What He Needs

It was the first time one of my best friends said, “Well, it’s not like you can expect them to give him his very own curriculum.”

I stood in silence, my stroller next to hers as we prepared to walk home, batting my lashes, blinking and stunned. I didn’t bother to tell her, “Yes I can. In fact, that’s what California law says. They have to provide curriculum for him at his level, they are obligated to under the law.”

I don’t remember when my child’s needs became exceptional, as in, an exception to the obligation the school system has to meet his educational needs. I don’t remember the first time other parents showed glaring annoyance at my child’s needs, as if by having his needs met I was asking for their kids’ needs to be ignored, or suggested I was asking too much of the school system. Or that maybe I was just asking too much of my child.

I’ve gotten used to it now, the school that promises to find a math book for my son. The teachers that say they’ll look around, but report back when pressed that there aren’t any extras for the grade level he needs. “Sorry.”

We go on Amazon.com, again, tracking down the books he needs, forking over personal dollars that are supposed to be my tax dollars. My husband and son sit at the kitchen table, dishes cleared, examining equations. He tutors him, helping him get what he needs, what the school refuses to offer. I ask the teacher about his classes. “Is he getting his classes?” the ones that will help him grow and develop. “Well, we mostly do that after school.” I am told.

Later, someone else must have complained, someone bolder than I. He left the classroom to be tutored, but I’m not sure if it was helpful. Were they trained especially to work with these types of children? The law goes ignored. They play word games, board games. “At least he’s not bored,” I console myself.

But he is bored. Some teachers are better than others. Some find things for him to do. He complains. “No one likes what I like,” he says. We press for more details. “They read different books and stuff,” he mutters.

My friend called last spring. Frustrated with the school system in Idaho not meeting her child’s needs. I listen. For months I listen. She inspires me. She is an advocate for her child. She fights the system. She wins.

I change my tune. I will be an advocate for my child.

So when the school didn’t test my second son like they promised to last year, I called the district the first week of school this year. They sent me back to the school, who then sent me back to the district. (That’s usually how these things go.)

When I asked for a testing day other than a Saturday and the lady on the other end of the phone began what sounded like the beginning of a very long and labored spiel, “You have to have a really good reason…” I unapologetically interrupted to say, “It is my understanding under the law that you must provide testing during the school day.”

That must have been a really good reason.I was accommodated immediately.

I will no longer nod when they tell me there are only three months left in the school year, implying to me without saying the truth, “It is too much trouble for me to have him start his third math book this year.” Because my gifted child has just as much right to meet his full potential at school as any other child.

91 thoughts on “What He Needs

  1. I was “gifted” as a child. As an adult, I am more and more impressed with the level of attention with which my needs were met. We had two teachers who specifically taught the gifted students. They taught the younger grades in the morning and the older grades in the afternoon. They taught advanced math and language arts skills. The regular classes in the school were set up so that science, art, music, and PE happened when the gifted kids were with them, then the left and went to the resource room for math and language arts. It was a phenomenal system, and I thrived in the environment.

    Just before I went into the 6th grade, we moved from the city to the suberbs. I assumed the gifted program would be set up in the same way. It was not. In any way. While my class did their math assignments, I went to the resource room and worked on math a year ahead. But I had to teach myself, which I had never done before. It’s difficult to go from a regular classroom environment that just happens to be ahead in math to teaching yourself pre-algebra. It was .*exceptionally* difficult.

    My kids are not yet in the public school system. And I have no idea what it’s like here in Utah. I guess it will depend on the school, not the state so much.

  2. This is a something I continually deal with. As the mother of a gifted child I can understand where you are coming from. There have been so many times when I have had to smile, nod and hope that what they were willing to offer was what he really needed. All because I did not want to be “that mom.” You know the one, the mom that the teachers and staff avoid because “she thinks her children are the only ones that matter in a school of hundreds.” What I have discovered however is that, although I still don’t want to be “that mom,” if I am not my child’s advocate who will be? He can not fight for these things himself, that is my job as his mother. I hate confrontation but I would hate more to look back and see missed opportunities because I was afraid of what the adults in the school thought of me.

  3. I have two kids who are elementary age. I think they’re probably about equally smart, but my 7yo is the only one who gets services for gifted education. We’ve fought for her within the system the schools have set up (having her tested to skip first grade, which she did, then requesting testing outside the normal testing times when we moved to a new state). She’s in a gifted magnet school as a third grader and has had a great experience. But she’s a very conventionally bright kid.

    My fourth grader, on the other hand, is also really smart, but isn’t a conventional learner like his sister. So I feel like we’ve been negotiating the gray areas with him– trying to keep him interested in school and challenged, even when he doesn’t qualify for things like the GT program. It’s a lot harder for me to feel like I’m doing right by him than it is to feel like I’m meeting her needs.

  4. Have you ever thought for a minute how long public education would last if every child had to be catered to individually (be found their own textbook at taxpayer’s expense, provided special tutoring)? It can’t be done. Yes, you are right that by being shrill and pushy, you’ll probably get special treatment for your gifted child. I know I sometimes wish my 2 gifted kids were challenged at school more than they are (we have 3), but I realize that it’s MY RESPONSIBILITY to provide the extra that they need.

  5. Also, from the sounds of things, your son needs to spend more time learning to make friends than doing advanced math problems.

  6. I can relate to those feelings and issues. I have had to advocate tirelessly for my son since kindergarten a and know I will have to for the rest of his foreseeable academic future (I live in a state with no mandate for gifted education). Educating “gifted children” is a taboo topic, it’s considered elitest or the assumption is you are this crazy competitive parent. I think these assumptions come with the language- gifted, intelligence, smart, IQ – they are so loaded with judgement and hierarchy. I have really tried to explain that it’s about how kids learn and process information. It is diffult when one side of our institutionally linear spectrum gets services and another doesn’t. If my son were testing the same number of standard deviations below the average on testing as he is above he’d be in an out of district placement to the tune of 50K a year to the district, but as it is the other end, there is nothing. When a 6 year old is scoring at the place of a high school senior in areas he is still given- Coloring a rainbow worksheet?

    They are also often given way to strong of negative feedback for their weaker areas (the expectation is if you’re gifted you’ll ge equally gifted in all subject areas) and their physical developmental level is not really factored in.

    I have witnessed the intense frustration and emotional stress my son has felt being “held back” in learning (staying with class), waiting for other kids- literally crying because he can’t do appropriate (for him) level math & science). As a girl who also cried to her parents over the same thing I feel for his struggles and will not dismiss them.

    We’ve tried many things we’ve done distance learning (EPGY) we’ve done grade crossing (part in one part in another), we done a grade skip, we’ve done dual enrollment (part home/part public school), we’ve done curriculum compacting. We’ve debating going private but even then most say they can’t meet his needs. How do you balance this childs needs with the rest of the family schedule and resource allocation. Do we spend the money for a gifted school, do I stick my other 2 kids for hours in the car daily driving to it, do we uproot the whole family and move to get the services he needs- Hunter in New York, Fairfax Co? You find yourself sick knowing your child’s needs aren’t being met and reading about programs that would help them only makes you feel worse. Finding the right balance of services for these kids is essential but falls to often to parents and for any parent who has been through it is an exhausting and emotionally draining experience with very little support.

    As someone who used to teach both in the public school setting, and early childhood ed at the college level. I am most frustrated by the anti-gifted bias of many teachers and adminstrators.

    ALL children deserve to learn in the least restrictive enviroment. ALL children deserve to be stimulated and challenged.

    Ps for any parents struggling with this I highly recommend the hoagies gifted page!

  7. I was gifted too during elementary/middle school years, but my parents provided me with the extra outlets at home. Sometimes it’s up to the parents to provide what the schools aren’t. My husband went to school with kids who lived in the projects where he had few advantages. However, due to the help his parents provided he was able to attend one of the best public colleges with a double major in Electrical and Industrial Engineer. I really believe that parents are responsible for this and you can only expect so much from the schools. Why do we know expect schools to do everything for our children? Yes, it may be the law but the law also requires children who have special needs be placed in the same class with average children and with gifted children. That is asking a lot for one teacher to deal with during each lesson.

  8. I raised four gifted children who had good and bad experiences at school. Some teachers are more adept at working with gifted children than others, and some curricula are better adapted to gifted students. Because I know the enormous burden that teachers bear–I’m a former teacher–I supplemented my child’s schoolwork with lots of fun and challenging learning at home.

    We played educational games, read widely, went on field trips, learned to play musical instruments, did service projects as a family, went to science camps, studied, and wrote a lot. Two times when teachers were unacceptable, we asked (demanded) that our children be transferred to a different class. A few times we found it necessary to speak up in respectful and firm ways–but these situations involved abusive situations in the classroom they were hurtful to all of the students.

