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Archive for the ‘Gifted’ Category

No lesser authority than the New York Times Magazine has decreed it:  Homeschooling is “in vogue.”  Just check out the piece “School’s In,” about Mini-R.A.D,

short for Revolutionary Artistic Development: a fledgling home school cooperative started by the fashion photographers Tom Betterton and Jenny Gage three years ago with three other sets of Brooklyn hipster parents (a cinematographer, a dancer-choreographer and a sculptor among them) when the local schools didn’t quite pass muster. Meanwhile, a small, customized school founded in 2007 by members of the Blue Man Group — attended by the offspring of various magazine editors and photographers — thrives in NoHo, in what could be called a burgeoning micromovement. New York City private schools are vexingly exclusive, after all, and passing through the public-school bureaucracy can feel like an outtake from Shel Silverstein’s “Boa Constrictor” (also on Krista’s lesson plan this morning). Since the city’s bobos are now making their own pickles and ice cream, why not mold little minds as well?

Or, maybe not.  The entire piece has a thinly-veiled overlay of the author’s smirk.  “But is this a school, or artists trying to render a New York City childhood in perfect brush strokes?”  Ms. Jacobs asks.  And of course the inevitable question about socialization and diversity: “But what of the socioeconomic diversity such classrooms afford, and the oft-leveled charge that home schooling isolates children in a privileged bubble of their parents’ making?”  In her choice of a response, the author shows she’s clearly not a fan.

“It’s hard,” Betterton concedes. “It’s a self-selecting group of people. But that’s one of the reasons we are constantly outside in the world.” Their frequent field trips include Governors Island, the American Museum of Natural History and the Mast Brothers Chocolate Factory in Williamsburg — Hershey Chocolate World it ain’t — many of these outings lovingly documented in lush color on the school’s blog. (The annual class photos are in black and white).

Ms. Betterton, you’ve been set up.

Then over to the Motherlode, the Times parenting blog.  Lisa Belkin confesses “I have flirted over the years with home schooling. I decided that neither I nor my boys would thrive with that much of each other. And I couldn’t get past the blurring of roles — as a parent I am the unconditional support section, yet a teacher needs to critique and judge.” She turns her column over to Chandra Hoffman, who writes on “Why I’m Homeschooling This Fall,” mentioning at the end that she wants to “really look into her son’s eyes.”

Hoffman is getting slammed for being “selfish,” “ridiculous,” and “handicapping” — among other things.  What I find interesting is the number of critics who are saying that homeschooling is fine when “appropriate,” when the public schools are a “problem” or have failed someone’s child.  That’s real progress.  Be sure to check her rejoinder comment, number 104 (You go!  I smiled at the references to John Taylor Gatto and Sir Ken Robinson) as well as the many lucid, well-presented arguments in favor of homeschooling.  I can’t help but feel that the tide has already turned.

Ms. Hoffman, have a wonderful “school” year.

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I was hanging out in the biography section of Borders, banished there because History was M’s section, when the book caught my eye. Red and white cover — curiously several books I’ve bought recently are red and white.  And the title?  “wis·en·heim·er:  A Childhood Subject to Debate” by Mark Oppenheimer.  Hmm.  Interesting.  I pulled it from the shelf.  It had me from the first sentence of the flyleaf:  “Have you ever met a child who talked like an adult?  Who knew big words and how to use them?”

Hell yes.

It continues, “Was he a charmer or an insufferable smart aleck–or maybe both?  … Frank and comical, Wisenheimer chronicles the travails of a hyperarticulate child who finds salvation in the heady world of competitive oratory.”

“Hyperarticulate.”  I love that.

Needless to say, I bought the book.   And I have to say:  Wow.  It has to be one of the best depictions I have ever read of what it’s like to be a verbally gifted kid.  It’s also painfully honest about the less than lovely parts of that gift. (There is one particularly awful incident.)  What makes it so special, in my opinion, is that Oppenheimer not only has the ability to tap directly into his childhood and teen experiences and vividly give voice to that gifted kid, but now, a parent himself, he can muse on what it what it must have been like to parent a kid like himself.  Chapters II and III gripped me.  I found myself nodding and nodding and nodding.

