Last week, Julie at Using My Words had an interesting post. Ok, she has interesting posts all the time, but this one was particularly interesting. It was this post about GT kids and school. She had some questions about expectations and how to deal with the situation.
Oooh boy. Welcome to my world.
Both Things are in the GT program at our school. Both are obviously very bright. But Thing 2, the eight year old, is special. He’s THAT kid. A sponge. He’s always reading SOMETHING. He cares about things at a level that most 8 year olds don’t. His vocabulary is amazing. In fact, right now he’s designing sculptures based on what he sees in a kaleidoscope. But he’s in the second grade with his age peers.
So, what do we do with the kids like Thing 2? It’s not PC to sort the kids by level. Oh sure, it’s ok to have a Varsity athletic team, but if you put all the smart kids in one class, it’s somehow not fair. Why is intellectual talent viewed any differently than athletic or artistic talent? Why are people made to feel bad if they look to nurture intellectual gifts the same way they would music or sports? Sending Thing 1 to a special soccer camp is viewed as cool. Advancing Thing 2 means I’m elitist.
Now here’s where my thoughts start to get a little muddy. A regular classroom still has a lot to offer kids like Thing 1 and 2. Right now I am using it to teach them that no matter how brilliant they are, the rules apply to them, too. This means turning your homework in on time and completing all classwork assigned to you, with a high level of quality each time. This means learning to present your ideas to your classmates articulately without condescending to them. This means learning that there are rules that must be followed, not matter how special we think we are. And I’m not talking societal rules here. I’m talking about fulfilling a grant, or filling out a patent application, or meeting a publishing deadline. These are things that these types of kids will be doing and some of this basic work in school will prepare them for it. If they can’t be bothered with minutiae like this, then their intellectual talents don’t really do them much good, do they?
But then you have to follow this up with challenging work. Unfortunately, American public schools have become so obsessed with pulling the bottom up that they are pushing the top down. In a perfect world, we would go back to leveling classes according to their ability, so that those who need the extra help can get it, and those who are ready to move on can. But again, that’s not PC anymore. Having a top band is competitive. Having a top math class is elitist. Until we as a society can get past that prejudice, the solution will not be found in the public schools.
So, as much as we would like the schools to give us the answer here, they won’t. It is up to me to nurture the talents I see in my children the best way I can. I expose them to as many experiences as possible. I encourage their interest in new topics (although I admit that Thing 1’s newfound interest in the destructive power of soundwaves is a bit disturbing). I push them to perform at their best every day.
But how should we deal with school? Well, it won’t help your kid’s attitude toward school if they hear you disparaging it all the time, right? So start there. If you must complain, don’t let them hear you. I’ve actually heard a child (not mine thank goodness) say that “Daddy says this work is a waste of time so I’m not going to do it.” Focus on teaching them to take pride in their work, no matter how easy. The cello part of Pachelbel’s Cannon is the easiest thing to play, but if I don’t play it well, the whole piece falls apart. Work with the teachers to provide meaningful extra assignments, like an in-depth presentation to the whole class on a topic just covered. Look for outside activities to stir your child’s interest. Start interest clubs at school. This is what keeps children interested in going to school even if the curriculum doesn’t. But most of all, just stay in tune with your child. Your child will let you know in their own way what needs to happen. They’re pretty smart that way, aren’t they?