Tag Archives: profoundly gifted

You Are Your Child’s First Teacher–But If She’s Lucky, She’ll Have Lots More

Side note: wow, it’s been a while. So I guess that’s what a little walking pneumonia does to your hobbies.

Here we are in what would be the 7th- and 3rd-grade years of the girls homeschooled lives. Violet (the 7th grader) is at this point pretty fully a high schooler, academically, and our schedule shows it. Between her usual desire to do EVERYTHING and the higher level of both input and output expected, she’s having to step up her game. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows, but I’m pretty proud of how she’s making her best effort much of the time.

One thing newbie homeschoolers are frequently asked is: “What will you do when they need to study algebra/physics/some other thing you are obviously too stupid to understand yourself?” We heard this question first when our daughter was six; though she was indeed profoundly gifted, it was hard not to be insulted by the assumption behind the question. It seemed likely that we had a while to worry about that stuff.

The time has come, however: she’s surpassed what I can do without a few extra hours of study in my nonexistent spare time. Algebra is long behind her (she taught herself, and I was able to be reasonably useful through a good chunk of algebra II,.) She insisted on studying both chemistry *and* physics this year, largely because folks in our homeschool community have organized such fantastic opportunities that she couldn’t turn either one down.

I couldn’t be happier. Her chemistry class is run by a young man who supervises the labs at some local community colleges. He clearly loves what he is doing, and he also does a great job of getting the students to think about science as problem solving and not merely memorizing a lot of terminology and facts. Learning to do high quality lab reports may be some of the toughest writing she’s ever done, and from what I’ve heard the standards are pretty high.

Her physics teacher is a theoretical physicist who works in the research division of a multinational corporation; once a week, he meets with my daughter and two other kids to help them through Kinetic Books Principles of Physics, in addition to assigning and grading homework and coming up with some cool short- and long-term projects to try. For their chapter on vectors he brought them each a pirate map and assigned to figure out . . . well, a lot of stuff I am *not* too stupid to understand, but too busy. (Right? Right.)

Their teacher is having fun: he’s got three incredibly enthusiastic students who can’t wait to come talk physics with him. The kids are having fun: they get to learn at the high school level from someone who loves his field, and then they go out and play on the swingset for a while before we head home. Violet may never be a physicist, but she gets to have one for a mentor this year and understand that physics is not just a fixed body of knowledge you need to study to graduate, but a diverse and alive field populated by interesting real people.

Oh, and she’s taking an advertising class at our co-op taught by a former brand manager at another multinational, and a programming class taught by a software engineer for a major open source software company. (Of course that second one is her father.) And her former art teacher has offered her private lessons in oils.

Add to that another year of what I’ve started to consider her homeschool homeroom, Online G3, and she’s surrounded by amazing and generous adult mentors. I cannot believe how lucky we are. I know we could have put together other solutions for these classes if we had to, but I’m thrilled that

1) She’s in new surroundings where she has to push herself a little, not for a grade but to get what she came for, and

2) She’s learning that people–not just books and computers–are a great educational resource, and

3) I’m off the hook for motion in three dimensions, because two dimensions were already beyond me.

Will Victoria also homeschool for high school? The future’s unclear. But at least I don’t have to worry what I’ll do when she gets to algebra. Her interest in welding, on the other hand, worries me a little, but there’s time.

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Filed under Curriculum, Gifted Ed, Schoolday Doings, Why Homeschool?

Scary Teacher Stories

It’s a fact — I won’t deny it. Homeschoolers love to laugh — or fulminate — over scary teacher stories. Similarly, parents of gifted children have more than their share of scary teacher stories to bond over.

As a homeschooling parent of a gifted child, the temptation to kvetch about teachers is doubly great, and tonight I gave in. I was with some other moms from Violet’s theater group, hanging out while the kids were at rehearsal, and we started swapping “how I started homeschooling” stories.