Compared with other kids in my gifted classes I was nothing remarkable.  Yet the average adult, if introduced to two smart nine-year-olds, a girl who can do geometry and a boy who uses words like dissembled and eviscerated, find the boy more astonishing.  At that age, speaking well is a better party trick. But my gift, my verbiage, presented a unique problem:  you can have the words but without the wisdom they don’t count for much.  There are nine-year-olds who can do post-collegiate mathematics, and nine-year-olds whose music virtuosity does not betray their age, but there has never been the nine-year-old who wrote accomplished adult poetry or a moving novel.  If your gift is for words, you can write stuff that’s good given your age, but not stuff that’s good, period.

I felt this constraint, keenly.  I even think that, if asked I could have described what I was feeling:  that someday I could be a fine wordsmith, but for the time being I just had all these words and no place to take them.  So I did what millions of boys before me–and girls too, but not as frequently as boys–had done.  I began to think of myself, around fourth grade, as a master of words.  I became a wiseacre.

His humorous description of his family life and their liberal social milieu, while perhaps a bit more “out there” did, I confess, sound rather familiar.

It was especially hard for my parents to convince me there were boundaries to how I could talk, because they surrounded themselves with people who thought talking and arguing were really good things.

Chapter II opens with this sentence: “From the beginning, I had a hard time with teachers, and teachers had a hard time with me. ”  From there he describes his experience of attending a Montessori school that clearly wasn’t a fit for him.

It wasn’t just that the school’s theoretical matrix encouraged neglect of verbal kids, but also that the teachers had no interest in teaching language arts. …  The math and science kids thrived, one of them, the redoubtable Eli Brandt, used the school’s freed to start simple algebra when he was eight.  He’s now a Google software engineer.  My gifts, however, seemed to be held against me. The school sold itself as a place where students could be individuals, but my endless quarreling, my hunger to challenge my teachers, wasn’t seen as a good urge that needed proper channeling; rather it was treated as a rebellion against the harmony that the school was supposed to embody.

It’s one thing to have a child to speak about unhappiness with school.  But no matter how empathetic one is, there still is that little voice thinking, “Yeah, but he’s a kid.  It can’t really be that bad”  It’s a totally other thing to hear that alienation filtered through the words and perspective of a thirty-something Yale professor.  Yeah, it can be that bad.

And his description of his “thing” with his teacher Lisa.  Whoa.  Just whoa.  His  description of how this spilled into his relationship with his brother.  Again,  close to the bone.  Switch genders and it could have been a scene from our house.   A pivotal passage (starting page 34) is when he finally tells his parents it’s just too much, that they just don’t understand how deeply different he feels.  I don’t have space (nor the right) t0 reproduce it here, but let’s just say that for parents of profoundly gifted kids, it is very likely a conversation, a moment, that you have lived.

The second half book moves on to describe how Oppenheimer stumbles into — and eventually triumphs in — the world of competitive debate.  In 7th grade he moves to a private school where the high school allows middle schoolers to participate on the debate team.  “We were not a student body with brilliant futures,” he writes, “But the other ten students who joined the debate team that fall — all from the high school — were among the most interesting characters on campus.”  “Interesting.”  Ah yes.  Oppenheimer is about ten years younger than me, which makes the book a double pleasure.  Not only does he write authentically about the life and mores of homo teenagerus — a stage I am experiencing firsthand as a parent — but he nails the details of place and time, namely what it was like to be a teen in Connecticut in the 1980s, when things were still a little, shall we say, “looser.”  (Full disclosure, that’s where I grew up.)

In debate, Oppenheimer “finds his people,” so important for highly gifted kids; at the prep school Loomis Chaffee, he soars.  As a parent about to see her child off to boarding school, an entirely new world for all of us, it was fun to read a “teen’s eye account” of that adventure.  This second half of the memoir  immerses the reader into the world of competitive debate and although there is a fair amount of debate arcana, there is also enough description of the colorful characters and humorous situations to see the reader through.

So would I recommend it? Absolutely.  An Amazon reader reviewer huffs that “It was a bad choice for a graduation gift.”  Oh please.  I would disagree.  I think mature and savvy teens–especially ones with a love of words (I’m looking at you, C.) would enjoy it.  I know I did.