    Unless your school district has a gifted and talented program, it is very difficult for a teacher to meet the needs of students that range from learning disabled students, underachieving students, children with mental health challenges, and gifted students at the same time. Because no teacher or program is perfect, there is so much that parents of all children can do to enhance their children’s learning experience. When parents believe that just as responsible to educate their children as teachers are, they can work in partnership with the schools and create a win/win situation for everyone.

  9. alexa- Differentiated instruction is part of what teachers are taught it’s not unreasonable. Districts have plenty of textbooks. It’s not more costly- just have some one carry it down form the room two doors up hall in another grade. There are many many ways to accomodate without additional cost! your arguement is akin to asking a “special needs” parent to be responsible for all the accomodation their child needs.

    Please be considerate. I do not think it appropriate to tell someone their child needs to spend more time making friends- I find that to be an offensive statement. It is one all too often fed to parents of gifted kids. The reason these kids often struggle is because their interests and style of thinking are different than their peers. Many often also struggle with dabrowski’s overexcitablities (if you are familiar with gifted literature- often have to find a way to balance the intense concerns and adult style thoughts with their developmental level- many children are also at risk for emotional/anxiety issues due to that also) and if my son cares more astronomy podcasts and micro-credit than pokemon I say more power to him and I do my best to help him find frineds who share his interests and also feel comfortable and sociable with all kids. I do all in my power to help him feel validated in his interests and talents as I would any other child,

  10. Alexa, that last comment was very unkind and uncalled for. I didn’t see anything in this post that suggested her son struggles socially, so I don’t even know where that comment came from. And making more friends won’t help the author’s son when he is bored out of his mind in math class. It is clear that you don’t understand giftedness or gifted education. I have found, in my experience, that parents who advocate for their gifted child aren’t being “shrill” or “pushy”; they are simply trying to help their child survive in the classroom. Most people think parents of gifted children are elitist but the fact is that gifted children are an “at risk” population of students; in fact, there is a higher percentage of high school dropouts among the gifted population than other students. Gifted children who are bored in the classroom often have behavioral problems. They also tend to be used by teachers as tutors for the other students, and while this teaches them to serve others, it doesn’t meet their own learning needs. And it is difficult as a parent to try to provide the extra help that a gifted child needs. It is hard to make your child sit through eight hours of instruction, having to learn things that he already knows (and imagine if you as an adult had to learn how to tie your shoelaces over and over again, when you already knew how to do it–wouldn’t you be bored?), and then make him do most of his learning when he gets home from school–most children would rather play with friends or be involved in extra curricular activities. Gifted children already feel “different”–and not in good ways–than other children, and making them do most of their learning outside of the classroom feels like a punishment to them.
    I have a son who is “severely” gifted, and I can assure you that it has not been easy and that there are unique challenges and struggles that come with having a gifted child. It can be a very lonely road, made even lonelier by the misperceptions and judgments of other parents who just don’t understand giftedness.

  11. Carol- I like you thoughts about enriching at home but here’s where I struggle, and that doesn’t really work–my child goes to school at 7:50 gets home at 3:20 and has 60 minutes of homework- (he’s 8yo) Then we start doing more “enrichment”? When does he just get to relax and be a kid and run outside and play legos, and make friends? I feel frustrated that he is gone for hours doing work, much of which is marginal in terms of providing any learning and then slogged through busywork homework (a change too from the days of my childhood- and bad trend!). I guess I see the results of burnout from bad educational practice.

  12. I grew up realizing that I was just going to have to make do with what was available and be satisfied. My parents didn’t know the hoops to jump through. I see the need of children to are bored with the general curriculum, but I also see the need of children to be around kids their own age.

    Maybe I’ll do a community home-schooling type thing. I’m not a fan of public education and haven’t been for quite some time.

  13. This really is a hard topic. Very divisive. It’s hard for kids to find friends who have interests above their age level. It reminds be of a sign my orchestra conductor had in the classroom “Be kind to nerds, someday you will work for them.”

    I really wish there was an easy answer for you guys. (And me in the next couple of years.) One that didn’t keep me looking at homeschool, because heaven knows I’m excited to have more time to do what needs to be done. :)

    And when I said “Kids their own age” I do realize that I wasn’t clear enough. I did mean their own age and similar interests.

  14. This makes me so grateful for the Salt Lake City School Districts ELP (Extended Learning Program). My step-daughter, who is very academically gifted, has always spent part of her day working on advanced curriculum and now is in the full-time ELP program where her entire class is “gifted”. It is so great that she is now challenged all day and no longer spending most of her day being bored.

  15. Tay- I am such a believer in advocating for all kids, I worry about other children whose parents don’t recognize it or understand the system in a way to advocate for change. Those kids are often missiing out on services they need.

    While kids do need interaction with age level peers, they also need interaction with academic level peers. Research on radical acceleration (skipping multiple grades) actually reports kids are happier, healthier and more well adjusted if they move ahead they stay with age level peers. A Nation Decieved is excellent reading on this topic and dispels many myths around the social needs

  16. I think if the parents are doing all they can do, the schools and teachers can assist in doing their part too. I don’t think it should be either parties sole responsibility. Sounds like you are doing your part, and sadly – you’re probably going to have to light a fire under people to get their help. It’s good you dont want your children to be lost in the sea of children – many parents are detached and just don’t care.

  17. Everything was going along just fine for my DD’s kindergarten registration, till they got to the date.

    “Oh. Hmm…”, the secretary stammered, looking up at me. “I’m so sorry, but your daughter can’t start school this fall. She’s too young.”

    “What do you mean?” I replied.

    We had just moved to the state, and everywhere else I’d lived my daughter would have started school that year. She’d been excited about it for months. In fact, if we’d lived in any other town surrounding ours, she WOULD have started school that year.

    “She misses our cut-off by seven weeks.” the secretary supplied, as if that was the only factor that mattered, despite the situation.

    “But as you can see, she is perfectly capable of starting school this fall” I rejoined. “Socially she is spot-on. She’s already reading chapter books, can add/subtract double digits. She’s totally ready for school. Look at your assessments of her!.”

    “In our experience it almost always results in a bad outcome when children are forced to start early by their parents”. Case dismissed.

    So home we went, to wait out another year till she was old enough.

    During that year, my Bunchkin read Harry Potter. She began learning her times tables. It was clear to us by the time another fall rolled around that the 2.5 hours of kindergarten offered by our public school would do almost nothing in the way of educating our daughter. It would have been a waste of her time.

    So we decided to enroll her in an all-day private school in a neighboring town. Sure I’d have to drive her a half-hour each way. And sure, tuition cost more than my freshman and sophomore years of college combined. But she’d be learning French, and computers, and a few other things that would be new to her. The full-day meant there would be more time to delve into and really reach, and in my naivety I had this notion that the goal of schools was to help each child reach their fullest potential.

    This school, being private, had a screening policy to weed out those who had “special needs”, but I didn’t consider Bunchkin to be a special needs kid. She was just my kid. My socially adapted, excited-about-learning-everything, bright, happy, child.

    Off she went. Of course she did just fine. I kept waiting to see some challenges to her abilities…but they never transpired. She’d coasted through the year, but at least she had fun and learned a little French. Her report cards all came home with straight 5’s…except one area. “Bunchkin has struggled with her ‘Hail Mary’” it said at the end of first term. ( It was a Catholic school).

    All year long as I watched for progress, I told myself “kindergarten isn’t required by law. It’s supposed to be a fun year. I’m sure they up the ante in 1st grade”. Besides, Bunchkin was enjoying herself, and her friends, and I didn’t want to be one of those moms who thought her kid was special and got all pushy.

    First grade began, and things weren’t going well. Bunch had matured enough to start questioning the busy work she was being asked to do. “Mommy, I know my colors and shapes. I’ve known them since I was 2. Why do I have to do these worksheets?” she would ask.

    My inquiries with the school got me nowhere. They weren’t required, as a private school, to do anything special for my kid. “And besides, in our experience, the children who are ahead of the curve in kindergarten and 1st grade all kind of even out to the same level by 3rd or 4th grade”, the principal stated.

    “Do you realize the implications of what you just said?” I replied , astonished.

    “I sent you a kid who LOVES learning. At the beginning of the year she couldn’t wait to start school, but by the time I pick her up every afternoon, she is near tears and I have to spend the entire night propping her up to convince her to come back in the morning. Because she is so bored”.

    They suggested that perhaps the public school would be a better fit for my child. They only work with children in the “middle”.

    So off we went to the local public school (no reimbursement of our tuition, either!). Thankfully her teacher had a combo 1st-2nd grade class, and 30 years of experience working with a range of abilities. The Little Red Schoolhouse concept isn’t, after all, a new one. Nor is it that hard.

    This teacher had her for 1st and 2nd grade, and at the end of the year recommended she skip 3rd. “There is nothing in the 3rd grade curriculum that she’s not already solid on” she told me.

    We thought hard about it. Educated ourselves about education, the impact of skipping, IOWA testing, acceleration, enrichment, etc. And finally decided to do it.

