READER MAIL

It happened again—some poor schmuck sent me an email,
begging me to tell her how to save her child from educational misery.  The story is always the same: “I live in a
small town…my child is way ahead of the other kids in the class….I’m afraid
he/she will be bored….what should I do?”

They ask me because I wrote an article on grade skipping
once.  I am not an educational/legal
expert, but I play one online.

The answer for all of them, I’m afraid, is “you’re screwed!”  The sad truth is, if your child is not a
discipline problem and receives adequate test scores, the public schools
couldn’t care less if he/she is bored.

The law requires schools to provide a “free and appropriate
education” to students with disabilities. 
That means those kids are entitled to special services and
accommodations if they need them.  (It’s
not quite that simple… deciding what a child needs is often the basis of an
extended legal battle by the parents, but at least there is the intent of the
law.) 

In most states, though, gifted children have no such
protection.  The situation has been
exacerbated by the No Child Left Behind law, which could just as well be called
No Child Left Ahead.  It places enormous
pressure on schools to raise the test scores of their lowest performing
students, but gives them no incentive (and leaves them no resources) to
maximize the potential of their brightest kids.

There are some public schools with programs aimed at gifted
kids.  Some are excellent.  Some are mostly for show.  They are all endangered by funding crunches,
the anti-intellectual culture, and the loud cries of “elitism” from the peanut
gallery. 

Grade skipping is helpful in some cases, but doesn’t address
the crux of the problem: some kids are very different, and need a specially
tailored educational experience, just as kids with disabilities do.  Consider my husband’s experience with grade
skipping (from 4th to 5th grade, I think).  He found the work just as slow, boring, and
repetitive as it was in the lower grade, but his new classmates were bigger and
could beat him up more effectively.

So, my apologies to the woman who wrote to me today.  If you can’t find/afford an accelerated
program for your child, you might consider homeschooling.  Or you might get lucky and get a teacher who
can individualize the curriculum to meet your child’s needs.  I wish you luck.


Addendum

There’s some discussion on the comment page about whether a person such as Yours Truly would be expected to view homeschooling favorably.  The answer is: it depends.

I have followed  (in an academic sort of way) the homeschooling movement closely over the last few years, not because I wanted to participate, but because I am always interested in educational trends.  Also, I write educational books for children (well, I’ve written one and am working on a second), and homeschoolers represent a potential (and growing) market.  I even subscribed to a listserv for homeschooling parents at one point, to get a handle on what people were doing and what kinds of materials they wanted.

That list took my opinion of homeschoolers down several notches, I have to tell you.  Nearly everyone there homeschooled because they wanted to give their kids a Christian upbringing in every way.  I don’t object to that, in and of itself.  But some of  the people who posted to that list had virulently anti-everyone-else opinions that turned my stomach.  Even more offensive was their utter lack of qualification to be teaching anything to anyone.  Judging by their writing and spelling, some of those home”schoolers” could not pass a 4th grade level test themselves, let alone impart the necessary skills and knowledge to their children. (I know that’s not true of all Christian homeschoolers… don’t flame me.)

There’s another category of homeschoolers that (as you might expect) makes more sense to me.  They are well-educated and deeply involved parents who want to give their kids a better education than the public schools have to offer.   We have a friend in that category.  She pulled her gifted and rambunctious son out of school  because his teacher handled him so poorly.  The boy is thriving under her tutelage and they both enjoy it.  The flexibility of homeschooling allows him to devote considerable time to developing his musical talents, and they can travel without regard to the school calendar. 

In my family we deal with the inadequacy of the public schools by sending the kids to a private school.  It is not a perfect solution, but it is working well enough for us.  If at some point I feel the only way to meet the needs of one or both kids is homeschooling, that is what I’ll do.  (But I would reeeeaaaally rather not.)

So go ahead and homeschool if you have what it takes.  And if there’s a book you wish someone would write, tell me about it.

 

 

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26 thoughts on “

  1. Jennie was in the ” gifted” program, this meant she got taken out once a week to do stuff on a computer Remember she’s twenty so this was back in the day. She was also in the advanced math and reading. This meant she was in math and reading with the other smart kids, and they got to read semi harder books and do harder math. Jennie never complained about being bored. If they had a paper or project that was due she would put 150 % into it, instead of the 50 % effort most kids did. Just like high school and college, school is kind of what you make of it. Although, I was annoyed when she was in second grade and they wouldn’t let her read the fifth grade books, I guess they were too racy.

