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School Rules Stifle Gifted Student (washingtonpost.com)
23 points by tokenadult 2515 days ago | hide | past | web | 28 comments | favorite



As someone who struggled with schooling for quite a while, this story strikes somewhat close to home. Even the "advanced" courses had little to offer, I either already knew it, or it was trivially easy for me to deduce or learn.

I did, however, have one lucky point that many of these stories seem to be missing: a large number of my teachers didn't care what I did, as long as I was able to keep up in my classes. This meant that all through middle school and most of high school, rather than pay attention in class I would read some place in the realm of 1000-2000 pages a week, usually of various types of fantasy or science fiction books. I also had a handful of teachers who encouraged me to work on any problem I found particularly interesting, suggesting that I keep working on it well past the point required by the course.

I personally believe that is the way that any sort of gifted student should be taught. The current remedial->"regular"->advanced set of curriculum seems to work fairly well for those that fall into those categories, and by encouraging those above the advanced level to work on their own, above and beyond the classwork, on what they find interesting, you manage to meet their educational needs too. I am strongly against home-schooling and private schools, at least for those on the highest end of the intellectual scale. Any sort of educational situation where your entire peer group is of the same intellectual capacity leads to later problems. You develop the mindset that everyone is exactly like you, and that they have the same abilities and capabilities of yourself. Anyone who does not share your abilities becomes inferior, and you are able to de-humanize them.

Its mostly anecdotal, but with few exceptions ever single I have met who was home schooled, went to a private "gifted" school, or was in the IB program (which, at least in our area, segregates a public school into regular students and the IB students, and the IB students rarely, if ever, encounter the other students through the course of a day) has had a negative view of anyone with other skills and abilites, or at least those that have abilities that were not present in the peer group they were schooled with. A schooling method that teaches advanced students more advanced subjects, but also encourages slurs for "normal students" and the concept that the students are, by nature, better than everyone else, is not at all a good thing.


I did, however, have one lucky point that many of these stories seem to be missing: a large number of my teachers didn't care what I did, as long as I was able to keep up in my classes.

Albert Einstein took advantage of this in his day.

". . . I worked most of the time in the physical laboratory [at the Polytechnic Institute of Zürich], fascinated by the direct contact with experience. The balance of the time I used in the main in order to study at home the works of Kirchoff, Helmholtz, Hertz, etc. . . . In [physics], however, I soon learned to scent out that which was able to lead to fundamentals and to turn aside from everything else, from the multitude of things which clutter up the mind and divert it from the essential. The hitch in this was, of course, the fact that one had to cram all this stuff into one's mind for the examinations, whether one liked it or not. This coercion had such a deterring effect [upon me] that, after I had passed the final examination, I found the consideration of any scientific problems distasteful to me for an entire year. In justice I must add, moreover, that in Switzerland we had to suffer far less under such coercion, which smothers every truly scientific impulse, than is the case in many another locality. There were altogether only two examinations; aside from these, one could just about do as one pleased. This was especially the case if one had a friend, as did I, who attended the lectures regularly and who worked over their content conscientiously. This gave one freedom in the choice of pursuits until a few months before the examination, a freedom which I enjoyed to a great extent and have gladly taken into the bargain the bad conscience connected with it as by far the lesser evil. It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly."

"Autobiographical Notes," in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Paul Schilpp, ed. (1951), pp. 17-19 © 1951 by the Library of Living Philosophers, Inc.


Thanks tokenadult. I knew Einstein had views like this (mine are similar, especially with regard to coercive study plans) but I had never seen this quote in particular. It's refreshingly direct -- I did not know Einstein had actually used the word "coercion" for this.


The cited book also shows Einstein's full text in the original German, and a page or two in a photostat of his handwriting. It's great to have a statement like this from the hand of the master.


I am strongly against home-schooling and private schools, at least for those on the highest end of the intellectual scale. Any sort of educational situation where your entire peer group is of the same intellectual capacity leads to later problems.

I'll request you kindly to provide evidence to back up this assertion, and note a contrary view here:

http://www.artofproblemsolving.com/Resources/AoPS_R_A_Calcul...


I do not think my statement, and the supplied link are contrary at all. Any individual needs people of similar intellectual curiosity and capability, which is what your link entails, basically saying that you need to actively seek out those people. My case is more against a homogeneous situation, where everyone you deal with as a peer, on a day to day basis, is of a similar intellectual level.

The link does not expound on it, but it touches on a similar flaw in the school system. Curricular material should only cover the basis of education. There's plenty of debate as to what should fall into that base, but that is all it should be covering. Rather than giving an advanced student a more advanced curriculum, they should be encouraged to take part in extra curricular activities.


