Parenting a spectrum of girls

Posts tagged ‘gifted education’

The “other” dirty word


K on her first day of 6th grade

Shhhhhhh.  Don’t say it.

At least, if you have to say it, don’t use it to actually refer to anyone.

Or, at least not anyone you know.

Certainly don’t say it in public.

You know, the “g” word.

No, not the “G” word, that’s ok, just don’t talk about the “g” word. 

It’s offensive.  You might make someone feel bad.

But, it needs to be talked about, so here goes…

My oldest daughter, K, is gifted.  Actually, I’m going to get really outrageous.  She’s profoundly gifted.

We can talk about special needs all day long, and despite the fact that there is still a lot more ignorance than we would like, most people at least kinda get it, are accepting and agree that students with disabilities deserve an education that meets there needs.

But when you start talking about the other side of special education, that children who are not just smart but truly gifted, who need and deserve a different type of education and programs to meet their needs, you hit a lot of resistance.  People think children who are gifted are already at some sort of advantage.  Or they misunderstand what gifted means and think all that’s needed is an extra assignment, like an honor’s course or something.

And when you tell people that your child is gifted, the response is not usually helpful.  I usually hear things like:
“You’re so lucky”
“Well my kid’s smart too”
“There’s no way she’s actually THAT smart, right?”
“What did you do to make her so smart?”

Even the teachers and administrators at her elementary school didn’t really get it. They tried their best to dissuade me from advancing her a grade (she did 1st semester of 1st grade and 2nd semester in 2nd grade to complete 2 grades in 1 year) but the fact that they told me it was ultimately my choice proved they knew she could handle it. They told me it would mess her up socially and she wouldn’t make new friends, and that of course I didn’t want to rush middle school where she would clearly be a target for all kinds of problems because of her younger age.

For one thing, I knew my kid and they were so wrong, and I couldn’t have lived with myself if I didn’t advance her a grade. She is profoundly gifted academically, but also advanced socially, emotionally, creatively and in leadership skills. She is tall for her age and talks with adults, like an adult. Her friends always were older, anyway.

But having (or being) a gifted child is not easy. And the more gifted you are, the harder it can be. Sure, we’re not worried about her getting accepted into college, or paying for it for that matter (she already has 2 scholarships at age 10). Right now she is in a program for academically talented youth that I have a lot of confidence in and hope for. But it was very painful for all of us to get to this point. So much work at home to keep her learning and interested, trying to educate teachers who insisted she must have ADHD that she was, in fact, simply bored out of her skull. And there is a hyperactivity and a lot of things that do honestly look like ADHD until you study it…these are also symptoms of giftedness. Gifted kids are not easy kids. Smart kids, yes. Gifted kids, no. They are…different.

Then of course the dreaded kindergarten (Michigan has ridiculous laws like it is illegal for kids to enter kindergarten for any reason if they will not be 5 by 12/1 of that year), and pulling teeth to get her advanced a grade. A year after that advancement she was extremely bored again and we though about moving to a large southern city near other family where an appropriate program could be found for her. Fortunately we found the REACH program here, at Battle Creek Public Schools. Even then, last year she struggled with not being challenged in some subjects. She is a perfectionist and has a hard time working in groups. Most people do not think the way she does and she has a hard time explaining her work. It is difficult to find reading material on her level that is appropriate for a 10 year old to read.

It also takes a while for new people, even the gifted teachers, to see and believe what she can do at times. I laughed so hard at her middle school open house. Her principal from 5th grade was there and told me “they’re really going to have to challenge her, even in this program. But I guess they’ll figure that out pretty quick!” 😉

And don’t dismiss being bored. Yeah, it’s boring to review material. But when you’re gifted and being held back, it’s like being bound at the starting line of a race you have been dreaming about running. It is painful. And it’s not right. Maybe someone would have already found the cure for cancer, but instead of having their curiosity nurtured and been asked to perform their best they had to do “age appropriate, grade level work like everyone else, no ‘special’ treatment”, they got bored, dropped out of school and ended up doing nothing but goofing off. Sound extreme? It happens a lot more often than you would think. Gifted education is an important part of special education that needs to be talked about. Dare we dream that one day it become mandated and at least *partially* funded?

