Smart kids need an education, too

Apparently, Boston Legal is determined to annoy me this season.

In a story line about the suicide of a high school student overwhelmed by demands for performance, the lawyer in her closing ranted about how schools are at fault and should limit the activities of students. Outcome-based education, she said, was only interested in an end product–a student prepared for the dog-eat-dog competitive world–not the process of learning.

That I don’t disagree with. I don’t know how kids today keep up with the overscheduling of activities, classes, sports and clubs, with no free time for either themselves or their parents. The part that grabbed me was that lawyer’s insistence that Advanced Placement classes be abandoned, “because we don’t need college classes in high schools.”

Now wait a minute.

I confess I am a product of Advanced Placement classes in English, Chemistry, Biology and American History. My daughter attended gifted classes from the time she was six and actually took two classes at the local private college her senior year, paid for by the high school. We both needed to be challenged in a way that the regular high school curriculum couldn’t handle. In an age when teachers are often teaching to the lowest common denominator, No Child Left Behind means the upper academic levels, too!

However, our parents and our peer group did not insist we had to be acceptable to Harvard or Princeton. All we had to do was use our best ability to learn and do well in whatever we chose. I went to Kent State (after the National Guard), and my daughter to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. I still went to law school. Thank the heavens I don’t work on Wall Street; I’d hate it. She’s going to be a fine chef. We’re better for the education we were encouraged to have.

Let’s hope school systems across the country don’t take this to heart and continue the trend we’ve seen over the last decade of cutting gifted programming to serve the at-risk kids because of limited funding. These kids are our best and brightest, and if we don’t keep them engaged, what will the next generation become?

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11 thoughts on “Smart kids need an education, too

  1. as early as junior high, my children started feeling pressure – from school guidance counselors as well as teachers and peers – to press hard for academic ‘achievement’ in order to get into the ‘best’ colleges and universities. we were flabbergasted! their dad and i both agreed that if that was something THEY wanted to pursue, we’d support it, but we were much more interested in raising balanced humans with the ability to self-regulate pressure/stress!

    academic achievement? often measured by the schools in terms of test scores, scholarship dollar values offered to the senior class, etc. good grief. it’s about learning, folks… it’s about building the foundation for the quest to learn… as well as putting the basics in place to know HOW to learn.

    like your daughter, mine both wanted more challenge, and took college courses while still in high school. great opportunity to challenge students. now? both of my children are now at Ohio State. broad options/choices, along with an opportunity to get a four year undergraduate education without incurring soul-crushing lifetime debt. they are learning, growing and doing well…

    keep preaching this gospel, sister. i’m with you!

  2. I don’t have a problem with the idea of kids being put in advanced classes if that is what they are really up to doing.

    On the other hand, I actually did attempt suicide after the nightmare of having my expressions of overload taken for boredom so much that I was advanced straight from seventh grade to high school and then straight from ninth grade to college.

    I was bright, but in order to get to that place far beyond what most students were able to do, I had to start from a place far before what most students even consider “basic”. And I had to start from that place every time. Additionally, while I was certainly talented enough to do this, what I was actually doing a lot of the time was approaching all these things as puzzles: I didn’t usually actually understand the pieces, I just knew how to fit them together.

    Other gifted kids I knew actually understood the pieces and fit them together based on their understanding. On the other hand, I recall writing an entire paper comparing Socrates to Rush Limbaugh, without having a clue what either one of them was saying. I don’t mean just not having a clue about the deeper meaning — I didn’t even have the literal meaning of the words. If I had, I would never have compared the two. I could fit things together based on general patterns without understanding most of the words. Which made me gifted at something, I guess, but not always what people thought I was.

    And at a certain level of learning, doing things based on that kind of pattern breaks down. When I began experiencing that, I got accelerated, rather than slowed down, and that was a complete nightmare — like being thrown into the deep end of the pool because you were capable of standing up in the shallow end, and people were taking your standing up for swimming ability. It was horrible, and I did the best I could, but I hit overload and shutdown so much that I got really stressed out and depressed. And I had no idea in some ways what was happening, I knew that what I’d always done wasn’t working, but I had no clue that what I’d always done wasn’t the same as what the other kids were doing, nor did I know that I was supposed to understand what was going on.

