What else do you need to know?

My last post on the subject of “What do you need to know and when” got so long that I needed to break it up.

I’m touchy on the subject of pushyparents. I just read today about the new documentary coming out about the possible art prodigy Marla Olmstead, and while I don’t dare weigh in on whether or how much of her art is not not really hers, I felt tremendous sympathy for her and her family. I know what it’s like to be considered a pushy parent when your kid just does stuff because that’s what she does. I know what it’s like when your child is being evaluated (by someone other than a professional) for signs of prodigy and decides she’d rather not perform like a trained seal, and you feel like a phony and an idiot. And I know what it’s like to feel like stepping up and prodding in those situations. I can’t imagine what doing all that in a media circus would be like.

On the other hand, I’m impatient. I do learn quickly most of the time, and because like everyone else I’m not inclined to see myself as particularly different, I am still pretty surprised and — truthfully — annoyed when someone doesn’t seem to get something as quickly as I think they should.

So again I say, thank goodness I began learning my lessons about pushing early on. It’s not that I am never overbearing–how many parents who are also fairly intense as individuals could claim that? I just try to remove myself from the situation if I sense a potential issue.

I decided long ago that I would not intervene in Victoria’s learning to read until she was five. That may seem like an obvious point, but consider that my first child was found lying in the hallway reading Carson McCuller’s Member of the Wedding at some point before turning 4. I read when I was 4. When I am not mindful, I can catch myself wondering why Victoria, who is 4 and 5 months, is not yet reading.

So I steer clear. Eggmaster reads Bob Books with her, and from what I can hear sitting in the other room she seems to read them pretty well. She recognizes a lot of words, but she still relies enough on memory and context that she makes a fair amount of mistakes. Her interest and ability seem right on time or even somewhat ahead of the “typical” expectation. (Throw in socio-economic class and parents’ education and I’m sure she’d be pretty dead center.)

I’ve also heard her quit when she makes her first mistake. Normally she is pretty persistent, but she seems pretty inclined to set high expectations for herself. The last thing she needs is me mucking around in there, transmitting my own unspoken expectations for when someone should be learning to read. When she’s 5 and 5 months and not reading, call me. Then I’ll start the gentle nudges.

One other thing about what a person should be expected to know.

I confess I’ve been tempted away from homeschooling by a fabulous charter school in our town. It’s public, so it’s free, but it’s a charter, so it doesn’t have to do all the dorky stuff required by the district. It sounds wonderful; the teachers and the principal and the parents are all very thoughtful about the aims of education. It’s rigorous. It has cute uniforms. It even seems to have a good attitude toward gifted education:

A classical education is appropriate for any student and certainly for academically gifted students. It can provide the depth and challenge that gifted students crave. It guards against too narrow a focus too early on and helps gifted students become intellectually well rounded. It can give gifted girls the confidence to get through the challenging middle years when many succumb either to peer pressure not to be smart, or to the under-challenging “Straight A” syndrome. As with most curricula, modifications for moderately to highly gifted students have to do primarily with pace in the earlier years and depth in the later years.

Most schools that use the classical model use a 6-3-3 division of the trivium, not beginning the logic stage until 7th grade. Gifted students need far less repetition and drill to master concepts and benefit from whole to parts instruction earlier. We think a 4-4-4 division is better suited to gifted students, and in fact would assume that many gifted students would be ready for analysis and critical thinking in one or more areas much earlier than 5th grade. Clustering and ability grouping will be key to making sure that students are being instructed at the appropriate level.

It all sounds so right, doesn’t it?!

Still, and this may be a minor cavil, I didn’t care as much for the rest of the statement.

But it’s also important to make sure that gifted students have the foundational knowledge and emotional maturity necessary to move on to higher level thinking. Gifted students often have an intuitive but not a conscious grasp of a concept (the child who taught herself to read, has a knack for writing or a head for numbers) and it is sometimes assumed that they either already know the rules, or have no need to know them. No one would ever suggest that a gifted musician with an “ear” for music be excused from learning the language, structure and rules of music. Quite the opposite. It is understood that she could never achieve true musical literacy or become an accomplished performer, conductor, composer or teacher without those very basic skills. So, should the natural-born speller be forced to copy pages of words she already knows how to spell? No, but she should be able to articulate the spelling rules and give examples. Should the gifted mathematician be tortured by having to show his work on a page full of problems he can do in his head in a minute? Of course not, but he should be able to show his work on select problems and explain to someone else how he arrived at his answers.