    3rd – 5th grades were at a different school where we lived. This was good in that it would be a seamless transition…she’d just dive in with the kids she’d spent 1st grade with before they’d moved on. But the new principal balked. “I can’t make that decision…I don’t even know your daughter.”

    The old principal balked. “it’s not my responsibility…she’s not my student any more.”

    They batted us back and forth, tossing out statistics about bad outcomes and ignoring everything we and her former teacher brought to the table. After canceling a number of appointments to discuss the situation, the new principal sent us a letter just informing us that he’d put our daughter in 3rd grade.

    Our story of “figuring out the system” is not unique. Every family is going to have some issue or another with their children at some point, and knowing our rights as parents is often a battle.

    No Child Left Behind actually does mean that EVERY child needs to be taught at their level…whatever level that may be. And sometimes we need to push pretty hard to secure those services on our children’s behalf. There are countless resources available today thanks to the internet to help parents who don’t know where to start.

    Due to a move and other life changes, we never advanced Bunchkin at school. We supplemented at home, and got her into a really excellent school when we moved, and she is still happy, loves school, and thriving. And hopefully, having started Junior High last month where she has a heavy load of GT and advanced classes, she will finally be challenged and learn how to really apply herself and learn. Because learning to work and think are two priceless acquisitions. everyone her life impacts will benefit from them.


    PS:sorry for the book! just hit a nerve.

  18. Yes, Leslie, I would recommend “A Nation Deceived” as well. I think that along with dealing with the boredom and frustration gifted kids often feel at school, finding their niche, socially, is one of their greatest challenges. That’s why gifted programs are often so helpful; they are able to find peers they can relate to and interact with kids who are like them, so they actually adjust better socially. It can be very lonely on the playground otherwise. My son had some very painful years in grade school and junior high, but when he got to high school and found peers through the marching band program and AP classes, he blossomed. But I would have appreciated a gifted program in those early years.

  19. I second “A Nation Deceived”. I ordered a copy for the principals. It is a great resource for parents and schools (if they’re open to change.) ♥

  20. Oh, and Blue, I commented before I saw your comment, but I loved your comment—it expresses much of what I would say, as well.

  21. Alexa,
    I’m sorry I struck a nerve. Just like children with special needs need a different curriculum, so does my child. It is not more expensive to give a second-grader the fourth-grade math book or send him to the fourth-grade when it is math time.
    My child has lots of friends, and even if he didn’t, that comment was completely out of line.

    I’ll just share a few of my experiences and I really appreciate what other moms of gifted children have said.

    Firstly, there is a big difference between exceptionally gifted and children who are bright. They think differently, analyze the world differently, and need to be in an environment with materials that will nurture that side of them.

    When my oldest son was in school he went through 2 1/2 math books one year. We taught him how to do the problems at home in the evening, and he would do the problems at school when the other kids were doing their work. That worked, for awhile. But as someone else mentioned, he’s a kid, he wants to play, not do school work in the evenings.

    He has had teachers have him tutor the other kids because he has nothing to do. That is fine sometimes. He didn’t mind doing that in 3rd grade and the other kids like him, so it worked really well. But really, he’s supposed to be learning, not teaching.

    When spelling assignments include writing words three times (when he knew them in the first place), that’s just silly. It’s a waste of his time. It is not too difficult for the teacher to give him different words. What has worked for him is when one teacher assigned him to find his own words in the dictionary and learn them. To a kid that’s really fun.

    My child has friends his age. He likes them. They hang out. They ride bikes, climb trees, build forts and that kind of stuff. But he can’t have a conversation with them about the things he thinks deeply about.

    Kids talk about their favorite books. When he was 8, his favorite books were the Lord of the Rings series. He came home so excited last week because someone in his 6th grade class was reading them. Now he can talk to someone about them besides his dad. They aren’t his favorite books anymore, but it still got him really excited.

    Now he wants to talk about other things, and he’s kind of stuck again. So he can bounce ideas off of us, his parents, but it isn’t the same.

    Some teachers are great. They go out of their way to help. Others say things like my second child’s teacher said to me last year, “We don’t want him to get ahead.” As she refused to give him books that were his level.

    The other problem I have had is that there was not a teacher at his school who knew how to teach my oldest child’s level in Math. Luckily the district I am in now will simply have him go to the high school for that class.

    California is great. They have pretty good programs here. It is all set up in Education Codes. What I’m asking for is not new. But if I don’t speak up, they aren’t going to tell me about what is available to my child.

  22. Wow, this whole thread makes me grateful for my school district’s gifted program. First grade was basically a waste for my oldest (brand new teacher) but all his other more experienced teachers have known how to challenge the bright kids. He is not socially mature so I never wanted him to skip a grade.

  23. My dh and I have discussed this a lot, and we will have no problem, if the need arises due to butting up against educators who aren’t challenging our kids, to have the kids special education certified. Once they are certified, then they have an IEP, and are required by law to be in the “least restrictive environment.” If that environment is the math class that is 2 grade levels ahead, then that’s where they’ll be, whether they meet the age/grade requirements or not.

    If you are really having difficulties butting up against immoveable teachers and administrators, then set up an appointment to have your kids be certified special education (which covers both ends of the spectrum, not just the low end). Then it is law that they have to be in classes that meet their educational needs.

  24. The federal law is NOT interpreted to cover exceptionality the same as special needs. I am not sure what certification you are referring to? Many states do write IEPs for gifted kids, but those are states that have laws or mandates covering gifted education. The absence of federal law providing in such protection/requirement is a travesty and why states have laws on the matter)

  25. I have a gifted smart child in a gifted program. I have a smart child with a learning disability too. I have supplemented both of their learning at home. I think our schools are doing a great job and I have been happy, but they don’t do everything I might wish, let alone have individual programs for my kids. Every kid is an individual…..even average children. Alexa has a point.

  26. I was a teacher before I married. I taught in London and once had over a dozen nationalities in my class of 25 children. I have taught both gifted and special needs children. No matter how many children there are in my class, the largest number being 36, I always expected them to have individual work levels. Work should be differentiated. It is the child’s right. It may not be easy depending on how many children/languages/levels in the class etc. The point is that the teacher is trained to do it. It is their job. It is their responsibility. They are paid to do this. Every child should be taught at their level. Every patent has the right to expect this. If this did not happen for my children I would be in their complaining. My children are at 3 separate schools and they are all in the gifted and talented programs there. Admittedly some schools are better at this than others, some teachers are better than others, it does not excuse others making their best efforts for these children to be happy and successful learners. I understand that things are different in the U.S., but I do believe that schools are there for the children to learn as much as possible.

  27. JKS,
    Every child is an individual. Every child needs nurturing. Every child has the right to an education. If my child is going to school and learning seriously nothing–that is a serious problem. I don’t send him to school x hours a day for fun. He doesn’t want to come home and have x hours of school after that.

    I am not expecting that I send my kids to school and then let them watch TV after school and do nothing. I am their mother. I am not sure what you mean by supplementing. This word is getting thrown around a lot.
    Could you explain what you mean by supplementing?

  28. Kay, I’m curious exactly how are things different in the US compared to the UK? Do teachers have more assistants in the classroom? Did you make 36 different versions of each lesson and deliver them to each kid one on one? Were you willing to do that if asked? Sometimes, the disparity is too great for that to be realistic, in my opinion. My kids might learn to be better friends, to be kinder, to be happier in the long run if they can learn to put up with less advanced instruction, maybe even repetitive and slow during their short elementary-school years, without becoming self-absorbed, whiny and bored.
    Many feel as you do that it is the responsibility of teachers to individualize their teaching to each student (after all, that’s what they’re paid for, etc.) I think that their job is to do the best they can to facilitate maximum learning in the greatest number of students. Before this semester’s university classes started, I had the old discussion with my colleagues about whether it’s best to nurture genius or to lift the masses. In elementary school, I think you have to lift the masses.

  29. Alexa,

    You seem to have some pretty strong feelings and I’m just wondering where they’re coming from. Would you mind sharing what experiences have led you to see actively advocating parents as “shrill” and “pushy”, and gifted children as “self-absorbed” and “whiny”? I’m just curious as to what has invited you to be so turned off to what people are discussing here. Thanks.

  30. Oh, and if we’re “lifting the masses”, do you not believe in differentiated services for those who fall below the line of normal learning abilities?

  31. I just want to chime in that I have had equally as many problems getting education and services for my disabled child within the school district. I think that regardless of your child’s abilities or disabilities, parents need to be advocates for their children. No one in the school district is going to look at your kid’s record and think, “Hey, this child needs such and such…” Don’t ever hesitate to speak up for your child.

  32. We really do try to understand one another here, thanks sunny for asking for insights into Alexa’s position. (Please do be aware of our commenting guidelines there is a link in the R sidebar) I am also troubled by those labels. I haven’t seen research to support gifted children as whiny or self absorbed. I would welcome such supporting links (not just stereotypical/anecdotal assumptions). In fact the literature supports that kids who recieve appropriate adaptation are generally very happy and successful in all aspects of their lives- not just career/academic. Bored -yes- (but I teach my kids not to use the dreaded B word, but instead find ways to occupy themselves happily- however in a classroom different rules apply) I also cherish and respect the rights of children to be challenged, to think and be creative. I for one can think of few things more painful than being forced to to mindless task for hours everyday no matter your age.

