{ Sunday, November 14, 2004 }


I read this article just now, and it made me kinda happy. It's about educating gifted children.

I used to be one those, a gifted child. ydelek and I split the difference when we took the district-wide placement tests for middle school. I was highest in math, second in English; she was first in English, second in math. We both got the hell out of that school system.

"The word 'gifted' carries some baggage," said Sanford Cohn, professor of curriculum and instruction at Arizona State University and co-author of Smart Boys. "They are seen as privileged and not as students with distinctive learning needs."

I try to ignore being extra smart. I run on the premise (gained at gifted-kids high school) that everyone is just as smart as I am, and I almost never actually think "Clearly, I am more capable of learning than that person." I try not to mention skipping two grades unless someone is telling me I'm smart and they just won't let it go after I say "Thank you."

For the record, I attended excellent schools. This might not make it sound like that, but both my elementary and high schools have been recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools. Public elementary school in a ridiculous suburb which had the best schools in the state, that's what I'm whining about.

The first thing that jumped out at me was..

They master a concept with just one or two repetitions while typical children may need six to eight repetitions. Asking them to sit quietly while the teacher repeats a lesson they already know is grueling.

I generally run on the assumption that everyone is as smart as me. Y'all, seriously, six or eight repetitions? For "typical" children? That can't be right, except that it probably is because that's about how much time my teachers spent not teaching me.

"Grueling" -- That's a great word for it. It is grueling. It's like torture.

When I was in the first grade, my teacher gave us all our workbook pages in little folders. Every day we were to do X number of pages, and if we didn't finish we had to take just those pages home for homework. Math, Phonics, they were all in little folders, because our teacher didn't trust six year olds to get them out of the workbook without ripping them to shreds.

I finished my pages before our little "independent work time" was over. I got chatty with the kids at my table. I was told to be quiet. I explained to the teacher that I finished my work. She dismissively told me to go ahead and work on the next pages.

I'd work quietly until I reached the pages that had new concepts. Then I would be stuck sitting there, chewing on my pencils and doing nothing. I made conversation with the other kids. I was fucking bored and six years old. I got busted again for talking. She wrote my name on the board.

I'll have you know that I never got in trouble as a child. I mean, never. That was the only time anything like that ever happened to me. I didn't get the check next to it that meant sitting on the wall at recess or anything; I wasn't punished, but that one time the teacher wrote my name on the board. It was the most trouble I ever got in.

I'm kinda lying... One time I had to write four syllable words in fourth grade because I forgot to get something signed. That happened again in sixth grade, and when I was a junior in high school the same thing happened, except it was JUG and I had to write lines. Does anyone still have to write four syllable words or lines anymore? I'm not very old, but those punishments seem a little outdated.

I worked too far ahead, and my teacher was PISSED. She talked to my mother, who felt that I was in the right, as I was doing as I had been told. My teacher was like "What am I supposed to do with her now?" and Mom was like "I don't think that's my problem. Find her something to do."

Anyway, I spent first grade being intensely bored and getting in trouble for working ahead. We'd be in the reading group, and I didn't have the patience to sit around waiting for my classmates to sound out a word that I could read when I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story. I'd get caught not paying attention and reading ahead. What else was I supposed to do? I wasn't bothering anyone else.

My teacher tried to explain to me more than once that I was creating a long-term problem for myself. By reading or working ahead, I was guaranteeing that later when we got to that lesson, I would be bored even faster. Seriously, I got lectured for being too ambitious with my first grade reading primer.

We all talked about what I was supposed to do about this working ahead problem. Mom wanted to know what I would like to do when I'd finished my work. My suggestion was that the teacher's assistant could take me into the back and teach me (like I'd seen her do with the LD kids). I was told this was not an option, since I wasn't learning disabled.

Ultimately, I was left to read books and write extra book reports. Y'all, I wrote, like, eighty-five book reports in the first grade. I don't know, but the teacher hung them all on the wall, and I wrote more than the rest of my class combined. Mom also taught me about doodling, as what to do when I was not allowed to be reading because the teacher was talking.

That poor teacher. Little did she know, I was taking my completed workbook pages home, erasing my answers and teaching Shelly everything I learned in first grade that day. This occupied us for about forty-five minutes every afternoon (because we were learning at a snail's pace), and a year later that poor woman was dealing with my little sister, much more direct and brash at age six than I've ever been, yelling and insisting that she already knew all of this, and she would like to learn now please.

They just sent her up to the second grade for most of the day. She was not willing to sit quietly and read. She demanded to be taught.

But something happens to gifted children when they get bored, Cohn said. They act out. They don't want to go to school. They get left behind.

"They are trapped in a setting where they already know what they are supposed to learn, forced to do busywork," Cohn said. "They get angry. They express that in self-destructive ways, like not doing homework."

That pretty much sums up my attitude toward homework. I never learned to study. I never learned to apply myself. I was never challenged. I didn't pay attention because if I couldn't figure it out when I started the assignment, I knew I'd have the chance to listen in during any of the twenty-five thousand times the teacher repeated the lesson.

I would get excited about learning something new and do those assignments, and then we'd stall out there and the assignments were the same and I already knew how to do this and we did it in class everyday and why should I have to do it at home? I would still get 100% on the test. There was no point, and I couldn't be convinced otherwise.

My mother was from the Love and Logic school of parenting, she didn't force me to sit down and do these things if I said I didn't need to. She just let me get "B"s instead of "A"s. When she asked why I didn't get "A"s if I knew everything we were learning, I would explain that I got zeros on most of my homework and it brought down my grade, and that was fine by me.

I was miserable. I was completely and utterly miserable. I loved the one day per week that we spent in the gifted program, and I loved any day that I got to learn something new. I was okay while I was actively working on something interesting, but we spent so much time repeating the same information and doing the same things that weren't hard and I wasn't learning anything.

I don't know why it's so revolutionary, this idea that a child's learning levels should advance one grade level per year regardless as to their starting point, but I think that model would have been the best thing that ever happened to me.

Eventually, I got out of the elementary school of my intense boredom and skipped two grades. I still don't think I did very much homework, but I was learning and challenged in nearly every class nearly every day.

The other kids were all well behaved (if there's anything I had no tolerance for as a child, it was ill behaved children), and if they weren't they got in trouble immediately and were punished severely, if not expelled, and they were all smart, and if not, they got expelled. It was wonderful.

College came along, and, well, lather, rinse, repeat my elementary school experience. Bored, miserable, understimulated, blah. Except, I could just skip classes when that happened.

The Fine Print:

I'm using Bloglines now. It's very useful. I recommend it.

2003: Talk of the trip up to Windsor. I never wrote the rest of that, but I keep meaning to do that and slip it into the archives.

2002: I drove and it was scary.

2001: I was back from my trip, but I couldn't update because I had just an awfully lot of work to catch up on.

posted by mary ann 8:05 PM