I guess it would depend on how the school plans to assure that the student gets that background info. Something about needing to articulate the spelling rules just . . . gave me that “little feeling”. What are the spelling rules? “I before E except after C . . . ?” I don’t know the spelling rules — I don’t recall learning spelling rules — and here I am, an “Indpendent Publishing Professional.” Is it really necessary to have to articulate spelling rules if they don’t help you spell any better than you did before? (Also, I get the feeling the musician metaphor was written by a non-musician. “Language, structure, and rules of music”? I was a piano major in college and I’m not entirely sure what that means. Then again, I’m not accomplished.)

I wouldn’t reject this school for my kids based on the spelling issue. And I may apply . . . or I may not, because if I got in (they choose by lottery, and the waiting lists are a mile long for each grade) I’d have to make a miserable choice. But the whole thing about kids knowing certain things in a certain order, or needing to know particular rules or facts . . . I just don’t know.

I have a general idea that before my kids go off to college we will have covered (at home or elsewhere) some basics:

Basic high school math: algebra, geometry, trig, calculus
High-school level biology, chemistry, and physics
History of the U.S. and Western Civ.
Literature, music, and art are such essential parts of our family life I hardly feel like listing my expectations there.
I hope both of my girls will choose to be confirmed as (well-formed) Catholics.
[Whoops, this one was really so basic to our daily lives that it didn’t even occur to me, so ETA:]
Foreign language (proficiency in at least one, any language will do)
Whatever else strikes our fancy — cartooning? manga? documentary filmmaking? weaving? choral conducting?

I’m not as concerned about the order in which we cover these things. And I would not necessarily prescribe this list for everyone. I happen to love the traditional liberal arts education: it was a great source of interest and pleasure for me. (Man, I remember studying course catalogs for various colleges — I just wanted to roll around in them, they sounded so awesome, from anthroplogy and astronomy to philosophy and physics to women studies and zoology.) Barring any unforseen major objections I want to share that with my kids.



Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Home Preschool, Music and Art, Oh Mother, Why Homeschool?

2 responses to “What else do you need to know?

  1. I had to laugh about the spelling too. Why does someone have to be able to regurgitate spelling rules? Either you can spell or you can’t and thankfully there is spell check. And if all musicians followed all the rules would we have any innovators?

    It is actually easier for us to deal with our child’s unusual academic level. Ami has a few areas that I keep under wraps. I don’t think most people would believe she can write pretty poetry, create her own music, and that her art is can be unusual, abstract, with meaning. We don’t know if this is special ability, or due to intellect. Besides, I see similarities among EG PG kids that make me think what she does is within the range of normal for this population.

    This is what I do know: I don’t want my child to be exploited; I don’t believe everything we are told; and I want her to follow her dreams.

    I also believe it is possible that some children with prodigious talents just breakaway from their parents and put themselves out there.

  2. Sounds like you have a pretty good grasp of what might work and not work for your kids. ONe thing I’ve learned from some other folks is that some kids have a perfectionist tendency that appears to delay learning. So they won’t read until they can do it well. 5 is early for right brain dominant kids (if your little one is that) and as I understand it, there is no real need to worry until more like 9. Reading aloud and nurturing a love of books and learning is a different story.

    But I can really identify with that bit about how you learn things quickly and get annoyed when others don’t pick them up as quickly or easily.

    That spelling example also sets off alarm bells for me. An ability to detect patterns and then apply them to new situations might be very important. A knowledge of the patterns other people see (and have decided to call “rules”) might not be. Some kids use different “rules” for performing operations (e.g. in math) but they work. (Stephanie at Throwing Marshmallows has described how her son does multi-digit subtraction, and that is enlightening.)

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