    I for one believe in treating people as individuals, one size fits all is never a good fit in anything. As an elem school teacher, I cared about my students, I knew their needs (I spent how many hours with them everyday?) and well I cared enough to try to make a difference and address those needs, to me that was part of being a teacher. Teachers are trained for just this purpose. They aren’t just someone you grab someone off the street and stand up in the front to read a script for the masses. As a classroom teacher individualized adaptation and instruction is feasible, especially if you are employing child directed, project based learning.

  33. In my son’s first grade class there are 31 students. I live in California. My son’s needs are not being met. None of the children are having their needs met. There are just too many kids for one teacher. It’s hard for me when other parents are demanding more for their child because it then feels like there’s even less for mine. The public education in this state is a mess. It’s a hard situation. I sometime feel like home school is the way to go. – but I loved school and want my children to have that experience.

  34. I don’t believe on laying gifted kids (my own in particular) on the sacrificial altar in the name of the education of the masses- they are as important as any other child.

    Also while you may suggest elem school is not the place for gifted education; it is interesting to note that girls especially go “underground” as do minority children if not identified and challenged early (by mid elem school). So suppressing these programs early is especially damaging to these subgroups.

  35. Thank you for this wonderful look at the very real struggles many parents of special needs children experience. In my district, parents have been able, after much work, to get a magnet achool for gifted children. I cannot say enough what a huge blessing this has been. I certainly do not think it is too much to ask for a school to provide appropriate instruction for your child, that is the purpose for the school’s existence. It is wrong to say that your child should just have to suffer through it and you should have to make up for it at home. Kudos to you for getting involved.

  36. Tiffany,

    Well, if none of the children’s needs are being met, then why are we paying for education? It is backwards to think that, in a system we pay for, we shouldn’t expect certain things like, say, learning. School is not a holding pen. It is detrimental to send a child somewhere for hours a day to stagnate. If the teacher isn’t meeting any of the children’s needs, then why are we paying the teacher and why are sending the children? Maybe you overstated. That said, if I am aware that my child is not actively learning, being challenged, and feeling engaged, then it is my responsibility to make sure that the hours she spends away from me are productive, or why send her? It’s not a daycare. They are at school for a purpose.

    Now we move into thoughts directed at other posters…

    People keep saying it’s the parents’ responsibility. Exactly. That is why I still feel responsible for what occurs in the eight hours my child is at school. I don’t just hand her over, hope for the best, but accept mediocrity without question. I am responsible to advocate for the best possible environment for my child when she is away just as I am responsible to create it when she is here. Why can’t we ask these things of the school system? How can we not? School is not just a rite of passage, this thing we all do just because. It is there for a purpose and if that purpose is not being achieved then as a parent I am obligated to help facilitate change.

  37. #36 Leslie,

    Thanks. I wanted to say something about losing these kids early on. They are an at-risk population. Thanks for pointing it out.

  38. I have a problem with this idea of “lifting the masses” at the expense of “nurturing genius.” The statement itself shows a lack of understanding of the issues. I don’t think anyone here is saying that they want the “masses” to be neglected. Indeed, our educational system is geared towards teaching the average child. What many parents don’t understand is that meeting the educational needs of gifted children does not take away from others’ education; in fact, in many instances it can help lift everyone (I’m thinking of a great article I read several years ago entitled “A Rising Tide Lifts All Ships”). For example, having a pull-out math program for advanced students leaves less students in the regular classroom, which gives them more opportunities for individualized instruction, so they can excel as well. Having a magnet gifted program allows teachers in the regular classroom to focus on those students rather than on having to find things to keep the gifted children busy, who most likely are disrupting the class because they are bored.

    We do our children and our society a great disservice by not meeting the needs of our most advanced students, and, as Leslie pointed out, gifted girls and minority students are especially at risk, and if they aren’t identified and challenged early, they often fall through the cracks. I’m sure all of you know of someone at school who was especially gifted but who was misunderstood, teased, always getting into trouble and who ended up dropping out of school or getting into some other trouble. I, for one, can remember several. Who knows what contributions these kids might have made to society?

    Also, differentiated instruction does NOT mean that the teacher must teach on 36 different levels–why, that would be ludicrous. But a teacher can adapt curriculum and teach it on, say, three or four levels, which generally fits the needs of most of the students in the class. Teachers can be trained to do this, and it helps all of the students in the class.

    One final thing (for now): there seems to be a misperception that parents of gifted children are asking for special or extra treatment for their child. We are only asking for fair and equal treatment, meaning that our children have the right to be taught new things and to excel, just like any other child. Equal education does not mean the same education for everyone—just an equal chance to reach their academic potential. I think that’s what our democratic society advocates.

  39. I wanted to voice a slightly different view. I’m a 21-year-old BYU student who went through gifted programs and advanced programs in both California and Oregon. Looking back, it was interesting to compare the way those different locations handled their gifted education programs; there were strengths and weaknesses to both, as I’m sure there are in all states.

    However, my younger siblings are far more gifted than I am. While I was content to go through the usual advanced programs and be a year ahead in areas like math or spanish, they would be bored with the cirriculum I had. My mother has been an excellent advocate for their education in that she meets with school administrators and teachers to get the best education for her children. To me though, the best thing she has done is become friends with the parents of other exceptionally gifted children. My mother has spent hundreds of hours discussing with other parents in the school district and going with them to meet with the school board or administration. Her opinions and desires regarding my siblings’ education are much stronger with the assistance of other parents who feel the same way. I’m sure some of you probably already do this, but it is obvious to me that my mother and the other parents are so much more effective because they go to the school with their concerns together. Because I went through the same schools that my siblings are now, I know the teachers and the cirriculum they are currently experiencing. Some of it needs a lot of work, but that won’t get done unless those parents continue to go to the schools together with their concerns.

  40. I am incredibly skeptical about the worth of special classes for gifted kids. I was skipped up a grade as a kid and put into gifted classes. The gifted classes were a complete waste of time, and once I got into high school the age difference turned out to be incredibly socially damaging (I would’ve been immature for my age even if I WAS with kids my own age). High school was a complete nightmare.

    My seven year old read all seven Harry Potter books during the first three weeks of summer. She wanted to read them the year before but I was worried she would have bad dreams and wouldn’t let her touch them until this summer. She is miles and miles beyond her peers in math and reading. But honestly? I don’t want her in a special class – at least not yet.

    Her teacher gives her special reading assignments, and yes, the spelling is completely easy for her, but I don’t think I need to worry about PUSHING my seven year old. She’s in elementary school. I can see that she will never struggle with learning – that her struggles are going to be primarily social, since she is somewhat shy. She needs to learn the basics and have the chance to be around peers who are at her same level socially and emotionally. We can worry about AP classes when she hits high school. Maybe I will look back later and regret this, but I doubt it.

    That said, every parent knows their own child best, and we ALL do what we feel is best. And hallelujah for that.

  41. I’m think what I meant to say is that schools, especially in California, are really underfunded. The budget the schools are working on is ludicrous. So why should a gifted child get more time, attention, money than mine? I think the teacher my child currently has is amazing. But how is she supposed to individualize her lesson to 31 students? It’s too many.

  42. I skimmed the comments, but wanted to offer a teacher’s perspective. And kudos to all you parents who see school as something more than social–that gives me a little hope.

    I teach in a public high school, so I can’t speak to the challenges in an elementary classroom. My colleagues and I recognize that an unintended and unforeseen consequence of No Child Left Behind is that we’ve actually left gifted students behind.

    To speak to one of Leslie’s comments, project-based learning (at least at the high school) is rarely recognized as valuable in my district, because all assessment is geared toward state testing and the ACT.

    I’ve been teaching a relatively short time (10 years), and every year I feel more and more pressure in every aspect of my job. I am working more and more hours (most weeks about 70 hrs) to do my best to meet my students’ needs. Sometimes what is asked of me is so overwhelming that I’d rather just be a greeter at Wal-Mart. But then I’d miss the kids. :)

    I think it’s great when parents advocate for their children at the building level, but in all honesty, the place to really get involved is with local school boards and even state and national politicians who are setting education policy. There are simply some things that, because of administrative limitations implemented by state and national governments, are becoming increasingly difficult to do. Not impossible, just difficult.

    At least until something drastic happens to NCLB.

  43. Tiffany,

    I think the point has been made: We’re not looking for more. We’re looking for equal. Also, I’m not happy with any child receiving mediocre education and, as stated, believe ALL parents are responsible to advocate for better educational opportunities and standards. Your right, the budgets and class sizes are ludicrous. So do we sit back and accept it in “oh well” mentality, or do we educate ourselves about how the system works and what can and should be done to give all children the best opportunities?