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Why?

Why Why Why is THIS week National Parenting Gifted Children Week?  Does the gifted community really enjoy oblivion, irrelevancy and marginalization?  Because seriously people, this has got to be one of the WORST times of the year to bring attention to gifted issues.

Newsflash:  School is out of session. A key audience–educators–is spread to the four winds.

Newsflash:  This is one of the few times of year many gifted kids are actually happy.  They’re at camp (maybe even a CTY or Duke camp where they can finally be with “their people,” delving into topics that interest them.) Or they are holed up in their rooms with a foot-tall, ever-replenishing stack of books AND the time to read.  Bliss.

Newsflash:  When kids are happy,  parental fire in the belly is harder to rouse.  In fact, many families are on vacation in a concerted effort to put all memory of the school year behind them.

So, please, can we change the date of National Parenting Gifted Children Week?  Because right now, to borrow the immortal phrasing of Sarah Palin, I refudiate.

(When would you schedule National Parenting Gifted Children Week?  How could you raise awareness that you can’t now because it fall in the middle of the summer?)

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Looks nothing like an academic

Let’s just say I’ve read a LOT of articles and books on giftedness over the past 13 years, give or take. So something has to be pretty “wow” to, well, make me go “wow,” or in other words make my “I Wish I Could Have Read This Years Ago; It Would Have Explained/Helped So Much” list.

An Interview with Roland S. Persson:  The Talent of Being Inconvenient (First Published in The SENG Update Newsletter, June 2010) is one such article.  Dr. Persson looks like a member of the World Wrestling Federation or the older brother of Mr. Clean, but is in fact a Professor of Educational Psychology at Jönköpping University in Sweden, where his research focuses on giftedness, with an emphasis on social context and the gifted individual in society.

So what blew me away in this interview?   It’s the first time I’ve heard someone provide a coherent framework for understanding that which I’ve been clumsily trying to put forward these past 2.5 years in this blog, namely that verbally* gifted kids (and by extension I guess, adults) have it harder vis a vis their artistically and mathematically/science gifted peers.  (*IMO, verbal giftedness goes beyond facility with reading and writing.  It is sophisticated vocabulary, persuasive argument, deep interest in–and the precocious ability to question, analyse and think critically about–philosophical, ethical, moral, sociological, political and historical issues.)

Now some scoff at this notion.  Elementary school, they argue, is ALL about literacy and that “soft,” “easy,” “girly” stuff.  Instead, pity the mathy, science-kid!  It’s why our nation is falling behind and we have to pour inordinate resources into STEM (that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, for those of you who might not be in the know.)  Or pity the artsy kid in this day and age of No Child Left Untested curriculum narrowing.

However what I have experienced through my girls, have heard mentioned quietly by some in the know, and have tried to argue here, is just the opposite.  “Geeky” mathiness–particularly among boys–is what our society typically reads as “gifted.”  By and large our school systems are pretty successful in meeting that need.  Not perfect, but there is a greater openness to and ability to provide acceleration, as well as a burgeoning math/science pipeline in place to foster and reward this type of gift (think math competitions, science camps, scholarships and mentorships, etc.).  Musical artistic talent too tends to be celebrated and rewarded. It’s “okay” for kids to be prodigies in these realms and it feels like summer programs for kids are chock-a-block with theater and art opportunities.  Meanwhile verbal talent is seen as somehow commonplace (“Everyone catches up by third grade and learns how to read”), thus serving as the source of endless frustration for parents trying to work within school systems to find appropriate educational pathways.

Frankly, I bought into the mainstream construct too.  It was only in the wake of a CTY SET ceremony that the reality was spelled out for me.  “Just look at the awards program,” this gifted expert told me.  “There is an entire page, four columns in small type of kids who made SET in math (700+ on the Math portion of the SAT before the age of 13).  Meanwhile, there is a quarter of a page, two columns in larger type of kids who reached the same mark on the Verbal section.”  Okaaaay.  Light bulb going off.  It explained why even in gatherings of EG/PG kids, my kid still had a hard time finding “her people.”  There truly aren’t that many.  Throw is the gender skew at the very far right of the bell curve and there really aren’t that many.