  2. There are so many problems with public education I don’t know where to begin but I like the idea you imply – IEPs for smart kids.  I had the good fortune to spend five years in a self-contained gifted program in grade school.  The teacher had full control of the curriculum and I was able to complete all of my high school math requirements before leaving the sixth grade.  My brother, equally “gifted” but not enrolled in my program, was left to rot by his idiot first grade teacher.  He would buzz through his busywork in five or ten minutes and spend the rest of the day sitting at a desk outside the classroom because his teacher didn’t know what to do with him.  This led to bad behavior, expulsion, and general academic problems.  Twenty-two years later he’s poised to get his masters’ degree and take a swank job overseas, but it was a longer, harder road than it should have been. 

  3. Great post. I may get flamed for this, but I think it might be time to think about giving kids with genius IQs some protection under the ADA. Our public schools have excellent programs for kids who are *bright* and my three above-average intelligence kids are doing well, but my oldest child, a 9th grader who has been labeled “profoundly gifted” is bored and unhappy. He refuses to do any of his homework assignments–he considers them tedious, although he does write brilliant papers– has developed a class skipping problem, gets perfect scores on all his tests without ever studying, but has poor class grades because of all the missing assignments. His teachers are fed up with him, the guidance counselor has not been helpful, we are at our wit’s end. The point is, our schools are not prepared to deal with kids like him. I would homeschool him but I’m a student myself and have a part time job, and his math ability–he’ll be taking pre-calc in 10th grade–is beyond what I am able to teach.

  4. I moved to see you would consider homeschooling as an option. It seems… unlike you, somehow.
    No way!  TR’s all about sticking it to the Man. 
    Homeschooling makes for strange bedfellows anyway.
    I hate
    hate
    hate
    NCLB.
    If only for the fact that it serves as a convenient scapegoat for all public school failures, it deserves to be hated.  But it is, of itself, a stupid piece of legislation that needs to be consigned to the ashbin of history.  I don’t think public schools will improve unless they’re granted more autonomy.  The one-size-fits-all approach is as bad for public education on the whole as it is for the individual students. 
    I can’t get started on this, or I will never stop. 

  5. I don’t think homeschooling sounds unlike you.  I know there are some folks in the educational system who dislike homeschooling to the extreme, but I would never have expected you to be one of these folks.  When I toured the school around the corner that Anna and Caleb are going to next year, the new guidance counselor spent a lot of time telling me how much better off they’d be at school.  It kinda made me chuckle (especially since I haven’t ruled out homeschooling again down the road).
    As for grade skipping, people have asked me if I’d consider letting Caleb skip (he’s going into 3rd); my answer has been a resounding no, for reasons similar to what you described with Technogeek.  With a November 1st birthday, he is on the older end, but that has been perfect socially and emotionally (especially Kind. year –he was a REALLY headstrong toddler, and being older gave him some more time and distance from the toddler years to get with the whole ‘group mentality’).  He’s had no problems socially, but he’s pretty small (an 8yr old, who wears a 7 slim), and he’s been slower in the fine motor department (tying shoes, riding bikes).  It has never seemed like a good idea to put him with bigger, more atheletic peers, just b/c he’s ahead academically.  BUT what got me thinking about public school in the first place was hearing a parent rave about how fantastic the advanced placement math teacher is over at Whit Davis. .  .so we shall see. 🙂

  6. There are quite a few people in the Liberal and Feminist Moms Blogring who homeschool.  I made my poor children suck it up and stick with public school.  We are rather small people and skipping a agrade would have just made the kids smaller physically. 

  7. I’ve always wondered what people do whose kids are geniuses.I don’t mean just exceptionally bright kids. I mean kids that are, like, 7 years old and ready for pre-med. What would you *do* with a kid like that? Let ’em just hang out around the house blowing up stuff for a few years until they’re big enough for college or what? I have 2 cousins who are geniuses — not pre med at age 7 geniuses, but they definitely meet whatever genius criteria you’d wanna throw at them. Their (very bright) mom *had* to homeschool them because there were no schools in the area that could have kept them interested.