    As my teacher-friend said to me this morning, “The only way for things to get better is for parents to push. There is a way to advocate that builds relationships between educators and parents and yet drives change. There just aren’t enough parents who will do it. They either don’t care enough to get involved or they don’t want to be ‘that mom’. If enough parents would push, things get better for everyone.” Hmm, that’s one smart teacher.

  44. Sunny, I so agree. As a parent who tried to get other parents involved in advocating for gifted education in our district, I was frustrated with the apathy I often encountered. I do believe that our children benefit from our advocacy. I also want to point out, because there is a misperception about this, that I don’t think I have ever “pushed” my children. But I have wanted them to be engaged and learning at their level. When my daughter was a first-grader, she was reading at a sixth-grade level. I never pushed her to read at all—she did it on her own. But when I met with her teacher (with my daughter present) the teacher asked me, “Why do you push her to read so much? She needs to play with other children.” I didn’t even know how to respond to that, and my daughter felt like she was doing something wrong. Most of us aren’t pushing our gifted children—they come with innate talents and capacities, as all children do.

    I appreciate hearing a teacher’s perspective, Julie R. I know you face immense challenges in your line of work. I wish we (as a society) valued education more. I think you and other educators do an amazing job, and you don’t get the recognition (or pay) that you deserve. And don’t get me started on NCLB—you are right; it has left the gifted children and many others behind.

  45. Sue,
    While I appreciate your perspective about skipping grades, it really works for some kids. My oldest is the youngest in his grade, but that is by chance and the deadlines for school here. Skipping grades in full would not work for my boys for a number of reasons (like the fact that they are very small for their ages). But skipping grades in Math I have no problem with.
    My husband wants to let my daughter skip a grade, I don’t want to because of some of the reasons you mentioned. But I’ve seen it really work for some kids.

    However I think you really have misconception about “pushing” kids. My oldest, much to my chagrin, even jumping ahead doesn’t usually have homework because he does it all so fast at school. I wish he had a little. I think it teaches independent study habits.

    Where’s the pushing? This is one of the stereotypes I fight regularly as a parent of gifted children, that they are ahead because I push them, not because of their own natural abilities. I assure you they come that way–it was not something I did.

    I worry that everything is too easy for my child. That someday he actually will encounter classes (and I’m sure it will happen, be it in college or sooner) where it takes some real effort, where it is difficult and challenging. Will he have developed the fortitude to plow forward and do well when he is used to everything else being a cake walk? This is a real concern for me as a parent.

    I also agree that many times so-called gifted classes are just pat answers and are not useful at all. That is why it is so important to be an advocate, involved at every step and make sure money is spent in useful ways. When my husband has such fond memories of his childhood doing such wonderful things in his GATE program, I hope for such things for my own children.

    Tiffany,
    No one is saying that my children should get more time, money and attention than your children. But they should get adequate attention. One of my children’s teachers encouraged me to advocate for my child, and told me that in a classroom where my child is sitting quietly reading, they will get left to do their own thing, and get no attention at all if I don’t push to have his educational needs met. It’s easier for the teacher that way.

  46. Julie, Kay, and all other teachers,
    Thank you so much. And I agree, it is so important to work with administrators. But it sure is more fun to work in the classroom with the kids, isn’t it?

  47. Our school district has a really well established gifted program, and they also have a grade 4-6 pull-out school for gifted children. It’s wonderful.

    But I still push on occasion, and I don’t mind doing it. I also spend a lot of time at the school, which has bettered my relationships with all the right people. Having a relationship with all the faculty and administration has helped my children’s education immensely. I’ve noticed that I get what I need more easily because I’m there putting in the hours (in PTA, in the classroom, in fundraising, etc.)

  48. Oh, and mmiles, I read you alluding to ‘pushing’ your kids, and I didn’t find the original comment you were responding to. But I’d like to ask, isn’t that part of our job as parents? To push our kids to excellence? I don’t want to give my kids an ulcer, but I do want them to know that they have to work to excel. I expect a lot out of my kids – not to work faster or higher than they are capable, but I do expect them to work up to their full capacity.

    So in that sense, I think I do push my kids. If I don’t, I doubt anyone will! I’m sure I’m not saying something maliciously disagreeable, but I wanted to voice out that I’m the first to admit to expecting a lot out of my kids!

  49. Justine,
    I think about that a lot. I think I get self-conscious as the parent of gifted children when I am stereo-typed as being pushy and run the other way, and don’t push enough. That’s a really self-absorbed response on my end, and detrimental to my children.
    So as I have a renewed sense of being an advocate for my children, I am trying to find a balance right now. It’s a difficult thing. Thanks for bringing that up.

  50. Sue- yes gifted classes can sometimes be meaningless if not well designed to meet both the enrichment and acceleration needs of kids- many programs are due for a revamp based on current research.

    I had wonderful gifted class experiences esp in elem and jr high- few things were as empowering as being with a large group of kids where it was cool to be smart and pursue your interests and get good grades. That is what made me come out of my shell and be less shy (I was dreadfully so as a child- and you’d never guess it now) It is so specific to the child, and depends so on the program. In HS I skipped a grade and finished BYU quickly at 19 and well I think I turned out pretty well.

    As for pushing- yes some parents want their kids pushed inappropriately, not me I want to encourage achievement but really I just want them to learn- my son is a sponge gets incredible joy from the act of learning & discovery (probably the smae way I do from creating) and few things are more demoralizing for him than days of never learning something new. Erikson’s psychosocial task for middle childhood revolves around competency (kids learning and mastering- it’s why kids at this age love sports, lessons, activities- cub scouts, faith in god, etc) So I see mentally engaging and having lightbulb moments of learning as critical to not only their intellectual future but their sense of general emotional, psychological and social health. While some kids can “put up with the system” see the busywork as a minor annoyance , for other kids it builds an immense frustration with the system till they shut down and pull out. Also it develops bad learning habits in kids (they never have to fully engage and therefore get distracted easily, are “leapers, etc)

  51. I went through gifted programs in public schools as a child. It was interesting but not great.

    As adults, after a few years of public school we gradually moved into home schooling for two of our bright children for elementary and middle school. We had a GREAT time! The children could move at their own pace, had lots of time to explore lots of different things that interested them, and did not have the “I’m exhausted, I just need to unwind” problem each afternoon.

    They moved back into public schools for high school which was much better equipped to offer advanced coursework for them.

    If it’s not too scary a proposition, you might try it. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.
    But then, as a Yankee, I’m of the mind that “if I can do it myself, why hire someone else to do it?” It’s far more creative and energizing that way.

    And of course we figured that by doing so we were freeing up the public school teachers to spend more time helping the students whose parents could or would not advocate for them. That seemed like a charitable thing to do. :-)

  52. Justine, when I started advocating for gifted education in our district there was no program; in fact, the word “gifted” was taboo. Some things have happened since then, but we are still way behind other school districts in what we offer. The pull-out magnet just started last year, and while it is a good start, it has a long way to go in offering actual “gifted” curriculum. But I am grateful to see something happening. And actually, at the high school level, the district functions pretty well because of the AP and honors classes offerings. But we still have a long way to go at the elementary and junior high level.

    I totally agree with what you say about parent involvement; it is so much easier to advocate for your child when you are involved at the school and have a personal relationship with the principal and teachers. It’s a great way to be involved with your children’s education.

  53. Every parent’s job is to advocate for their child. Gifted, learning disabled, middle of the road, where ever they fall. Period. If that makes me shrill and pushy, then make me a name tag and I will wear it with pride. The Lord gave children parents for a reason, and if we don’t advocate for our kids, who will?
    Montessori school was an enormous blessing for our son. Switching over to the public school (montessori was K-3) presented challenges, but we met with the school and did all we could do be sure he was placed where he needed to be. Fortunately, the principal and the teachers wanted him in the right place, too. I’m grateful that we were able to give him the private school option for the foundation of his school career, and I feel that all children should have the same opportunity. It can be done. We just have to keep trying.
    mmiles, I think you are simply a mom that loves her son. Keep fighting for him. I know that I will fight for all three of mine

  54. I should clarify that I think all children should get the same opportunities to learn that are available in a private school setting, not that all children need private school. It’s late. I’m tired.

  55. I’m in the camp of those who take issue with the label “gifted” for children. All children are gifted in one way or another and all parents (hopefully) find things exceptional about their children. I don’t think we need gifted programs in elementary school. I do think that teachers and parents need to collaborate to design the appropriate curriculum for each student, no matter where they fall on the spectrum and allow each child to be appropriately challenged. This usually takes a large dose of creativity and a TON of time. Teachers and schools cannot do this alone. They simply don’t have the resources alone. Our district offers amazing services that are traditionally absent or cut due to spending cuts because of aggressive fundraising and volunteerism from the parents and community. For those parents who feel like they have children lost on the fringes, I suggest advocating to the other parents and community to make changes, because there are probably major holes for most students.