But back to Dr. Persson (whose research/writing I’m now going to have to seek out).  My “aha” in the interview was his Hero, Nerd and Martyr taxonomy of giftedness.  He writes:

Somewhat simplistically, perhaps, I construed societal functions as Maintenance, Escape, and Change, typified by the more common parlance expressions of Nerd, Hero, and Martyr…. Gifted individuals interested in, for example, technology, medicine, or finance—“the nerds”—all serve supportive functions in society. They are rarely controversial because their skills contribute towards maintaining society, its leaders on all levels, and its power structure as a whole. Also individuals gifted in sports, music, and the arts are much appreciated. A few are rewarded more for the moments of release from stress that their gifts offer. They allow us for a moment to escape into a very positive experience. As scientists, we go to great lengths to study the constituents of their skills.

However, when it comes to gifted individuals having the potential to change the social world by their knowledge and insight, they are rarely as appreciated as their colleagues more devoted to maintenance and escape. We tend to fail to realize the consequences of having an uncanny grasp of cause and effect, so typical of the academically gifted. When confronted with certain conditions and decisions, the gifted individual is very good at understanding what the outcome will be. However, being one voice in a group of others less equipped to foresee the results and problems, who in the group is inclined to listen and acknowledge the single and voice differing in opinion and conclusion? If this individual is being contrary to the leadership, harassment and being contrary to the leadership, harassment and persecution are sure to follow in one way or
another. Interestingly, it rarely matters whether the gifted individual is right or wrong; he or she poses a threat to the credibility of authority. Again, history is full of examples, and “martyr” is sadly an appropriate term.

The greater the prestige to be lost, the more severe the battle to retain dominance and authority.

Or, as Ellen Winner (1996) put it Gifted Children: The gifted are risk-takers with a desire to shake things up. Most of all they have the desire to set things straight, to alter the status quo and shake up established tradition. Creators do not accept the prevailing view. They are oppositional and discontented.

I also like what Persson has to say earlier in his article about why and when are gifted individuals likely to be “considered inconvenient or ignored.”  For me, this explains so much of our journey, particularly with C.

You can be “inconvenient” in any number of ways, of course, but in relation to being academically gifted, it is not always appreciated amongst teachers or other students to be a “know-it-all”: one who usually has all the correct answers. …. Then, of course, there are school systems which do not recognize giftedness at all as a viable reason for an adapted curriculum, such as is the case in the Swedish and Norwegian school systems. In these environments teaching is certainly student-active, but giftedness is a considerable inconvenience because students who want more, know more, and learn quicker than everyone else only become a further reason for teacher stress. Gifted students become inconvenient indeed! In a recent study, I found that 92% of students in the Swedish compulsory school system, with an IQ beyond 131 (n = 287), were everything from ignored to harassed by their teachers, resulting in some students even becoming suicidal….

A gifted individual becomes inconvenient either when posing a threat to others’ low self-esteem or when being perceived as a threat to social authority…. History is replete with examples: individuals who see and understand injustices, bring them to light believing this will be a good deed, but, more often than not, find themselves having become “inconvenient.” In short, our genetically imprinted social behavior, which we share with other species, decides whether we are friends or foes of authority. As a rule, perceived “foes” are ignored.

Boy did this resonate….  He also has some pretty interesting things to say about gifted individuals in the workplace.  So a three-fer.

Next up, my look at another recent “wow.”  This time a memoir that ties in very neatly with this Persson interview.

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Really, what’s up with those people in Kansas?  There they go again, pushing some crazy-ass notion, out of step with the nation…  Except, um, maybe this time they’re onto something.

GT listservs are humming with the news that Kansas City, Missouri schools are experimenting with the elimination of grade levels, following on the heels of the schools in Colorado and Alaska.  Here’s the Kansas story as it appeared in EdWeek the other day.

Forget Grade Levels, Kansas City, Mo., Schools Try Something New

…Students—often of varying ages—work at their own pace, meeting with teachers to decide what part of the curriculum to tackle. Teachers still instruct students as a group if it’s needed, but often students are working individually or in small groups on projects that are tailored to their skill level.