What’s always striking about these exchanges is the similarities. One mom I was talking with has a son the same age as Violet, also very gifted. Even at his “Open School,” however, where the 1st and 2nd grades were combined in one classroom, his teacher refused to give him 2nd grade math. We started laughing as we recognized how familiar parts of this story were.

“We can’t do that, or all the advanced 1st graders will want to do 2nd grade math.”

“His desk is so disorganized — that shows he’s not mature enough for more challenging work.” [A one-year skip in math — is that so big a challenge?]

When I told her one of my favorites from our experience — “She’s always slow to put her things away after recess” — she laughed and nodded and said, “Yep, we heard that too!” Yes, I’m sure these kids had every reason to rush back to their desks to watch the other kids learn. If being disorganized or slow to hang up your coat is a reason to force kids who are reading the Narnia books at home to memorize sight words like “the” and “are” at school, it’s a wonder there aren’t more 12-year-olds in 1st grade.

Both of us also swapped stories of how our kids’ 1st grade teachers shamed them in various ways in front of the class. Both teachers seemed to have a mini-tantrum in front of the class, yelling, “You’re no smarter than anyone else!” and “I don’t know what to do with you!”

Is there a factory churning these people out, the same chip in different android bodies?

I should say right now that both of us also said good things about our kids’ Kindergarten teachers, and since she had an older child she added that all of her daughter’s teachers had been great. I know that there are many great teachers out there, and that these teachers shouldn’t have to represent all teachers anymore than wing-nut isolationists ought to represent all homeschoolers.

I’m just sayin’.

I know there are lots of parents with gifted kids who make school work for them, and more power to them. I know there are lots of parents with gifted kids for whom school isn’t working, but their circumstances are keeping them from considering homeschooling. And then there are lots of parents who’ve decided to homeschool — the number of highly to profoundly gifted kids we come into contact with through homeschooling is quite high as a percentage of the homeschoolers we know. Most of them have a scary teacher story that sounds just like ours.

Scary teachers . . . there’s another “S” word for the 117th Carnival of Homeschooing, “S” word edition, hosted this week by PHAT Mommy.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Learning Styles, Why Homeschool?

Not Cool–and more Books

I am not a big Joni Mitchell fan.

I’m sure some people have already stopped reading and deleted me from their Google reader list, but if you haven’t yet, hear me out.

I never listened much to Joni Mitchell as a young person — wrong age, and all that. I knew who she was, knew she was supposed to be brilliant, etc. etc. I knew some of her big radio hits, which helped make up the sonic wallpaper of my young life — there, but rarely reaching the level of conscious listening.

Eggmaster is a much more attentive listener than I. He gets interested in a musician, then begins to listen carefully to their wider body of work. He’s more than willing to let things grow on him, to listen for what’s unique or distinguishing, basically to meet someone halfway. So when he starts listening to someone, he listens a lot.

He’s been listening to Joni Mitchell, and it was with some shame that I realized I was not into this icon of coolness. Eggmaster suggested, and I think he was right, that the pervasive Joni Mitchell influence on so many female singer-songwriters has made some of the hallmarks of her sound and style into dreadful cliches. I won’t even get into the contemporary women musicians that I know I should dig and just don’t (OK, just as an example, Tori Amos and Fiona Apple).

So, the groundwork is laid. I am not very cool.

Which I needed to say to proceed with my brief notes on my ongoing attempt to cover my 2008 reading list. Today: Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel. Briefly: good book, fine book. Was fine. I think I was so ready to be blown away that I kept waiting for the “wow” sensation to kick in, and that prevented me from actually just reading the book. I was often taken by the cool mixed-media thing she had going on — taken, as in almost envious. I plan to read the book again. I read it quickly — it’s a good story — so I’m sure I missed a lot. I am also not really a comics person. I liked my Lynda Barry, I read my daughter’s manga (including her new issue of “manga-style” Sabrina, which I kind of enjoy *blush* ), but it’s just not something I’ve gotten into. I have not met them halfway.