  56. This is incredibly timed. My eldest just started Kindergarten but she is also turning 6 on Sunday. She has been to 3 years of preschool because she needed more stimulation than I could provide. She is reading and doing math on her own and she is so bored! We tried to get her into private school but in Idaho our options were severely limited and too expensive, so we jumped at the opportunity to put her in a local magnet school with a science and math emphasis that had an all day tuition kindergarten. But so far, in the 3 weeks that she has been there, she hasn’t learned a single new piece of information and is still working on colors and shapes! Not even letters and numbers yet! I have tried to remain calm and reserve judgement until I could get into the classroom to see what the real deal was, but I’m not sure how I am going to handle this without overreacting. My mother was an amazing advocate for me when I needed a different situation in school, but I want to make sure that I work well with the teacher and school to provide the best situation for my child. We looked into every possibility the last 2 years to get her ahead or into Kindergarten last year, but they really don’t seem to care about the individual in this district. And when they tell me that “it will all even out by 3rd grade” I just see red, because I know that this means that all they are doing is waiting around for the younger children. And that just isn’t fair to my daughter.

    It is so amazingly wonderful to hear other mothers’ experiences with these issues. Thank you Blue for sharing your story. It gives me hope and some ideas. And I will be reading the book that was mentioned.

    As far as the argument for “gifted” labeling…I have no idea how my daughter compares to children her age because she has always been with older children and held her own quite well. I dislike labeling of any kind because it can be difficult for the children and parents to get past and create problems in the future when things aren’t always so easy.

    I was in the GATE programs for much of my education and tutored students in math up until Algebra and Geometry. But then I hit Trig and Calculus and just didn’t “get it” anymore. I couldn’t admit it to anyone and ended up struggling and flunking a math class because I didn’t feel I could let my “label” down and ask for help. There is a real danger in the “smart” labels. I eventually figured it out and got the help I needed, but my effort in school was never quite the same.

  57. Corktree–It doesn’t even out in third grade. The divide only grows with gifted children. And seriously, no letters in the third week of school? That sounds like a behind teacher.

    Mindy,
    Everyone is gifted as in talented in some areas. But that isn’t what we are talking about here. When we talk about children with special education needs, we don’t say, “Well everyone has some special needs. I don’t think they should offer special education in elementary school.” One of my children needed speech. They didn’t say, “Well everyone talks a little differently. It’s ok he can’t say his “r”s. ” Gifted education is the same thing.

    Something that seems to be getting lost is that when any parent advocates for their child for any reason, it helps all the kids in the long run. It helps all the kids. When I advocate for my children, I’m helping the average kid, the special needs kids, and the gifted kids.

    JM, Thanks. I needed that.

  58. Seconding what mmiles said. “Gifted” in this context means the top 3% of the student population; these students are identified through IQ tests, academic performance, observations made by teachers, parents, and counselors, etc. These children usually exhibit identifiable behaviors and abilities (and there is a whole list of them) that classify them as being “gifted.” Research has shown that these children actually learn and process information in different ways than traditional students do.

    And I also second what mmiles said about parents advocating for their children benefiting all children in the long run. So true.

  59. I would also appreciate any thoughts on the best ways to approach this subject with teachers and administrators. I tend to be a “shoot first, ask later” tactless sort of gal and I get myself into trouble without intending to offend. I’m nervous about damaging my relationship with my daughter’s teacher (even if she is incompetent) which will undoubtably make it more difficult to work with her and get my daughter the challenges that I would like to see. Does anyone (as teachers or parents with experience) have suggestions for how to approach the situation effectively?

  60. Corktree, I have a few suggestions. The worst thing you can do is go in and say, “You’re not meeting my daughter’s needs.” That just puts a teacher on the defensive. It’s better to approach it more diplomatically, thanking the teacher first for the job she is doing, and then asking her if you can talk over some concerns with her. Ask her if she has noticed whether your daughter has seemed frustrated or ready for more learning in the classroom. Tell her what you have observed at home. Then ask the teacher what you can do to help her better meet your daughter’s learning needs and what you can do at home to support her. Brainstorm together on what you can do. You want to be able to work with the teacher, so you definitely don’t want to put yourself in an adversarial role. The more information you have going in, the better, so you might want to do some investigating first and call your school district to find out what programs, if any, they offer. Also, I would recommend going to the NAGC website (www.nagc.org) and the hoagies website (www.hoagiesgifted.org); both sites have valuable information on how to advocate for your child. Good luck!

  61. I agree with Melissa. It works best if you ask the teacher what you can do and how you can work together to help your child. I’ll always be grateful for the teachers that really do want to help and are more than willing to meet me half way.
    I would also say help in the classroom when you can. Let the teachers know you care about education and want to help. Sincerely compliment teachers on their strengths in the classroom. Even the not so wonderful teachers have some things they are really good at.

  62. I haven’t read all of the comments, but I wanted to share my experience.

    I was one who was satisfied with just sort of dealing with “the way things are.” I was always mulling over homeschooling (never was the right thing for us), toying with private school (we don’t have the money for that), deciding that I really had to accept the limitations inherent in a system that is underfunded and overloaded — understanding that they often just do the best they can. My heart goes out to teachers and administrators. They have a hard job — underfunded and overloaded, and with a broad spectrum of learning styles.

    We have a home environment where learning is just part of how we live; so our ‘supplementation’ was less formal (at least on my end — my hubby was more formal)…it’s kind of built into our lives.

    But then, last year, we had the chance to have a child tested for a relatively new program. Our kids are now at a school that is sensitive to the wide range of learning styles. WHOA. I no longer can agree with the notion that ‘well, that’s just the way it is.’ I have seen first-hand that it doesn’t have to be! I seriously don’t think we could get a better education by paying for a private school.

    When you have teachers who are specifically trained in recognizing and adapting to different learning styles, it makes SUCH a difference. AMAZING. And the best is when you have several, and they work together to meet individual students’ needs. We have TEAMS of teachers working with each other, specifically trained, and crossing over when they have to. (e.g., our fourth grader, not in the program yet, was sent with one other boy to the accelerated math class for 5th graders, as well as an accelerated reading class — the teachers just worked together to do what makes sense for the kids). It’s DOable!

    I can’t imagine it’s easy to get something like this started, though. It takes people with vision, patience, perspective, and a willingness to think outside the box a bit, I imagine. I’m indebted to whoever was the one who got this going where we are. I cannot say enough about it.

    Don’t give up. Maybe you can be the catalyst for change, for your kids and many more to come.

    FYI, our district also is beginning a support program for parents, and the book they recommend is Guiding the Gifted Child. Our 5th grader’s teacher, who raised five gifted kids, all but said, “I wish we had had this book when they were young.”

  63. I’m not saying that there aren’t children that fit within a certain percentile based on IQ testing. I’m just objecting to the term gifted for these students. As a parent and an educator, it just doesn’t sit right.

    And when I say that all students have needs, I’m not saying that they should all be clumped together and given standard education. I’m saying that they all deserve specialized education to challenge and encourage them. If the school isn’t doing anything for your one child, they probably aren’t doing enough for the majority of their students.

  64. Mindy,
    Why do you object to the term gifted? It is the normal term used in all of psychological and educational and legal literature. Would you prefer a different term? If so, what?

    Thanks m&m.

  65. Mindy,

    If the system isn’t doing anything for majority of the students then we as parents are obligated to initiate change. We don’t just throw our hands up and say, “Well, I guess no one else is getting what they need, so that’s ok.” That’s ridiculous and irresponsible. If students aren’t getting what they need why should we accept that? Have you ever looked at the organizational flow chart of your district? Patron is at the top, above the superintendent. This is a PUBLIC school system. I am the public. I am the patron. I have rights and responsibilities and I don’t intend to shirk any of them.

  66. ’m just objecting to the term gifted for these students. As a parent and an educator, it just doesn’t sit right.

    I think I can understand this — it can be divisive if not used correctly. As in, “I’m smarter than you are” or “My kids are smarter than yours.” When we had our orientation for this program (here it’s called accelerated), they were really deliberate about emphasizing that this wasn’t a race, that it wasn’t about being ‘smarter’ or ‘better.’ It was about being able to be in a class with other children who had similar learning styles. I think when we can, it’s important to put this kind of language around it.

    That said, though, I think it’s important to realize, like mmiles said, that this IS the term used ‘out there’ when talking about this topic, and that just sort of is what it is, imo. In discussion, it’s also a lot easier than the longer explanations of what is really going on.

    If the school isn’t doing anything for your one child, they probably aren’t doing enough for the majority of their students.

    This might be true, or it might not. I think it probably depends on the school.

  67. I was a guinea pig for the Oregon “Talented & Gifted” program. While it did bring a few experiences that were beneficial, and some adult mentors who were very helpful, on the whole, I’d have to say it was a really traumatic experience to be “weird-bright” and in public school.

