Friday, April 11, 2008

Things That Make Me Furious

Danger: Rant Ahead...

If I have to listen to one more parent stand up in front of our school board and urge them to cut gifted services in favor of sports, I'm going to commit a crime. Or at least an embarrassing act.

If I have one more parent come up to me and tell me that "It must be so easy having gifted kids...they're so smart they do so well at everything," I may have to tear some hair out. Easy?

Um. Easy is not the word I would have used.

I have spent more hours advocating for Hell's Barrister and dragging him, kicking and screaming, through this imperfect system we have than I want to think about.

My oldest has been described by some of my adult friends as "scary bright." His test scores are off the charts. His grades are not. Trying to keep this child challenged and motivated in a school system designed for "average" has been a daily fight.

The last three years of elementary school, he spent in a blissful state of misbehavior and underachievement. He had three years in a row with teachers who either refused to or were incapable of challenging him in the classroom, and so we also had three years in a row of complaints about his behavior in class. "He's bored," I would say when they called me about his latest escapade. "You have to challenge him."

Unfortunately, their idea of challenging him usually involved busy-work. If he finished a worksheet in five minutes instead of the allotted forty, he was given (drum roll please) another worksheet. In his eyes, a punishment for doing his work efficiently. Or they'd allow him time to read some of the books in the classroom. Okay, but this is a kid who tackled "Moby Dick" in the second grade. He's not interested in "Encyclopedia Brown" or "The Boxcar Children."

I spent a lot of time those three years trying to keep his love of learning alive by providing enriching activities at home.

What ticks me off the most about this system is that we have plenty of services for kids at the other end of the spectrum. But nobody seems to think that we need to do anything for the "gifted." (I abhor that word, but it's the word everyone understands.) The attitude of most of the people I've heard speak against gifted education at school board meetings is, "Well, they are gifted. They'll get through just fine."

Um. No. They won't. The kids in the gifted program at my son's middle school are not the kids who are making straight A's. In fact, a lot of them are failing.

Nobody seems to have a clue that a child with an IQ of 150 is as different from the norm (IQ=100) as a child with an IQ of 50. You wouldn't expect a child with an IQ of 50 to thrive in a regular classroom, would you? So why is it that our "gifted" children are expected to do so? Why did it take me two years of waving test scores in front of various officials' faces to get them to grade-advance him in math?

The Barrister is doing a lot better in terms of attitude and performance since starting middle school. His pre-AP classes are keeping him interested and challenged, and I've been able cut back on the amount of enrichment stuff I need to do with him at home. For the first time since second grade, he's actually enjoying school (as much as any twelve-year-old boy enjoys school). I shudder to think how close he came to losing all interest in school. And I wonder how many other kids we're losing to a system that just wasn't designed for them.

In our district, the AP program is one of the programs at risk in the next round of budget cuts. And I'll be damned if I'm going to let them cut this program in favor of football without a fight.

They say they can't afford to keep these programs that are educating our future scientists, engineers, doctors, and leaders.

I say they can't afford not to.

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