For instance, in a classroom learning about currency, one group could draw pictures of pennies and nickels. A student who has mastered that skill might use pretend money to practice making change.

Students who progress quickly can finish high school material early and move forward with college coursework. Alternatively, in some districts, high-schoolers who need extra time can stick around for another year.  Advocates say the approach cuts down on discipline problems because advanced students aren’t bored and struggling students aren’t frustrated….

Now the “drawing pictures of pennies” gives me pause, but I’m guessing (hoping) this is a lower elementary lesson, a simple example the reporter latched onto to make a point.  Further into the article it quotes a student who “used to get bored after plowing through his assignments. He had to bring books from home or the library if he wanted a challenge because the ones at his old school were one or two grade levels too easy.”  His parents moved him into the district specifically for the experimental approach, and are thrilled:  “I wish school was like this when I was growing up,” said the dad.

So yes, that cry of “Hallelujah!” you’re hearing across the nation at this news is from parents of GT kids, frustrated beyond belief by the arbitrary barriers posed by lockstep age/grade-based education.  You know, the “but what will we do if we run out of curriculum?”

Could the Kansas experiment ever happen in Montgomery County?  Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.  Note that these initiatives are happening in school systems described as “bedraggled” and “low performing” with “abysmal test scores.”  That alone could make the idea a non-starter here in Lake Wobegone, where we’re an urban school district only when it suits our purposes.  Or, one could expect the PR jujitsu approach favored by the good Dr. Weast, wherein–wait for it–it’s touted that MCPS is already doing this!  “We have blah, blah, blah number of X graders taking Y grade math–in elementary school! Blah, blah, blah number of X graders taking Y grade math–in middle school!  Highest number of AP tests in the nation…”  Well, you get the point.

But that’s not to say that this approach isn’t needed.  The current GT screening and articulation process, and the piloted SIPPI process both operate under the official notion that “students may accelerate learning and participate in advanced-level course work at their local schools.” (This from the MCPS Strategic Plan, Our Call to Action).  Sounds lovely, but eyeballing sample screen shots of the Course Placement and Articulation data screens shows that in cases where a grade level of acceleration is recommended (and the school and MCPS recommendations always jibe) the only areas where acceleration can take place are math and reading, with the recommended intervention/remedy for reading being William and Mary.  Local GT advocates remain unconvinced that there is a “continuum of services” available at local schools, rather that–as one advocate waggishly put it–MCPS’s identification and articulation process is “a bridge to nowhere.”  If there is acceleration available, it is only within strictly drawn parameters.  As the Singam case and others show, it takes extraordinary pressure, or a principal willing to buck the system (equally extraordinary) to accommodate the more-numerous-than-one-would-suspect outlier kids who need more than in-grade William and Mary or one or two years of math.  And let’s remember that the whole idea of what constitutes “grade level” is suspect, with MCPS itself having admitted that that a child performing just fine at grade level would not be prepared to meet it’s vaunted 7 Keys to College readiness.

I would love to see MCPS embrace true experimentation of the kind happening in Kansas, Colorado and Alaska.  Charter school anyone?  Oh, never mind.

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Clara, Clara, Clara.

I was resisting wading into the recent story from New York City, that officials are seeking a new exam for admissions of gifted students that may involve testing children as young as 3, because hey, that’s in New York, while the demoralizing reality here in MoCo is that MCPS officials are moving inexorably in the opposite direction, doing their darnedest to obliterate the definition of giftedness while serving up a meager gruel and calling it gifted curriculum.  Also, I am no testing expert.  The tests they have been using in New York, the OLSAT and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment, are not ones they use here in MoCo.

But thanks to Clara (that would be Clara Hemphill, founder of Insideschools.org), I can no longer resist.  Yesterday, as a followup to those stories, the NYTimes Room for Debate blog invited several “experts” to weigh in with their perspectives, in a blog post titled The Pitfalls in Identifying a Gifted Child.  Ms. Hemphill was one of them.  (The others are Susan K. Johnsen, Butler University; Joseph S. Renzulli, University of Connecticut; Tonya R. Moon University of Virginia; and Bige Doruk, founder, Bright Kids NYC)

Let’s look at some of Ms. Hemphill’s whoppers. One of the biggest comes in her second sentence, and frankly it leaves me scratching my head, wondering How can this woman possibly know anything about gifted education?

