourselves fortunate to be permitted the online archival storage that we have been given to date.
Our subscriber list is restricted to owner-access only to prevent further abuses of it by commercial entities which siphon off EMail addresses and then sell them. If you need an address for a specific individual please ask one of the listowners to provide it to you. If you need to address the entire TAGFAM community (or one of our other mailing lists), send your message to the mailing list's submissions address.
Posting to our mailing lists is restricted to subscribers only to prevent SPAM attacks and similar abuses. If you'd like to have a one-time announcement forwarded to our lists, please send it to the listowner for consideration. If you're a subscriber and still have problems sending messages to the lists, please contact a listowner for assistance.
TAGFAM grew at a steady pace, relying upon word of mouth, during its first year. From the initial 30 subscribers, TAGFAM grew to 100 by the end of six months and finished off the year with nearly 200 subscribers. TAGFAM's second year saw explosive growth as members recruited new members in their local area, handouts were passed around at conferences, and writers included mention of TAGFAM in their articles and books.
Early in our second year, we added two mailing lists to our family of lists, TAGTEENS and TAGKIDS, in answer to requests from our members; each of those lists has approximately 50 subscribers. At the beginning of our third year, we added two more mailing lists -- TAGMAX and TAGFORUM.
All of these lists are TAGFAM though only one bears that name. We have approximately 1,000 families who participate in one or more of our mailing lists. That number is expected to continue growing as TAGFORUM takes off. TAGFAM regularly sees 100+ messages per day. TAGMAX and TAGFORUM are still too young for us to predict what their volume levels will become. Our message volume is cyclic, increasing and decreasing with the school year and vacation periods of North America where the greatest percentage of our subscribers reside.
Approximately 10% of our subscribers regularly participate on-list. On any given day, less than 5% of our membership posts one or more messages to our lists. Between 10%-15% of our members contribute once or twice and then become lurkers. A small number of subscribers restrict their participation to private or off-list replies to postings. So far as the posting statistics go, our experiences appear to match those of other mailing lists at our host site. We seem to have about ten times as many lurkers as active participants.
The TAGFAM mailing list is host to a supportive community which, by design and deliberate intent, mixes both informative postings and personal sharing in response to the problems and situations which motivate individuals to participate in our community. Our culture, by design, encourages us to lean more heavily towards the "sharing" of personal experiences and provision of emotional support to one another. We know that once an individual feels "heard" and has come to grips with his or her emotional response to a situation it then becomes possible to hear and consider alternative points of view which allow one to consider various options and arrive at a plan or solution to the problem situation. We share from our personal experience, encouraging our members to "take what you like and leave the rest," because this is not a "one size fits all" world.
Our mailing lists, archives, and website serve a global community by spreading the word about the unique developmental and educational needs of high IQ children. We recognize our responsibility to this global community to provide solid facts and verifiable information -- not folktales, hear-say, or third-hand stories masquerading as "truth". Our members who have access to research libraries or professional literature often function as researchers to the benefit of our community. And, while we count among our members those whose careers are in the fields of education, medicine, and mental health, we relate to each other as "peers" in this community. We seek to strike a balance between personal sharing and informative postings by acknowledging the importance of each individual's participation and presence in our community.
Electronic communications via the Internet change interpersonal communications and group dynamics in subtle ways which are often hard to detect. It is unfortunate but true that small misunderstandings can easily become "all out war" due to the characteristics of the medium (missing nonverbal clues and other information regarding intent and emotion). Thus, all of our mailing lists have a strong cultural prohibition against "flaming" and direct personal attacks. We are an artificially polite society -- artificial because the listowners intervene as necessary to encourage courtesy, tolerance, and compliance with the posting guidelines which are the written expression of our defining principles.
TAGMAX was created to host informative discussions about home education for intellectually gifted children, whether full-time or as an adjunct to regular schooling.
TAGFORUM hosts debates and more challenging discussions of the issues affecting gifted and talented individuals primarily focusing on public policy in the educational arena.
The creation of these two mailing lists has allowed the TAGFAM mailing list to focus once more upon the individual and the family in an emotionally supportive atmosphere.
Some parents choose to go outside the system and provide an appropriate education for their gifted children. Others choose to use advocacy and lobbying within the political and legislative systems to achieve the same goal. TAGMAX and TAGFORUM provide these parents with a venue which is conducive to indepth, "how to" discussions which are primarily technical and informative in nature. Our goal is to create a "parent friendly" place where each group can gather together to discuss the nitty-gritty aspects of "do it yourself." The groups are not mutually exclusive and we expect to see a good deal of cross-fertilization between them.
TAGTEENS is being run by the teens themselves. TAGKIDS is a bit of an enigma. Everyone loves to get EMail but not necessarily to write it. Perhaps it's too much like schoolwork. We're working on ways to encourage the children to write to the list more frequently. We hope that the TAG Writing Project will jumpstart the TAGKIDS mailing list by providing "seed" topics.
It may well be that the online support community, TAGFAM, becomes or is replaced by a more formal national or international organization with officers and a governing board. Or, it may remain as it is, an ad hoc organization which takes its form and substance from the energy and ethos of its listowners and the daily contributions of an ever changing membership. The crystal balls on Val's desk reveal brilliant rainbows of light and not much else. So, while this is indeed a good question, the answer is yet to be found.
Last Updated: 10/29/99
This webpage is maintained by Kit Finn (firstname.lastname@example.org)