Coming soon, I plan to blog my thoughts on a couple of gifted ed/parenting books that I just borrowed from a friend: Guiding the Gifted Child (James Web, Elizabeth Meckstroth, and Stephanie Tolan of “Is it a Cheetah?” fame) and Losing Our Minds: Gifted Children Left Behind (Ruf). The first was recommended to me as a source for dealing with sibling relationships; the second I decided to read after a discussion on an e-mail list about the usefulness of Ruf’s levels. Basically, I wondered aloud about the distinctions between 4s and 5s and whether the distinctions were useful outside of a school setting. I also had some questions about how environment, temperament, and opportunity play into the differences in levels. A few people with profoundly gifted kids responded that Ruf’s book had been a great resource for them as parents.

The first thing I need to do, though, is abandon trying to place my children on the scale. Violet is either a 4 or a 5, and I really don’t know which. The 5 category has as an example a child who started college full-time at age 9 — I know that’s not the standard for level 5, but geez. We’re not there. But I’ll save my remaining thoughts until after I’ve read the book.


Filed under Family Fun, Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Music and Art, Oh Mother

The Recent Time Article On Davidson

It’s making the rounds of gifted e-lists — check it out.

Here’s one interesting trail of snippets.

The author cites familiar researchers, like this one,

Leta Hollingworth noted that kids who score between 125 and 155 on IQ tests have the “socially optimal” level of intelligence; those with IQs over 160 are often socially isolated because they are so different from peers–more mini-adults than kids.

and this one,

Actually, research shows that gifted kids given appropriately challenging environments–even when that means being placed in classes of much older students–usually turn out fine. At the University of New South Wales, [Miraca] Gross conducted a longitudinal study of 60 Australians who scored at least 160 on IQ tests beginning in the late ’80s. Today most of the 33 students who were not allowed to skip grades have jaded views of education, and at least three are dropouts. “These young people find it very difficult to sustain friendships because, having been to a large extent socially isolated at school, they have had much less practice … in developing and maintaining social relationships,” Gross has written. “A number have had counseling. Two have been treated for severe depression.” By contrast, the 17 kids who were able to skip at least three grades have mostly received Ph.D.s, and all have good friends.

And then there’s this . . .

AS A CULTURE, WE FEEL DEEPLY ambiguous about genius. We venerate Einstein, but there is no more detested creature than the know-it-all. In one 1996 study from Gifted Education Press Quarterly, 3,514 high school students were asked whether they would rather be the best-looking, smartest or most athletic kids. A solid 54% wanted to be smartest (37% wanted to be most athletic, and 9% wanted to be best looking). But only 0.3% said the reason to be smartest was to gain popularity. We like athletic prodigies like Tiger Woods or young Academy Award winners like Anna Paquin. But the mercurial, aloof, annoying nerd has been a trope of our culture, from Bartleby the Scrivener to the dorky PC guy in the Apple ads. Intellectual precocity fascinates but repels.

which seems to reproduce the anti-intellectual attitudes the rest of the article critiques. Maybe that section is just poorly written/edited, but it seems to be equating “intellectual precocity” with “the mercurial, aloof, annoying nerd” pretty directly. (Plus, how does the fact that a majority of kids want to be the smartest support the preceding statment that there is no more “detested creature” than the smartest kid? Don’t those statistics just suggest that many kids would rather be smart than popular?)

Given all that, here’s what the author concludes:

But there is something to be said for being left to one’s own devices and learning to cope in difficult surroundings. . . . [Einstein] didn’t need a coddling academy to do O.K. later on.

[oh, well if it worked for Einstein no doubt it applies to gifted children everywhere . . .]

and finally prescribes

The best way to treat the Annalisee Brasils of the world is to let them grow up in their own communities–by allowing them to skip ahead at their own pace. [emphasis added]

The best way? There’s nothing in the article that gives any indication that the author would be able to make that determination better than the Davidsons, who’ve given piles of time, thought, and money to the issue of gifted education.