She says, “Children need to learn that hard work is more important than being born with a high IQ. Putting them in a “gifted” class sends the opposite message.” Clara, (and yes, I noted your use of quotes around the word “gifted”) the very point of grouping children in a gifted class with their intellectual peers is so, for maybe the first time in their lives, they WILL work hard. That they will be stretched, challenged and pushed.  That they will learn that they in fact AREN’T the smartest kid in the room.  In my humble opinion, there is more risk of high IQ kids developing that dreaded attitude of superiority if they remain in a regular on-grade level class, severely unchallenged.

Ms. Hemphill thinks it “important for academically successful children be exposed to and to learn from children who are talented in ways that are not measured by early gifted and talented tests.”  Newsflash, Clara:  a) Academically successful kids don’t live in a box.  Our culture celebrates those other kinds of giftedness at every turn; b) Chances are many of those academically gifted kids are also “musical or athletic or good at resolving playground squabbles.”  Just sayin';  c) Why in music  and sports do we not have a problem acknowledging that kids thrive when grouped with others at their ability level and don’t pretend that they improve by playing with/competing with less gifted/talented kids–and yet “academically successful” kids don’t deserve the same?

And let’s take a look at that on-grade level class, according to Ms. Hemphill.

The things you need to learn in kindergarten are pretty much the same whether you have Downs Syndrome or an IQ of 170: how to tie your shoes, sit in a circle, play nicely, take turns and share your toys. Sure, academics are important, but a good teacher should be flexible enough to challenge children with a range of abilities in one class, giving Frog and Toad to a beginning reader and Harry Potter to a more advanced reader, or finding a 200-piece puzzle for a child who has finished the 100-piece puzzle.

The operative phrase is “but a good teacher should be flexible enough to challenge children with a range of abilities in one class.”  Sadly, many teachers simply aren’t flexible enough, or more importantly, able to be flexible.  Kindergarten teachers are looking at a classroom of 20 or so kids, who most likely range from don’t-know-which-way-to-hold-a-book-don’t-know-their-shapes to, well, reading Harry Potter.  Meanwhile, at least in MCPS, there is an increasingly scripted, gotta move ‘em along curriculum.  A kid reading Harry Potter, quite frankly, will be seen as a pain in the neck, a distraction, extra work. There is no kindergarten assessment rubric for Harry Potter, just Frog and Toad.  After a while, in addition to going crazy with the focus on “how to tie your shoes, sit in a circle, play nicely, take turns and share your toys,” that child is going to internalize the teacher’s resentment, is going to stop raising his/her hand–because they never get called on anyway, so why bother?

Towards the end of her remarks Ms Hemphill states,

Gifted programs are appropriate in the older grades, beginning at middle school or in certain circumstances upper elementary school. But giving tests to a child who hasn’t even started kindergarten is ridiculous.

Ridiculous. Ridiculous? Really? What’s ridiculous is Ms. Hemphill’s apparent belief that it’s okay for some children to have to wait SIX YEARS before being given an appropriate education.  Six years.  Just think of the damage that can be done in that span of time.  I can.  Social isolation.  Alienation.  Being bullied.  Anxiety.  Anger.  Disdain for classmates, adults and school. Underachievement and disengagement.  Not exactly the kinds of outcomes we’re looking for, no?  Personally, I envy the parents of five year olds who learn through testing that their child is EG/PG and can get the advice and information that I didn’t have access to.

Clara, doing away with gifted identification is not the answer.  Those kids exist–yes the spark of giftedness can be seen in three year olds.  They have needs.  We need to identify them and provide the supports and academics they need and deserve.  But gifted identification is not enough.  What is needed is a sea change in attitude towards our nation’s brightest kids from the highest education circles on down to the classroom, where it’s needed most.  Resources need to be devoted to gifted education programs, curriculum, teacher training.  At minimum there needs to be a real commitment to flexibility in meeting the academic needs of gifted learners–with concurrent commitment to social and emotional support for these kids.