  8. ugh. we are in the school district where “every kid is gifted” – guess what that means for kids that might actually have some higher level conceptual stuff going on? when we were at the hippie charter school, things were fantastic. then the school district took it over, and moved it a million miles away. (it’s a big district.) so, we’re in the neighborhood school, and we ask for more challenging work for the kids – the older one gets it, and is doing great. the younger one gets the same crap as the rest of the kids – she does her homework on the ten minute bus ride home. we’re lucky, because both kids are compliant and are rule followers. (I had to have DNA tests to make sure they were mine) so, no trouble. but, the younger ones teacher assumes that since she does all her work, and never complains, there is no problem.in general, the education system in this country meets absolutely no ones needs. it’s impossible to design a system that will work for kids at both ends of the spectrum, and kids in the middle…..eff it all, never mind. that’s a blog all in itself.

  9. I came from a family that had these issues.  When I was entering kindergarden, the school saw fit to test me and my older brother.  He had done well and seemed very bright, so they tested us both.  We both scored so high they reccomended that we be pushed up a grade.  Me to start in 1st grade and my brother to skip 1st and go right to 2nd grade.  I was born in April, and so was among the smallest and youngest already.  My parents had my brother (who was abnormally big and agressive) move up, but had me stay with my age group.  I often wonder what it would have been like had they chosen differently.  I was small and picked on as it was, and I got my lunch money taken from me everyday until 9th grade (ususally by my older brother), when I started to grow.  By the time I got to my senior year, I was the second tallest kid in the class, and wasn’t getting picked on, but I was bored out of my mind in almost all my classes.

  10. Interesting. Really very interesting. We have our daughter in a private school and our son in a public school. Our daughter will graduate next year. She is very bright, but lacking the drive to accomplish in a timely manner. In a class of 32 students with a guidance counselor who puts deadlines on their application essays, visits colleges with them-basically steers them in the right direction-it was the right thing to do. I call what I am doing with my son publicly home schooling. We do a lot of work at home to supplement what he is “learning” in school. He was in a 2/3 split last year and his mama was livid.

  11. I’m one of those oddities that homeschools for the educational reasons as opposed to religious reasons. That is why I am a very independent homeschooler comparatively, not joining the groups, conventions, seminars, etc. My reasons for homeschooling are those of limitless education, catering to my children’s individual educational needs, and they’re ability to have access to their teacher at every turn to have any subject explained in whatever way gets through to them. I get the whole “they won’t be socialized” crap from people who don’t understand or are afraid of how homeschooling works. And truthfully, being a Brownie leader, I get an eyeful of what socialization does to little girls and it’s nothing I would wish upon my daughter. The truth is, some kids don’t work well being cogs in a machine. I understand that not everyone can homeschool but I do believe that parents can take a far more active role in the education of their children than most of them currently do. ryc: What’s not to love about Three Dog Night?!

  12. First, I see by way of a typo that I left out the word “am” in a critical place. Sorry about that, but the essence of the message arrived.
    And in your rewrite you did flame homeschooling after all, so balance is again restored to the Force. The token nod in the direction of gifted students parents will be appreciated by them, I’m certain. Homeschooling interests me as a topic because we did so for about 8 years. Utterly unqualified, I suppose.                           Truth is, we, as a family unit, were not meant to home school and that was all there was to that. 

  13. Curiously enough, this issue was raised on the editorial page of our local newpaper — Vero Beach Press-Journal — just today.  To see, check http://www.tcpalm.net and try searching for “Kenric Ward” (but watch out for his earlier columns; he’s a bigot of the first order).
    Every sensible person — including you and (today only) Mr. Ward, and (always) me — is saying the same thing.  Homeschooling or private schools are the answer.  Public schools will never do the job, except in the exceptional cases where an exceptional teacher takes an exceptional interest in an exceptional student, which fortunately happened to and for me once.
    But at other times I suffered.  I was once sent to the principal’s office for “droning” during a drill which I found to be exceptionally boring, for obvious reasons.  And other stuff.
    But, I survived.  Fortunately I was living in NYC during the highschool years, and was able to attend one of the high schools that catered to the gifted.