My case is more against a homogeneous situation, where everyone you deal with as a peer, on a day to day basis, is of a similar intellectual level.

But you still haven't provided any evidence that such a situation is harmful. (Indeed, you haven't provided any evidence that a person who attends school with young people of advanced abilities doesn't meet every which other kind of people outside of school hours.)

And my response would be that often enough young people with advanced abilities spending substantial time with other young people with advanced abilities is precisely what those young people need to see that NO ONE is "of a similar intellectual level" with many other people in many other domains over a long span of time, but rather each and every person on the planet has a mixture of personal strengths and weaknesses, and many people can develop out of their weaknesses over time.


I did a brief search for related materials, and the first thing I found was: The contribution of influence and selection to adolescent peer group homogeneity: The case of adolescent cigarette smoking, Source: Journal of personality and social psychology [0022-3514] Ennett yr:1994 vol:67 pg:653 .

This is not directly related to what I said, but it did display the trend that homogeneous peer groups tend towards becoming more homogeneous, or more specifically that those who did not do an activity in a somewhat homogeneous peer group tended to start doing that activity more than the opposite way around.

My problem with primarily "gifted" schools (specifically private schools and the IB program) is actually two-fold. The first is that it leads to a large peer group of mostly similar students. Nope, no proof as to why that is bad. All I can say about it is that in every single example I have seen of students in a largely homogeneous situation, be it everyone has above average intelligence to everyone coming from a poor, high-crime neighborhood, the end result is an amplification of the negative aspects of that peer-group. In most cases, on of the biggest negative factors is that at some critical point a homogeneous peer group begins to automatically discount any individual who does not fit with their group. Its a sad fact, but things like http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=837046 (skip the first thread) happen quite a bit from "higher echelon" schools of any time, high school or college. On top of that, due to the self-selection features of these peer-groups, they spread any sort of habit much faster among the individuals.

The other problem (which I admittedly did not mention in the first post) is that an advanced curriculum is not what an advanced student needs, they need ready access and encouragement for extra-curricular activities of their choice, which your link supports.


It's ridiculous that a student who barely coasts through the most remedial track can graduate because of social promotion, but a motivated kid who takes college courses can't get a diploma.


As far as I know, I was allowed to skip 7th grade math and science simply because my parents asked for it. If I recall correctly, it was a simple request. (I don't know what led up to it exactly, but I didn't miss anything -- those classes were pre-algebra and (I think) earth science), which are redundant with earlier/later courses.)


It would be interesting to hear where and in what era that happened. Some school districts are very loath to permit grade skips. My personal case in childhood was quite unusual: I was grade-skipped, contrary to general school policy, even though neither I nor my parents asked for the skip, when it became apparent that my learning at that date was well beyond the school curriculum. My skip was from fifth grade (elementary school) to seventh grade (the beginning of junior high) so I never attended sixth grade.

Since then, I have often pondered the insanity of dividing children into grades by age in the first place.

http://learninfreedom.org/age_grading_bad.html


I won't spell it out here because I'd like to make any bad guys out there dig too, but it's not particularly hard to divine my approximate age and where I went to school by Googling.


On the note of college courses something they have here is called concurrent enrollment where you can take college courses for free and have them count for credit so long that you take a minimum of half the required high school classes and make up for the missing classes in your college courses.

I think that this child wants too much of the social aspects of schooling over his learning as he can already attend college, you don't even have to be "gifted" to find high school courses boring and review.


Is that supposed to be a bad thing? High-school students are generally of the age where they [naturally, evolutionarily] feel most attached to people closest to their own age. I definitely would have skipped ahead in school if it didn't mean losing my friends.


The school district's response to the submitted article:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/class-struggle/2009/10/_sin...


If you have experience with bureaucracies the response confirms the original article. My favorite line was, Currently over 40% of our students participate in our Gifted and Talented program offerings across all grades. Which tells me that their definition of "Gifted and Talented" is so broad as to be meaningless. And certainly doesn't have any room to understand truly extraordinary kids.


There's definitely some bureaucratic self-serving in the response. But this particular bit seems to raise some questions about the original article RE his college and home-school courses: Credit will only be awarded if the student completes the college course.

Given that the district isn't allowed to just come out and give specifics about a student's test scores or grades, that line certainly casts the parent's claims in a new light.

While the district likely doesn't have any capability to properly serve truly extraordinary kids, I'm beginning to think the kid in question probably isn't.

And I'm not sure that the public school system ought to be required to serve such kids. At best, they just need a method to recommend a gifted student to the appropriate private or secondary educators who are capable and possibly work out some revenue agreement where state/federal funds for that student can be applied to the institution that does take that child.