    My two words: Home Education. My children spend their entire life being “supplemented”–it’s just life at our house. They have time for play, and time for their passions, and time to mess up without fear of being thought “less smart” by those around them. They get some time around other kids through Scouting, church activities, playing the neighborhood, and other real-world activities. They do not have to waste the vast majority of their day sitting and waiting in a classroom.

    We still have some of the same struggles my parents encountered with all seven of their children. How do you find the balance between “challenging” and “emotionally-appropriate themes” when you have an 8yo who *can* read college-level text? How do you bring in a full range of topics when your child has been really passionate about one particular thing for seven years of his eight-year-old life? How do you make sure your artistically-gifted daughter is finding instruction at a pace that lets her develop her skills without being frustrated by their lack–and how do you get the “art for grownups” instructor at the art museum to take a look at her portfolio without pre-judging based on age?

    For my parents, it was “what do we do with a 13 year old 9th grader who showed up for classes ten days in the first term and pulled an honor-roll GPA anyway?” It was pretty obvious the school curriculum, even the TaG curriculum, wasn’t going to keep up.

    There are a few things I very clearly remember from gifted programming.

    One was resentment–my own, and that of the teachers and other students. I resented busywork. A lot. Would any reasonable human being accept being asked to do menial, repetitive work for 7 hours a day, and then be sent home with the same stack and told to do it a night, too? I felt very keenly the resentment of teachers who didn’t want to be bothered, and students who assumed I thought I was superior to them for some reason.

    I remember relief, sitting in a classroom of kids just as weird as I was, and realizing that I wasn’t quite the singularity I presumed myself to be. I LOVED finding out that there were people alongside whom I looked about as smart as a slug. It was so freeing. But, I could have had that outside of public school, too.

    I remember a lot of frustration. It was torture to write an essay or story, knowing full well the teacher was going to mark it with an A, and hand it back, with no further comment. I saw flaws. I knew there were weaknesses. I just didn’t know how to identify or fix them, and praise from people who wouldn’t take the time to point out my weaknesses made me doubt every scrap of praise ever given. Either I was stupid, or they were, to think that work was “A” quality, because it was far below what I knew I could do. Thank heaven for a college grad student teaching the Writing 121 class my first year at school. She told me to show up once a week, and turn in assignments, and I’d get an A for the class, but if I was willing, she’d go over my work with the same fine-tooth comb she used for her graduate-level stuff, and she’d help me fix the flaws. I had to endure 13 years of public education to get there. That was not a good use of my life.

    Upshot: if your family is struggling mightily to work with a broken system, get out of the box. You *CAN* be your child’s very own gifted program. You’re doing it anyway–just transfer the energies into direct mentoring and finding appropriate external mentors, rather than fighting public school districts.

  68. Just to clarify, I am not the same Tiffany who commented earlier.

    This has been a fascinating discussion and very enlightening to read. I have mixed feelings about gifted and talented programs–mostly because both my husband and his sister were a part of those programs. In the end, the program itself proved to be neither a detriment or a blessing. But I suppose that has very much to do with how it was executed in those schools. Perhaps they would have had a different experience living elsewhere.

    As bad as it appears to be, I can’t help but notice that there are other places where it is much, much worse. I lived in Sweden for 5 1/2 years. There are absolutely NO provisions for the gifted and talented. In fact, extraordinary ability and talents are repressed. My son attended Swedish school. It was a mind-numbing exercise for him. He started school being able to read and do quite a bit of math. Swedish schools start children later, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the first year is really very pointless. For many reasons, we pulled our son out of the school and ended up enrolling him in an International Preschool. I know it seems bizarre to move your child from kindergarten to a preschool, but the curriculum was much more challenging and appropriate for our son. The school went above and beyond to meet his desires for knowledge and understanding. He ended up attending an International School that was working to become IBO certified. From that experience, I have come to believe that teachers can and should use a multi-level approach to teaching. The classes were small, but with a variety of children from various backgrounds. Some children could barely speak English while others were completely bi-lingual or tri-lingual. I watched with complete awe as those teachers came up with lessons that really lifted up all students. Children who needed extra help in areas had small group sessions with other teachers. While kids that were advanced were given appropriate material to learn and master. Anyhow, I’m a huge fan of the International School System, because it was an fabulous experience for my children.

    I suppose that’s not the point of the post though! I do believe that every parent MUST advocate for their children–regardless of abilities or talents.

  69. I can understand the ‘gifted’ language. I’ve had to explain to my son a number of times why he’s just got different talents, not ‘more’ or ‘better’. He already feels different enough, but to tell him in subtle language that he’s ‘better’ is hard for me. It’s also hard for his siblings to hear that subtle message.

    Yet at the same time, there still needs to be something to meet his needs. There still needs to be a way to advance him, rather than beat him down so he’s more in line with the mid-line. He needs to feel that he can have success at difficult things. He needs to do hard things and have failure so he knows how to grow.

    I guess call it whatever works. But don’t use language to make it go away.

  70. Ok, I feel like you are getting a little defensive with me because you are missing what I’m saying. I’m not saying throw your hands up in defeat and accept the norm. I’m saying that it’s probably not enough for you to advocate just for the changes your son needs from the school (it sounds to me like it’s not working). What I’m saying is that if you really want to see some changes in your school, you need to get more people on board. If you are unhappy, I’m sure there are plenty of parents out there who feel like their children are not having their needs met as well. (They don’t have to all be “gifted” to have this experience). Then, figure out what you as a group can do to start making changes. Schools are more likely to respond to a group of parents wanted changes for a group of students, or even better, all students, then an individual. That may not sound right to you, but that’s how the system works. If you end up helping other students along the way, I don’t see what’s so wrong with that.

  71. Mindy,

    I did misunderstand the meaning of your comment. Getting other parents involved is a great way to effect change. I have been considering starting a parent advocacy group for the purpose of helping parents understand their rights, the laws, and how to navigate the system. I think something like that would lead to more parents acting to facilitate change and be able to work together to do it. Now, to find the time….

  72. No kidding. I usually feel so pushed to my limit just getting through each day, it’s overwhelming to think about what I should be doing to “change the world.” I guess that’s another reason for working together, so people with different talents and more time can pick up where I’m so lacking.

  73. It’s also hard for his siblings to hear that subtle message.

    Justine, this is an interesting statement. I have a gifted nephew who is well aware of his abilities and lets everyone know, including his siblings. How do you balance the needs of your gifted child and yet make sure that your other children don’t feel inferior in trying find the right curriculum? In the case of my nephew he and his siblings have been switched to an accelerated school and I wonder how successful one particular sibling will be in that arena.

  74. Wow, there is a lot of STRONG feelings out there regarding this topic.

    The modern day school was created in the age of industrialization. It is like an assembly line which manufactures a product in the most efficient way possible. That’s what we wanted as a society when we instituted public education. Relatively inexpensive and equal access to education for all. You can’t customize a product while it’s on the assembly line…This is not to say that I don’t sympathize with those who have children with special needs. I do! I just accept that the schools will only be able to do so much. Some better than others. Some not at all…

    I found this comment from Leslie interesting:

    “Finding the right balance of services for these kids is essential but falls to (sic) often to parents”

    Really? And why would you NOT want it that way? Who after all has your child’s best interest at heart?

    Once upon a time in our society, when we felt we needed something more than what was offered by the community (public schools) for our basic education, we did our best to fill those needs ourselves. Yes. It is burdensome. But that is the stuff of life. A joyful burden. If your child’s special needs were not intellectual would you resent the additional time and effort you had to go through to meet those needs? The modern school after all has art and sports instruction. Perhaps it should meet the specific needs of the exceptionally talented child prodigy in music and athletics as well?

    Schools, as a whole, simply will never be able to meet the needs of those with special needs adequately enough to satisfy everyone.

    I chose to home school. A different kind of joyful burden. I hope you can find a healthy/joyful balance, but expecting the schools to be something that they were never designed to be will only make you miserable.

  75. Yes, the gifted label is loaded- I’d prefer another term but there has yet to be one that is standardly used “those who learn differently” could be applied just as easily. All children do have gifts and I am a firm believer in Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences and nurturing those in each child.

    Tori-
    While it may feel assembly line to you- I assure you education can be personal and meaningful in a public school setting. If I liked assembly lines I’d have chosen to be factory worker not a teacher :>

    I do stand by that statement for a number of reasons. Yes, I do have my child’s best interests at heart, which is why I want school to be appropriate for him. I just don’t don’t see why adapting to one end of the spectrum is mandatory and the other is not. Research shows very real varied outcomes whether this population is serviced appropriately or not. Inherent in my statement is what a child gets often depends on their parents. If you have worked with many at risk populations, these parents often have very little resources (time, energy, advocacy, financial) that is required to get the appropriate services for their child, let alone recognizing if their childs needs are met.

    In my own district there is no testing, however I was told that if I got testing done they would gladly make accomodations because they had standardized data to work from. (to me the element of free/fair public education comes into question here) Well fine I was happy to pony up the $ to get my child tested but what about all the other kids the school who also needed adaptation but whose parents either a. don’t feel comfortable navigating the system or b. can’t afford it. The children are the ones who are getting hurt? I believe the system is designed to not disadvantage children because of their parents education or income, and in this case does.