Oh, and while I’m using “the word”, I may as well break it all out for you…

I’m gifted too. I pretty much never say it, it’s embarrassing …like you think too highly of yourself. But if you take the false stigma off it, it’s a clinical diagnosis just like autism. And I was diagnosed gifted and given special pull out classes as a kid. So I guess I can say it. I’m no K, but my mind works fast and I get bored easily. I love to learn and I am gifted in language arts and sciences…but I have a lot of difficulty with math.

So, there it is. I have more to say about giftedness and the skewered way Americans view it and treat it, but I need to get to sleep. Maybe next time. 😉

Who’s job is it, anyway?

So much has been running through my mind this week, the first week of school.  M has done pretty well during school, but the meltdowns before and after have been pretty bad.  A had a hard time at drop off her first week of preschool but she seemed to enjoy herself, despite the fact that it is a grimly small class.  K had a rough start to middle school with being the victim of bullying and not doing so well on a test due to first week jitters.  But the one thing that I have been turning over most of all is…

Whose job is it?

Meaning, the success of our children.  I am disappointed that this election year I have heard little said about education.  I am kind of sick of hearing about AYP and definitely sick of all the testing.  I do NOT want my kids taught the test.  It is ridiculous.  The education system gets worse and I do not blame the teachers or administrators of our schools…it is the government, and the rules made by people who clearly know little about child growth and development who want our country to “look good” on the testing numbers…but don’t want to look at what successful countries like the Netherlands are actually doing.  And the schools get money taken away when they already can’t afford all the teachers, aides and materials they need. Teaching tests is like throwing tylenol at cancer.  It makes no sense.

But I digress…my point is, teachers, wonderful, gifted teachers, are at risk of losing their jobs because of these tests.  They don’t get any credit for having a room full of children with different special needs, or homeless children who are exhausted and hungry.  They spend their own money on materials and aren’t given access to the resources they need. Yet some parents want to blame teachers for not being everything THEY want them to be.  At one parent meeting this week, some parents were up in arms that recess was being cancelled for middle schoolers due to bullying issues.  (Forget that at the local public middle schools there is no recess…)  But there are some things a school can not do.  They have to choose between more important responsibilities.  Yes, children need physical exercise, much more than they are getting.  But being safe (physically and mentally) is a more basic and important need. 

So when it comes to some of these things…getting enough exercise, eating right, learning social skills or music or whatever the schools have had to cut due to a lack of funding…whose job is it?

First, parents.

Sure, our kids spend a lot of time at school.  And sure, teachers get paid (but not much) to teach them.  But they are OUR children and ultimately our responsibility.  We are their parents, primary care givers, and the ones ultimately responsible for every aspect of their lives.  This may mean advocating for them (sometimes they school really isn’t providing what they should).  It could also mean helping with homework, signing them up for sports or just making sure the TV is off and they are playing outside.  It means taking them to the library and exposing them to the arts.  And if you don’t like that the school cut your child’s favorite program, write your senator or support a local organization that provides these experiences for children outside of school.  Help out in the classroom or provide materials for the classroom if at all possible.

I realize some parents have to work several jobs and do not have a lot of support.  And here’s the thing…while any aspect of a child’s development is ultimately the responsibility of the parent or parents, it takes a village.  I hate to be clichè, but it really does.  And I’m not sure where the villages are anymore.  I know I have found solace in the special needs community, though it has been mostly people scattered and connected online.  I also know there are a number of programs to help, but they can be difficult to find or understand if you are not extremely organized.  And any government program has miles of red tape!  And for every person trying to build up villages to help others, there are many more tearing people down and placing judgement instead of helping.  We need to set aside our differences: religion, politics, race, gender, whatever they may be, and just see each other as people who need others to help.  Our kids deserve this.  Don’t judge a parent if you aren’t willing to step in and help.  And don’t judge that teacher if you’re not willing to volunteer in the classroom. 

So, whose job is it?

All of ours.  Parents, and others to support them.  Our children need and deserve everything we can give them, and it’s time for all of us to step up to the plate.

One more note, parents and teachers should be partners in their child’s education. As parents we need to build a positive relationship with our kids’ teachers and keep in contact with them. Go to conferences and open houses, but more than that, back your teachers up. Be willing to listen not only to the positives about your child but the things they need to work on, and help them by providing consistency at home. Parents, educators and community working together = the best possible outcomes for our children and the future.

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