    But I don’t see why eliminating advanced placement classes would help matters there. Those classes are presumably for people who can handle them. I’d eliminate the whole school system if I could, but if it’s going to be there, it ought to have a variety of classes available to people.

  3. ballastexistenz, I know my two special kids sure seem to learn in a different way than other children, and I appreciate the heads-up. Better to let them take it slow and provide additional challenges as requested than to assume they’re ready. Thanks!

  4. Your post really struck a chord with me. I took AP Calculus in because I felt I “had” to in order to prove something. I made it through with a B and even passed the AP exam, but it made my entire senior year much more stressful than it needed to be.

    That being said, I definitely think AP classes should be offered at all schools. The more the better in fact. I took AP English and Chemistry without any problems and if my school had offered AP History, I’d have taken that too. I can’t stand this trend of elimination as resolution. Instead of doing away with AP classes, they should invest in better student advisors who help students into the appropriate curriculum.

  5. It’s important that options be there so that our kids– who are individuals with different needs and wants– all get what they need to succeed. Be that AP or OT!

    All children deserve the best education (and parenting) we can give them. Sadly, the school system isn’t fighting for them so it’s entirely our job. (I’m starting to rev up for an IEP– thanks for spuring me on! :))

  6. I’ve become so interested in the European style of education lately – where the dollars follow the children and forces competition and different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids. I haven’t quite settled in my mind how that would work here, but while I am a public school supporter, I also recognize the huge constraints they have for any program (be it special ed or advanced ed) that is outside the “norm.” But we must do better in educating all our children! I really see our schools as in crisis, and I think the “norm” is no longer the norm, and we’re starting to recognize that each child learns differently. It’s going to be an interesting few decades coming up in terms of education. Interesting post, as usual!

  7. In Denmark, the first school for gifted children was made 4 years ago.(My son joined it.) That caused discussions on a national basis, – still going on. In our culture, it is O.K. to be gifted, as long as you don´t talk about it!

    The understanding about what it is to be gifted, and the problems that often follows, is very little here. Not even the teachers at public schools knows much about it, and the gifted children are having a hard time, if they have any problem with being social, because that is what is expected to be.

    Children, who were reserved and close to depression, changed to normal, when they started at this new school. For the first time, they had someone to talk with at their “own language”, someone who could laugh and understand immediately. It is impossible to get to know yourself, if you never get the chance to find out about own ressources.

    On the other hand, I understand the nightmare, that ballastexistenz write about. It shows how important it is to have many kind of schools, so that every child can get the best possible childhood, and be a well balanced grown-up.

  8. I think that schools and the stature they hold for their students is important. I went from one of the second worst schools in Washoe county, failing and transferring with one and a half credits (the requirement to be sophmore status is 6) to a very upper class school and I passed all my classes with flying colors.
    The difference was, the administrators were more involved, they had a rock solid foundation of pride in everything and they made sure that every kid knew they were important.

    But schools and administrators and AP programs mean nothing when the childs home life does not coincide. I mean, the only reason I was successful at McQueen was because I gave guardianship to my grandparents. When I was attending North Valleys i was failing because I had no support from my parent. My mother was failing miserably due to drugs and a rigid divorce- sort of in the wrong order. Its up to the parent to compensate for what teachers don’t explain.

  9. giiid, I almost wish we had a separate school for the autistic kids. I understand they have to learn how to cope with the real world, but sometimes it just seems like they’re the ones who go through hell AT THE SAME TIME they’re supposed to be getting an education.

  10. I spent four years in a mormon house hold, and although I don’t believe the basic things, i picked up on a few of their beliefs that I still stand behind morally- and one being that- the disabled and mentally challanged in this life are perfect and even more perfect in the next.
    I really believe that autistic children are more beautiful internally and externally than people could possibly understand. Autistic children are natural, and natural is beautiful and untamable, its symbloic and sad that the people who attact and mis-treat them are the ones who are so deep into this world that they can’t see what is really beautiful.

    Thats sad.

    I wish we had a separate school for them too, but people/administrators/district’s feel that conformity and exposure is the best medicine.

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