Saturday, April 2, 2011

When You Have a Gifted Child Poorly Served By the Public Schools

I often get letters from parents frustrated with the public schools' denying their gifted child their right to an appropriate leveled education. Here's one I just received. Below that are my suggestions for what she might do:

Sent: Friday, April 01, 2011 9:53 AM
Subject: Active Smart Boys

I recently read your post Our Most Underserved Students: Active, Smart Boys, and agree with your assumption on this topic. I’m wondering if you can offer suggestions for parents? Our son is consistently at least two years ahead of his classmates in every subject. I home school him part time over the summer, in the afternoons after school, weekends, and breaks. It has been very frustrating for us, however, to see him take almost a “teachers aid” position in the classroom during the day in school every year. He has picked up the rolling pencil on the table, tilting his chair, staring out the window, tapping habits recently this year and this is a bad sign of boredom for the hours he spends at the school. Would it be insulting to the teacher(s) if I suggested he bring in work packets from home to work on after he completes their work?

I scheduled an appointment to discuss this with his teacher. I don’t know how to approach this without causing the teacher to become defensive. Last year the teacher picked on him and called him names throughout the year (if he answered too many questions she would yell at him to stop bragging). So I don’t want to annoy this years teacher.
I look forward to your input,

Dear MJ,

Indeed, these stories sadden me a great deal, both for your son and for all of us, which is not helping to flower the students with the greatest potential for improving society. Also, your description of your son's behavior fits me-- I was like your son--the tapping, tilting, etc., bored silly in school. Here are things you might try:

1. Observing your child in class to see if there's more going on than you're aware of.
2. Speaking with the teacher to ask, "What should my child be doing differently? What should I be doing differently? And finally, "Is there anything you think you might do?"
3. Speaking with the principal to help ensure your child is in a better-suited teacher's class next year. Especially if there isn't a very well-suited teacher, consider having him grade-skipped one to three years. Here's an article I wrote about that:
4. Teaming up with the parents of some other gifted kids to pressure the school into providing for gifted students' needs just as special ed parents successfully have done.
5. Perhaps start a one-room schoolhouse for gifted kids, which may not be as difficult as it sounds: I outline how to do that here:


K-Man said...

Marty, many school systems are simply unwilling to allow gifted students to skip grades under any circumstances. Nor will they spend any resources to give such children a more challenging curriculum.

The excuses you will hear:
1. We don't have the money.
2. We don't have the trained personnel to deal with the gifted.
3. We have to deal with No Child Left Behind and all this standardized testing, so we have to gear everything to the lowest common denominator (i.e., teach to the test—all year long).

The reality is that stiffing gifted children has been standard practice for many decades, long before the current issues such as testing. Here's why:

1. Teachers as a group are predominantly female. Women tend to be egalitarian, at least when it comes to denying services to those with "privileges" such as increased intelligence. The prevailing attitude is that the bright will be okay without help, so they don't need the help—which is untrue and a disservice to the taxpaying parents of these gifted students.

2. Students in "teaching schools"—colleges of education in universities, from where tomorrow's teachers will come—have the lowest SAT scores coming into university and the lowest grade point average and academic achievement of any university major. "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." These dummies then are expected to teach everyone's children, including gifted children who are far smarter than they.

3. Colleges of education are in turn infused with leftism and egalitarianism. Most education textbooks have an extreme leftist tilt. Many of them view giftedness as privilege, as already seen in No. 1. A shining example of this belief is in this book that was a mainstay in teaching schools for many years: Schooling in Capitalist America, by Bowles and Gintis. Read a copy at your peril.

4. The feminism and other leftist attitudes at teaching schools drives out men, who are seen as interlopers at best and potential sexual predators to schoolchildren at worst. I've heard many stories of men in education colleges who changed their majors after unceasing hostility from faculty and fellow students for being male. There's another strike against gifted boys, who often need a male mentor in school.

So there it is. Combined with the present "prison model" for teaching schoolchildren, it's amazing that any gifted get any appropriate instruction without being squelched.

Marty Nemko said...

While I believe there are more schools that will accelerate than you assert, the problem does exist---and for the reasons you well articulate.

CodeWarriorWoman said...

Marty, if you wish to send this woman follow-up advice, here's mine. Bear in mind that though I'm older, and a woman, I went through exactly the same things her son is enduring now, and I wasn't diagnosed as ADHD until nearly age 30. I believe I had it easier only because I went through school in the 80s and 90s, when there was no No Child Left Behind, and my school district DID skip me ahead in math, science, and art (my 3 best subjects).

First, I would recommend filing a complaint about the teacher who picks on your son. My fifth grade teacher treated me exactly as your son is being treated, and she basically had it out for me with a pitchfork. Both my parents worked, but my grandmother had time, so she lodged numerous complaints with the school. As it happened, my teacher was borderline illiterate, so my grandmother prepped a packet containing all my teacher's mimeographs, with the mistakes circled in red pen, and sent it to the principal. The teacher was demoted and actually had to leave the education field for a while and work in sales. If your son is suffering, no doubt other students are, too, so removing this teacher is step 1.

If you have the resources, I would also try to move your son to a private, charter, or magnet school that plays to his specific gifts. Mistakes I've seen among theories of teaching gifted students is that we are all alike, a high IQ indicates off-the-charts intelligence in every area, and that we must excel in every subject. Well, IMO, all my alleged "165 IQ" shows is that I'm good at word-matching and spatial rotation tests. My numerous typos and grammatical errors while writing, as well as my inability to read fiction or a chapbook all the way through prove that IQ doesn't make me a rockstar at everything.

If my dad had placed me in a magnet or private school for kids gifted in science or fine arts, I would've no doubt excelled and loved school. What happened instead was that even though I was accelerated in math/science/art, I took other subjects with my classmates, got bored, acted up, started ditching/cutting, and finally, quit showing up altogether. When you're absent 25% of the time in your senior year, usually they don't pass you, but they had to pass me, since my GPA was among the highest in my class and I never missed an assignment.

Despite good grades, though, I was informed throughout high school and college that I was a disappointment who behaved poorly. To this day, I hate school. It's been so conditioned in me that it's hard to change my mind.

I would also suggest avoiding GATE, TAG, or other "special programs for gifted kids" if you decide to keep him in his regular public school. These programs do less than zero to stimulate giftedness or intellectual development (since all the funding goes to the delayed kids), and usually just result in your child being bullied. I wasn't bullied so much – many of my friends were the art and music kids, which gave me protection – but the two smartest girls in the class were. Three of the smartest boys were bullied so bad they dropped out of GATE and began pulling straight Ds. The one I kept in touch with continued his pattern of failure in college. It was only when he got married and had a child that he changed his attitude – and now, he has a Master's from a good school.

In a private, magnet, or charter school, your son has the ability to soar. Also look into letting him take college classes while he's still in high school. That option was denied to me ("punishment" for bad behavior), but your son might have a great future ahead of him if you take action quickly.


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