To be fair, what the author is advocating for, in his weird way, is better gifted education within the current system, especially allowing children to skip 3 or more grades. But how that leads to calling the Davidson Academy “coddling” (for those who favor cliques and fighting as part of the traditional “toughening up” experience of school, the article reports that kids still get that even when they are all in the top .1%) is beyond me.

I think the point was supposed to be that kids shouldn’t have to move to Nevada to get an appropriate education, but the author makes the bizarre choice to take a bunch of stories about families who found their salvation at Davidson and then insinuate that “the Davidsons simply created another kind of isolation for their students” and that “there is something to be said for being left to one’s own devices and learning to cope in difficult surroundings.” So the statistics about drop-outs and depression earlier in the article meant what?

[By the way, the title of the article: “Are We Failing our Geniuses?” Ah . . . nice word choice . . . that’s gonna win ’em over. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume a Time editor is to blame.]

If this is gifted advocacy, no wonder it’s going nowhere.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, In the News

Junie B. in the news

I do like the New York Times, but I often wonder where their parenting/education reporters live. They seem to be in a time warp, discovering issues like “the dark side of mothering,” “helicopter parents,” and preschool admission stress sometime after they’ve died out as the hot topics at the playlots in my neighborhood. Maybe the Times reporters are just younger than me, or have kids younger than mine?

In any case, I was amused to see that the Times has discovered the Junie B. controversy.

This is their summation of the issue:

Their disagreement is a pint-size version of the lingering education battle between advocates of phonics, who believe children should be taught proper spelling and grammar from the outset, and those who favor whole language, a literacy method that accepts misspellings and other errors as long as children are engaged in reading and writing.

They also note that Junie B. is quite the troublemaker.

It was an interesting read, since I’ve been a vocal Anti-Junie myself, though never to the point of suggesting that the books be removed from the library. (I’ve also given away any copies we’ve ended up with rather than toss them, as one parent in the article does.)

We came across Junie B. at a challenging time — Violet was really struggling to fit in at school, and had already told me a few times in preschool in Kindergarten that she wished she didn’t know how to read, so she wouldn’t be different from the other kids. When Violet started in with making regular grammar and spelling mistakes on purpose at school — not just from time to time, but all the time — I put the kibosh on Junie B. all together. (It had never been a staple in our house anyway, although we all really liked the Junie B. diary Violet got from her grandparents.)

Junie B. is not just a first grader, like the kid at the next desk, she’s the first grader. As with most things put into print, she takes on a more authoritative status, like a printed reference manual for typical 6-year-old behavior. For an atypical 6-year-old constantly on the lookout for clues to the great puzzle of “fitting in”—like poor Violet told me she was—Junie B. seems like the perfect role model. I can’t speak for other families, but for our family Junie B. was a particularly vivid example of why first grade—which I had hoped would be so wonderful—turned out to be so toxic for my PG girl.

So yes, I dislike the bad grammar and the bad behavior. My kid, like lots of kids, absorbs books whole, swallows them up, and then talks and acts like she lives inside them. (Even when Violet is not using her British accent—of which she is quite proud—she comfortably tosses out many of her Britishisms from Harry Potter and other readings.) But I’ve never worried about Dobby or Hagrid being a bad influence on her language, and I worry only slightly about Harry and co. encouraging her love of sneaking and general mischief.

My main problem with Junie B. is summed up by what the author says about Junie’s bad language and behavior:

That’s just her being a 5-year-old.

Argh! Can you hear it ringing in my ears? Can you tell I still get upset about it? “Just let her be a child.” “Are you trying to get her into college by 10?” “Children all even out by 3rd grade.” “Children tell parents what they think they want to hear.”

“Just being” a child—believe me, keeping Junie B. out of the house was a part of the effort to let Violet “just be” Violet.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, In the News

In it to Win It

I started following a little debate on Shannon’s PHAT Mommy blog about sports and winning — something I concede I know little about! — that eventually became a debate about “winning” in general.

