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
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
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.
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.