I started reading before I was three years old. From the time I was in kindergarten, I had special permission to check out the “big kid” chapter books in the school library because I was long past reading the picture books in the kindergarten section. I also have many memories of my teachers using me as a teacher’s aide because I was so far ahead of my peers that having me do the same work as them was pointless.
I have a June birthday, and my parents had considered starting me early in half-day kindergarten at age four. This is the course I would recommend for most gifted children if it is an option in their school district. Our society is relatively accepting of starting a child young, especially if the child has a fall or winter birthday. Also, if I had needed to spend a second year in kindergarten, it probably would not have been as big of deal as skipping a grade became in a later grade. (One of my kindergarten friends did this due to his lack of emotional maturity.) However, my parents decided to start me with the rest of my five year old peers. This began an annual discussion between my parents and the school as to whether or not to have me “skip” a grade. However, it never happened at that school.
In third grade, I was in a combination third/fourth class, so the teacher just had me do all the fourth grade work. That meant I finished fourth grade instead of third, making it the perfect opportunity to have me skip a grade. However, to complicate matters, my family was moving in October of that year. My parents were concerned that the school in the new state would be more advanced. It turns out the opposite was true. I ended up in a fourth grade classroom in the new state doing work that I’d done several years previously, and I was bored silly. The principal at that school refused to make any accommodations for me to get educational material that was appropriate for me. He felt being bored was part of life and that I should learn to deal with it.
As a result, my parents moved me to a private school where I was finally skipped from fourth to sixth grade after extensive testing to make sure it was the right decision. Academically, it was the right decision for me. However, it created an initial year of social difficulties for me among my classmates, many of whom were spoiled rich girls who were great at bullying. I was the target of a lot of negativity that first year because classmates were jealous that I was a year younger than them. The next year, our class size doubled, and I was once again able to blend in with the crowd. I remained at the top of our class intellectually. I hit puberty a little bit early which actually meant that I blended in more with my classmates than I would have if I’d been in my original grade. By high school, my closest friends (including my future [ex-] husband) were a year ahead of me in school which meant they were two years older than me. Emotional maturity was not an issue for my old soul self.
Because of the high school I attended, I eventually entered college with 56 college credit hours already on my transcript. I graduated magna cum laude with 140 hours that included double majoring and secondary teaching certification at the age of 19 years, 2 months. When I was doing my student teaching, my high school junior students were only a year or two younger than me, though they had no idea until the semester ended!
As an adult, all of this has faded into the background for the most part. Many of my friends don't know this information (or didn't until this blog post!) unless they've known me since high school. As adults, age differences become moot as we associate with people who are our emotional, intellectual, professional, spiritual and social peers rather than our classmates. Because this has all become a part of my distant past, I debated whether or not to even write this post. However, as there is information here that can help others who are dealing with gifted children, I decided it was important to share.
I definitely have a brain that works differently that a lot of people’s. I remember a lot, especially if I’ve read it. My memory is not quite photographic, but I am definitely a visual learner. In recent years, I’ve become more aware of how much people notice this about me. One acquaintance who adopted boy-girl twins who were born addicted to crack asked me in a conversation what the statistics were about male versus female rates of subsequent problems resulting from the addiction. When I told her I had no idea and asked her why she thought I would, her response was, “But Elizabeth, you know everything!” That’s not at all true, but it made me laugh. Another online friend paid me the great complement of saying that she wished there was a Google function for my brain. Some days I wish that too, especially when I can’t find my car keys!
Being intellectually gifted seems like it should make life a slam dunk, but unfortunately, the opposite can be quite true. The American education system as a whole has become more and more botched over the past decades with its emphasis on standardized testing especially through the “no child left behind” program. As a result, the schools often teach to the test with teachers having no control over this part of the curriculum they are required to teach. A lowest common denominator is set for achieving passing test scores on the standardized tests. If gifted children are way beyond the levels of the testing, they are “held back” from their own individual learning while the rest of the class learns the information on the test.
Another issue surrounding being gifted is jealousy. I experienced it as a student, and I’ve experienced it when dealing with other parents and teachers as an adult dealing with my own gifted children. Many people want to believe their child is the most special child in the world. They insist their children are gifted, too, and they don’t want another child to receive anything more advanced than their children. These parents are right about one thing: We are all special. There’s no question about that. We just have different abilities. I sure can’t shoot a layup, and if you want to talk about post-modern theory, my brain goes numb. I don’t really have the capacity to analyze quantum mechanics, either. However, that doesn’t mean that I should stop others from doing those things out of my jealousy or inability.
Each of us have a need to learn on the level that is appropriate. That is why we have special education systems to help those who need additional assistance. Our society doesn’t question this need nearly as much as it often refuses to provide advanced educational opportunities for those whose brains work differently in another direction. Instead, our society often clams up, shuts down, and declares gifted programs to be discriminatory. Popular articles and political leaders often bemoan that the United States ranks very poorly among other leading nations of the world when it comes to education. There is a great desire for America to “catch up” with other nations. Yet ironically, our national education system often doesn’t attempt to work with our best and brightest: Instead, it holds them back from learning at their best capacity.
So how can our society work to change this? The first thing to do would be to make appropriate placements for grade level. Using calendar dates that are carved in stone isn’t it the way to do it. A child who was born on September 2nd may be far more advanced than one who was born on August 25th, but in Texas, the September 1st birthdate for starting kindergarten is strictly enforced in most districts. Not only should academic need be taken into account, but emotional readiness should be as well. Many districts allow parents to “red shirt” their kids and start them in kindergarten at age 6 rather than 5 for emotional reasons, but the opportunity for some kids to start at age 4 because of advanced emotional abilities doesn’t exist in most places.
The next step is getting rid of the cookie cutter educational system we currently have to focus more on learning that develops intellect rather than one that emphasizes rote memorization and test taking skills. We’ve come a long way since the nineteenth century education system that focused solely on memorizing lessons, but we still have a long way to go. Many online programs are also being developed for less expensive education that rely more on multiple choice testing rather than critical thinking skills. Programs such as these discourage a learning process that engages students in classrooms or online with professors who actually grade essays and interact with their students. This is a step backward in the intellectual development of our children and our nation.
Third, the development of true gifted and talented programs would help immensely. The school district I live in has a wonderful GT program that pulls gifted kids out into separate classes for the areas in which they need advanced learning. The neighboring school district, however, has a GT program that is no more than lip service. It entitles kids to extra worksheets, but not much else. At the root of part of this is the ever frustrating lack of adequate funding for public schools. However, the charter school my children attended for most of grade school managed to meet the needs of kids on all levels of the educational spectrum with far less funding than public schools have. It can be done: Where there is a will (and adequate curriculum support), there is a way.
It is really important that we support each other no matter what our gifts are. Some people have intellectual gifts, and others have gifts in other areas. Regardless of how each of our individual abilities manifests, we should all be given opportunities to develop those gifts without having to face resistance or bullying from others. It would be wonderful if we lived in a world where each person was loved and supported for being their amazing selves.
© 2014 Green Heart Guidance