In the comments she says:

I see many times where life is a win-lose situation. You can win a scholarship, acceptance to college, a job, a promotion, a sale, a new client… in all these situations, someone else “loses” the opportunity. In all these situations, you have to focus on “winning” to accomplish your goal.

That’s in contrast to an attitude she describes in an earlier post:

Every kid on a team gets a trophy. Every child gets to be “student of the month” at least once. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that many corporations are hiring consultants to teach managers how to compliment employees — a direct result of a generation raised to expect lavish praise.

At some point, it became politically incorrect to push our kids to win. It’s more accepted to teach them that “it’s just fun to play the game.” It’s no longer OK to tell our children that they can be the best, because that would imply that someone else is not as good.

There’s some dissenting discussion at Chris O’Donnell’s site:

Winning baseball, basketball, or even in business is done by executing the little things properly. The victories to be celebrated in youth sports are not the final outcomes, but the gradual day-to-day improvement that leads to those victories. Little Johnny can’t control the final score, but he can control what he does when at bat or on the field.

My response got so long it was practically a blog post, so I thought I’d move it here. I just wanted to toss out a different perspective — I have a profoundly gifted child and I was considered the same as a young person. I did win tons of things up through college (and once or twice since then 😉 ), often without trying. My daughter gets praise heaped on her for all kinds of things that she can “trounce” her age-level peers at, not because of any serious effort on her part.

In part because of the effortlessness of getting external validation, my gut reaction to competition and praise is a) if I win, it is meaningless, b) I’d sure as hell better win because if I don’t it will let down all the people who think I always win. Luckily I am an adult and I can move past my gut reaction, but there it is. This is not much in the way of a fulfilling achievement.

So yes, in our house we do not emphasize winning, though we do not shy away from the idea of competition — in piano, in games, in spelling, in writing. I am all about process, because when success comes very easily, you need something else to maintain your interest. You may even find that what seems meritorious to others does not seem that way to you, and vice versa.

I am *not* all about fun (just ask my kids!). In fact I agree with Mel Levine, who says that “fun” is the new F word. We should not be asking our kids if a game was fun, a class was fun, etc. We need to ask whether they learned something interesting, or whether something interesting happened. I can agree that doing things solely because they are fun is not a good philosophy of life.

But I would also maintain that “winning” is not the right word here. “Win” has a strong connotation of triumphing over something else. That’s not my model of life. I’m not out to vanquish anything or anyone, not even my own dark side. (But that’s a whole other discussion!) I don’t think that’s the way to knowledge and understanding, and those are my highest values. (I’m an Enneagram 5 and a Virgo . . . if that tells you anything.)

To me, the “everyone is equally brilliant” mentality and the “focus on winning” mentality are 2 sides of the same coin, because both take as their assumption that external measures of value are the most important. A child (or adult) knows whether or not she is doing her best, and ought to learn to trust that rather than a grade, score, or trophy. Emphasizing rewards or status (1st place, 3rd place, etc.) –whether earned by someone’s idea of “merit” or earned by showing up and having a pulse– comes at the expense of developing that self-awareness and self-accountability.

O’Donnell’s point is key: you can do your very very best, and work as hard you possibly can, and factors beyond your control can still prevent you from getting the client, the job, the scholarship, the spot at MIT . . . If the prize is most important, I think the best you can do with that reality is say, “why bother?” If being accountable to yourself and your own values (even including enjoying what you’re doing) comes first, then the prize is just the icing on the cake.

So why compete? Because you like what you do, you like doing it with others who like what you do, you like the little frisson of excitement from being on stage, and yes, now and then it’s nice to have a little affirmation. But ideally when you go home with the trophy you look at it not because you need that affirmation again, but you want to remember the enjoyment and the feeling of satisfaction of knowing that you did your best.


Filed under Gifted Ed, Gifted Heart and Soul, Learning Styles, Our Philosophy (such as it is), Why Homeschool?