    I think would most educators, many legislators agree that these services are needed. That is why some states have laws on the books providing and mandating services. I like think that our public system will only be as dynamic and vibrant and evolving as we chose it to be, it is not perfect but I disagree it’s simply a static, machine system.

  76. Also very current contemporary models developed to address the needs of gifted children actually can service all children (not simply those labelled gifted or a pull-out etc.) All children participate and it allows all children’s learning styles, talents, interests (art, music, pe) to be developed and utilized. The program I was encouraging my school to adopt is Renzulli’s Schoolwide Enrichment Model. (Joe renzulli is out of UConn and a national leader in the field) So I think there is also a lot of misconception, misinformation about what gifted education programs can and should look like.

  77. After several years of mixed experiences with local district schools, we’ve been fortunate to find a local charter school which meets our needs. Instruction is differentiated, class sizes are relatively small (25 max with a teacher and full-time aide), creative thinking and out-of-the-box learning opportunities are encouraged, and parents are expected to be involved in their children’s education. While we still have to meet state curriculum requirements, there is much room to move beyond those requirements. My three children (12, 10, and 7) have each found outlets for their interests, whether it be academic competetion, music, art, student leadership, or sports. I feel doubly blessed that my husband teaches at our school; I am comforted that my children know he’s there, all day, and that he knows about any problems and/or issues right away. I’m not saying this is a perfect solution in every way, but I do appreciate charter schools offering parents another choice for their children.

  78. Anon:

    You bring up a good question.

    “How do you balance the needs of your gifted child and yet make sure that your other children don’t feel inferior in trying find the right curriculum?”

    I have a “gifted” nephew who has been made aware of his abilities from an early age. He is becoming insufferable. One thing I know not to do is to brag about your child. Let them hear you compliment them on a wide variety of their personalities, but never brag.

    We have made a concerted effort with our “gifted” children to avoid the superiority problem. We have told them that they are smart, but that smart doesn’t mean they know everything or even almost everything. It just means that they are able to learn well. We remind them that everyone has their strengths and that any kid they meet will be better at one thing or another than they are. Life isn’t about being better than somebody else. We try to praise them for their character, their effort, and their love of learning rather than their academic performance or how quickly they move through the school. So far, so good.

  79. anon, you’re right. It’s a tough thing to balance. Although I’m sure we’re imperfect at it, we’ve tried to make sure the kids see their own individual talents. One child is exceptionally thoughtful and caring, one is tenacious and won’t ever give up. So one of them is really, really able in academics, but it doesn’t diminish the abilities of the other ones.

    It’s so, so, so hard to know if they believe me, but we’re trying.

  80. I’m thinking back, and I can’t recall my parents ever praising me for “being smart.” They did give praise for effort, kindness, consideration, good character. They were encouraging in trying new, hard things. But they didn’t ever say, “Oh, you’re so smart!”

    I read an interesting study last year that showed testing results between a few groups of children. They all took one basic test, and half the kids were praised for “Being Smart”, while the others were praised for “Working Hard.”

    The second round of testing, they were given the option to stick with the same thing, or try something new.

    Those praised for “Being Smart” opted to stick with the first test. Those praised for “Working Hard” tended to choose the new test. Again, same praise structure–the kids were not told how they did on the test, only that they were either Smart or Hard Workers.

    Round three, they gave a test that was far above the comprehension of either group. There was no way any of the kids could pass it. And here’s where the results get really interesting: the kids praised for Working Hard dived in, eager to tackle something new and challenging, even if they couldn’t figure it out easily. Those praised for Being Smart had melt-downs, unable to cope with being truly challenged.

    Kids who operate at a high intellectual level can be Very Obnoxious if they’re praised for Being Smart–it’s a very insecure footing, and they tend to be defensive and anxious about it. Learning tact and compassion is a big part of the educational process, as is learning to recognize the varying gifts of others.

    That’s all part of the civilizing process, and not necessarily limited to Weird-Smart kids.

  81. I tried reading all these comments just kept getting worked up. I won’t come back to read more. What I really wanted was to find an email address to communicate with mmiles directly but it doesn’t look like that’s shared here. So here’s what I would basically have said: You are doing exactly the right thing. Never be afraid of being seen as “that mother” when you are advocating for your child. I was a kid in GT programs and then grew up to work in the field of kids with special needs and from my experience, no matter what the needs of the child (be it special needs, typical, or exceptional – or whatever jargon we are using today) the status quo of any school district is generally inertia. It often takes parents to jump start the process, even if that process is something obvious like, “hey, the kids should have chairs to sit on.” Administration doesn’t tend to move on an issue until someone starts talking about it. Why shouldn’t that someone be you? And your actions have the added benefit of paving the way for other kids now or in the future who will face similar resistance.

    You have every right to advocate for a free AND APPROPRIATE public education for your child, no matter where your child is developmentally and no matter what anyone here says. Require that they treat your child (and every child) as an individual as much as possible. Learn what the law says. Quote the law. Call. Meet with the teacher and principal. Whatever it takes. No one is ever going to care more about your children than you. You are their very best advocate. I think as long as you do it respectfully and have a civil conversation with the administration, they understand that too and generally want the same things you want. It just may take some doing to get there.

    I know lots of kids with exceptional abilities who didn’t get the services they need and became huge behavior problems in the classroom or, worse yet, dropped out – and ultimately, no teacher or principal wants either of those things to happen. Skipping grades may work for some but in my experience, not many. Sometimes, it’s just hard for teachers and administrators to see that end possibility – especially in the early grades. You are the one who’ll remind them and whether or not they see it that way, that’s a good thing.

  82. I’ve heard of the study mentioned by Liz C. before and I think it’s an accurate assessment of things. I grew up being praised for being smart, but now that my academic goals and desires have mostly fallen by the wayside due to the physical breakdown of my body and the mental fog caused by that breakdown, I have come to feel useless and stupid, like the one thing I had going for me is now null and void. I don’t know that being praised for working hard would have made a difference, as I might have simply felt uncomfortable because I wasn’t working hard, but then I’d been praised for intelligence since I was a toddler. Being praised so highly for a trait that’s nothing more than a luck-of-the-draw neural combination rather than something someone has active control over is not a good thing.

  83. I pulled my 13-year-old gifted daughter out of middle school last year to home school her. While it was great for her academically. She really enjoyed studying intereting topics at her own speed. But she was very, very lonely. Hanging out with her mom and toddler siblings just didn’t do it for her. And most kids schedules are crammed full of after-school activiites, so socializing is non-existent except for weekend nights.

    This year she has decided to go back to public school. Yes, she is happy to be around friends again. But, surprise, 8th grade is full of obnoxious, rude kids as well. And most of her classes are very boring (why don’t they have gifted science, I’d like to know. Or at least a science class for kids who are interested in the subject).

    It would be great to find some sort of gifted school experience (free, of course). But whether we like it or not, life often ends up being one monotonous task after another. I guess we all realize that at some point. So she’s realizing it sooner than later.

    That’s depressing, but what to do, what to do?

  84. Jennie, our solution is to have the kids learn at home, but have them well-involved with activities–art, dance, robotics, volunteering, church, Scouts, etc. The social mix is more normal (as in, more than their age cohort).

  85. I don’t have a dog in this fight, as my kid is only in second grade, and we are still navigating the school system. So far, he’s done just fine, complaining about being bored sometimes, but generally liking school. And yes, he reads on a 6th grade level, and trust me, I have never “pushed” him to do it. He is just who he is.

    But I did want to say that my experience with GATE in southern California was terrific. I didn’t get pulled out during the day–I stayed after school twice a week and had classes that, in retrospect, couldn’t have been very long, but seemed to be long. And I loved, loved, loved those classes. I didn’t feel elitist, or superior, and I had friends, thank you very much. But almost all of my memories of elementary school were of GATE classes, classes with kids who were just as eager to learn, and we learned cool stuff–science, sign language, geology, stuff about WWII, programming computers (back then it was BASIC). I loved the fast pace of it, the interaction with just a few students and one teacher who was just as eager to teach us, the excitement of learning new things. It was so fun! I don’t remember hating elementary school, but there is a lot of hurry up and wait for kids who do things quickly, and being in an environment where everybody else was working as fast as me was exhilerating.

    It didn’t turn me into a rocket scientist, I haven’t found the cure for cancer, and I’m sure I would have survived just fine without those GATE classes. But they sure were fun, and are my favorite memories of school. And doesn’t every kid deserve to think that learning is fun?

    And, by the way, The Individuals with Education Act could probably be interpreted a whole bunch of ways to include federal mandates for curriculums for gifted kids. I haven’t read the whole thing in it’s entirety, but there’s some pretty strong language about meeting all children’s needs that doesn’t exclude gifted kids. Just FYI.

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