Have you seen this story in the NYT yet? Here’s a slice:
In 7 weeks he’ll go back to school, to a 5th grade class we can only hope will be more suited to his nature than the previous grade. His new teacher is supposed to be strong in math and science, to which he’s looking forward. I’ve promised him no after-school test prep this year, no tutor. It’s the 4th grade tests that matter for middle school, and he soldiered on for several endless months of prep last year: from the writing tutor to the school’s after-school test prep program to classroom test preparation that consumed all other subject matter. Last year’s teacher assigned hours of mindless homework. At some point, she decided our son was bright (her term) and thus eligible for enrichment — but she was in no way capable of providing it, in a class of 29 children with extremely mixed abilities. Our son isn’t the only child in the class who survived 4th grade with a perfect report card and his self-concept deeply shaken.
The thrust of the piece is that children need summer as a time to recover and just hang out. In other words, children need time to just be. So true.
It was hard not to read it as an endorsement of homeschooling: school has “hours of mindless homework,” kids trying to stay in top schools are on a “treadmill of achievement,” summer is a respite from the “endless, numbing school year.” We aren’t living that life, and I am so glad.
But it was hard not to read the piece as a lament for gifted children: her son was told to stop reading the Iliad and start reading Deltora Quest, he does most of his real learning at home. The author is pushing her son to get into the good NYC schools, but as far as I can tell it’s not because she is competitive and achievement-obsessed. It’s because she hopes that if he gets in, he’ll get something better and the treadmill feeling will go away, and she fears for him if it doesn’t.
I think in the comments someone points out something parents of HG-EG-PG kids– and creative kids — know well: the tests don’t go high enough to distinguish exceptionally smart kids, and they may penalize the creative or sophisticated thinking of kids who are several years beyond grade level. Who could blame a mother for being afraid?
I just felt moved by the kid’s story — a kid the same age as mine, a kid who could excel at all things school and still be miserable there in every way. I know this mother is doing just what we are doing — taking a hard path, making sacrifices to try to offer her son something better. Maybe homeschooling really isn’t for her, for reasons known only to herself. But shouldn’t she, and he, have some other option?