  14. I do plan on homeschooling my child(ren – future). And not for religious reasons (although I think there are a lot of things out there that young children aren’t ready to deal with and can handle better when they are older), but because I think public school is a giant waste of time and being a fan of efficiency I just can’t see wasting all that time. So I think we’ll either learn basically what public school tries to teach in about 2.5 hours a day or we’ll do much cooler stuff. I do think there is a social aspect to school, and plan to send my kids to public (or private, I suppose) school for the high school years (since with a 6’6″ basketball playing husband I think I’m cursed to watch a lot of HS basketball games) – every kid should go to prom, right? (-:

  15. When I homeschooled I participated in several email lists and message boards for “Secular” homeschoolers – of which there are many, so too bad you couldn’t hook up with one of those groups! I have always wanted to write a good quality History curriculum or book series for this set, who seek out quality scholarly-based materials, but don’t want the religious bias. I probably never will write it, so you can go ahead 😉 haha. I get around my nagging sense of the inadequacies of the public school system by accepting that I can’t look to the schools for *everything.* I happen to be a parent who introduces a lot of academic, educational, and artistic activities and opportunities into our daily lives at home. Of course, I don’t want my child to be *bored* at school – but, so far, in elementary school, we haven’t had that problem. If it is a problem in jr. high, yes, definitely, I will consider homeschooling him again.

  16. Yikes…what a complicated issue.We live in our neighborhood JUST for the schools. They are “excellent” schools, in the sense that there is a lot of money flowing into them, a lot of active parents running them, and a lot of qualified and caring staff members working at them. Nevertheless, this neighborhood could be an advertisement for conformity. There definitely isn’t much room for marching to the beat of a slightly different drummer, much less a frenetic, maniacally gifted one.I have neither the patience nor the confidence nor, frankly, the interest required to homeschool my children. I can’t imagine a worse hell than spending all day every day immersed in trying to gain my PDD-NOS kid’s attention, while simultaneously trying to challenge my emotionally immature but academically gifted five year old. Oh yeah: while watching and entertaining the baby.I worry a lot about what direction we’re going in our lives, and what direction I’m pushing my children in, here in Conformityville. In fact, I would say the bigger part of my angst is consumed with this question. Nevertheless, private school around here means churchy or snooty, take your pick, and I just can’t homeschool. I can’t. I want to, somewhere in the recesses of my imagination, but only in a very small, quiet way. I don’t REALLY want to. I just see the benefits.

  17. I like the concept of IEPs for gifted students, but I suspect it would meet with considerable resistence from public schools.  The extra paperwork and meetings for the teachers could potentially be onerous. 
    There might be an argument here for vouchers… at least for gifted students.

  18. Luckily I graduated before No Child Left Behind. It meant that I still had access to the wonderful thing that was our gifted program. It was a great experience. I felt sad and angered for those who came behind me through the gifted program. It was discontinued the year after I graduated. I feel lucky and blessed to have had such a fantastic (our school had a really great one) program backing me and my extra skills.

  19. Dr. Phil isn’t any kind of educational or legal expert, but he plays one on TV. He earns a decent wage! Dr. Phil IS the American Dream!Funny story about that Back to Black CD. I saw it was performing well on I think Amazon.com recently, and I was overjoyed because I thought, wow, there are plenty of other fans out there of AC/DC! And then I realized, oops, it was “Back TO Black,” not “Back IN Black.” Those short little words make all the difference.

  20. Our children survived public schools but they are both in their 40’s and successful at what they do. I wonder if in today’s atmosphere at schools if they would. I am not or was not qualified to get them the education they would of needed.

  21. It’s the children’s attitude to learning that makes the biggest difference in their education.  If they have excellent teachers- they will probably end up well taught.  That can happen in public, private and home school environments.  Some kids are just going to have that better attitude in different environments.  If your school district is way too big (like ours is) some kids are going to get lost in the shuffle.  We home school, but I never say we won’t try public schools (we have done that too).  I constantly evaluate to make sure it is still in the kids’ best interest… it takes a lot of patience and perseverance, but the rewards are there.   

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