Today’s “hot topic” was inspired by this post at one of my favorite blogs – One Little Room and then the discussion that followed in comments section. In many ways I agree with the points Kelly made in her post. But I also see the challenge of the school system with treating intelligence as a talent in early grades. If the child comes to school knowing how to read, write and do basic math – is she very intelligent or simply well trained by her focused parents? Can her intelligence be measured in an objective way? And even if we can measure it, what do we do with a child like this? Skip grades? Throw her in with children who are stronger, faster, more emotionally mature (but not mature enough to accept this “baby student” as equal)? Give her a different text book? Send her to a differentiated class with the kids of her age that will be more like her? I admit that the last idea is the most appealing to me. We have something in our area called “magnet schools”, but I don’t think it’s a good idea. The problem is that too many spaces are reserved in advance for siblings of the children who already attend these schools, and magnet schools are prohibited from using any sort of testing while admitting students – the rest can only enter by lottery.
When I read homeschooling blogs (and I read quite a few of them), I am almost starting to believe that homeschooling is an only answer for gifted students. I have to shake my head long and hard and look at the real life and at the children I know. I look at two of my friends’ children who are now in college (ironically, my mom friends and I are the same age). Both girls are the oldest of three. One was in public school in New York City. Another was essentially homeschooled until high school and then went to a Catholic private school for girls in New Jersey. The first one finished school at 18, fluently bilingual, an accomplished musician, a chairman of her debate team, an independent learner. She was traveling every day from Brooklyn to Manhattan to her high school for gifted children where she was admitted based on her tests and her extracurricular accomplishments. The second one finished school before she was 16, because she was allowed to study ahead. She failed to enter the high school for gifted, because she was not used to competitive test-taking. She is a smart girl, and a lovely girl, but she lives so much in her head (and on the Net) and she sneaks so much behind her mother’s back that it makes me sad. She was not allowed to have a childhood, she was only driven to succeed. I don’t have a gift of clairvoyance, but I think that the first girl is much better suited for her young adulthood and healthy lifestyle than the other one.
Where am I going with all this? Yes, I do believe that extreme intelligence is a rare gift, but I don’t believe that the public school system will fail intellectually advanced children entirely. In fact, I think that the current approach of “wait and see” might help true talent emerge – kids who don’t come from privileged middle-upper class families like mine, kids who will catch up with mine not because she will be “dumbed down”, but because they are now given an opportunity to shine and not segregated safely from early achievers. And I don’t believe that she will be dumbed down. I am not going anywhere, and I will continue to support her strengths. She will not wait for others to catch up. This is another point – schools are not the only ones responsible for our gifted children. Parents are still captains of their souls and minds, at least until they become tweens and start working out peer relationships more.
Will she be bored? I don’t think so. Many children who are entering schools here are as well prepared as she will be, and she will be the youngest in the year when she enters K in 2011 before her 5th birthday. And you know what? Sometimes it’s OK to be bored, to learn the arts of entertaining yourself quietly and coming up with games to play in your imagination. In my first years of school before gifted differentiation started I perfected those arts and don’t think that sitting through all those things I already knew was for nothing. In fact, ability to tolerate boredom is very useful in corporate world, especially during long meetings :)