At best, they just need a method to recommend a gifted student to the appropriate private or secondary educators who are capable and possibly work out some revenue agreement where state/federal funds for that student can be applied to the institution that does take that child.

Here in Minnesota, most parents have some power to shop for schools, because all public school districts have open enrollment, with school funding (provided just about entirely by statewide taxation) following students to their districts of enrollment. There are also many charter schools here, although no charter school is allowed to have selective enrollment by student intellect. For eleventh and twelfth grade, Minnesota students may dual-enroll in colleges or universities, also with general state funding, in what is called the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program.

http://www.ohe.state.mn.us/mPg.cfm?pageID=797

My oldest son avails himself of this opportunity at the University of Minnesota

http://www.cce.umn.edu/ahs/index.html

allowing him to take upper-division math classes as a "high school junior" and upper-division computer science courses as a "high school senior," which would be impossible at any Minnesota high school. He was also able to take much more challenging foreign language and English writing courses through this channel. Not many other states are this flexible.


And if your kids are math-oriented, there's UMTYMP (http://www.itcep.umn.edu/umtymp/), where starting in 7th grade or earlier, students basically cover two years of math per year, starting with algebra, geometry, stats, and then calculus and differential equations. By the time I graduated from high school, I had taken three years of calculus, along with a ton of various other college classes through PSEO. I entered college as sophomore, and due to the crushing homework load that I was used to from UMTYMP, college homework was a breeze :)

Minnesota really is great for motivated students with supportive parents. It did take a lot of fighting between my parents and the school district to get them to actually accept my college classes for graduation though; some school administrations are very proud of their programs, and take UMTYMP and PSEO as personal insults to what they offer.


Holy smokes, I might have to move to MN when my kids hit school age. I'd heard about how MN was generally more educated and progressive in education than other states, but that's really, really impressive.


Yes, agreeing with sister reply to yours, UMTYMP is a great program, and Minnesota in general has more power to shop for more parents than most states in the United States, which parents of gifted children are gradually learning to use to find more appropriate education for their children. The homeschooling statute here is quite workable too.


The unfortunate reality is that there are no INTELLECTUALLY gifted and talented students in most schools. There are only slightly more who are musically or otherwise artistically gifted and talented. Truly gifted students should be moved to schools specifically catering to their needs. As there are so few of these students nationally, it would need to be a boarding school in my opinion.

The students being discussed in this article and in the response are just AP. Not gifted. We throw that word around too much, and it has come to mean nothing now.


As there are so few of these students nationally

This seems to imply a definition. What definition are you talking about here? What is the source for the definition and the estimate of the frequency of such students?

P.S. As a point of information, I will mention that I have one child in the Davidson Institute for Talent Development Young Scholars program,

http://www.davidsongifted.org/youngscholars/

which has its particular definition of eligible students. To the best of my knowledge and belief, a typical school district in Minnesota (where school districts are considerably smaller than counties, unlike Maryland) has no more than one or two students who have gone through the enrollment steps for the Davidson Institute Young Scholars program. How many theoretically eligible young persons any one place has is unknown, as far as I know.


Here is a place that has a good definition.

http://cty.jhu.edu/

They have 7th graders who test at 95% percentile or above take the regular SATs - not PSATs - and those 7th graders who are above the average for college bound high school seniors obviously need something besides normal high school.

They define kids that score above 700 on math or verbal SAT before they are 13 as truly gifted.


those 7th graders who are above the average for college bound high school seniors obviously need something besides normal high school

Yes. Those middle-school-age young people who take Talent Search testing through Northwestern University's Midwest Academic Talent Search

http://www.ctd.northwestern.edu/numats/

receive a booklet of academic planning advice after receiving their scores. Many of the specific points of that advice are impossible to implement in most states in the Midwest.


I agree "he scored in the 92nd percentile on the PSAT" - seems like a rather ordinary genius to me.

At 92% percentile he is smarter than 11 out of 12 kids in his grade. Maybe the school should just tell his parents - chill, your kid is not all that.


I was fortunate that, when I was of school age, I absolutely adored standardized tests. Something about them tickled a compulsive, pattern-recognition part of my brain, linked to delight.

I scored extremely well.

Recently, however, I find that taking multiple-guess tests or evaluations seems much more like the waste of time that it is. I still get some pleasure from a few questions, but, like Mr. Owl, I get bored after 3 licks.

Not all gifted students are good at standardized tests, possibly because they can't be bothered to care enough to pay attention to something so trivially easy.

All that said, I think the student in the OP is foolish for trying to insist he have the experience of being a part of a system while, at the same time, receiving exceptional treatment from that same system. Any stifling is self-inflicted.


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