In reading the news reports of what’s happening in New York, the thing that give me hope  is that the school system says it is committed to its gifted programs that start in Kindergarten and is committed to figuring out this identification conundrum, rather than obfuscating the existence of giftedness and/or finding a watered down, politically easy solution.

“We are not looking for a test that identifies qualities other than giftedness in young children,” said David Cantor, press secretary for the city’s Department of Education. “Our responsibility remains ensuring that gifted students are properly identified and placed in programs they need to learn best.”

Ms. Hemphill ends her piece by quoting gifted expert (note, I use no quotes) Dona Mathews on when to test.  I happen to agree with Mathews’ advice, as it pertains to seeking out expensive private educational testing in addition to group testing already carried out by the schools, realizing full well that this is a luxury few can afford.  But then Ms. Hemphill throws in her $.02:  “Do test your child if your regular neighborhood school is inadequate. Don’t test your child if you have a solid neighborhood school.”  Say wha’?  She just spent the previous three paragraphs decrying testing.  She ostensibly is concerned about equitable access to gifted services for all kids–then suggests that those who most likely don’t have the resources to begin with, or else their school wouldn’t be “inadequate,” get testing.  Sorry, but Clara makes my head hurt.

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A friend and reader (;-)) recently posted two snippets of articles from the New York Times to her Facebook wall, a reminder that the smooth, well-behaved path doesn’t always lead to a noteworthy life:

Ben made himself unwelcome at a series of private schools. Precocious, pretentious and incorrigible, he took Oscar Wilde as his role model and doted on the writings of the Marquis de Sade…. At 13, inspired by Casanova, he began writing his memoirs. He did not manage to finish high school.

Ben Sonnenberg, Founder of Literary Journal, Dies at 73

At 11, he decided school was useless to his future as a circus clown or
pirate and refused to learn any more. At 13, he stopped going to class
and joined Reykjavik’s punk scene. At 14, he was sent to a boarding
school for troubled teenagers and stayed until he was 16, when he left
school for good.

Icelander’s Campaign Is a Joke, Until He’s Elected (Story on the new mayor of Reykjavik)

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This week Husband Dear and I had a little foreshadowing of what the “empty nest” will feel like.  C. and M., along with two friends, the friend’s exchange student, a mom and the mom’s friend went to New York City for three days, arriving home in the early morning hours on Saturday.

So what was it like for us?  Did we, as M. suggested on our recent anniversary, “paint the town beige?”  :-) Kind of.  On Wednesday we just came home as usual and collapsed.  On Thursday I had a monthly deadline, so didn’t get home until 10 p.m., but did have drinks with a contractor earlier in the evening.  Yesterday I had a drink after work with a donor, and then met up with Husband Dear for dinner at boisterous place in Dupont Circle.  It was a gorgeous evening and once again it made me yearn to move back into the city, or at least into a smaller place that is livelier and more walkable.  I would like that.  Meanwhile it was very quiet at home. [Note:  4 drinks in 2 days (unusual!) = headache.]

Meanwhile the girls and friends had a great time.  They took a BoltBus to the City and stayed in a women’s hostel that was clean and inexpensive.  They saw Promises, Promises, went to the Metropolitan Museum, explored areas of the city they hadn’t visited before, and poked around cool specialty shops.

On Thursday evening C. called to check in.  She and M. were in Times Square.  Were they getting ready to go to another show? I asked.  No, everyone else went off to see Billy Elliot but they decided the tickets were too expensive and they would rather walk around Times Square instead.  Okaaaay, so my 13 year old and not quite 16 year old were on their own.  In Times Square.  Not a lot I could do about it from DC, so I just exuded calm confidence and told myself  it’s just like the Piazza Navona in Rome, right?  Later that night C. called again, asking if I could check Edline for her.  Was she back at the hostel?  Oh yes, they had made their way back on their own–they had ridden the subway.  Double okaaaay.  But I have to say I was kind of pleased and impressed.  I mean, there is a very healthy percentage of American adults who would be completely overwhelmed and freaked out by New York City, and wouldn’t dream of venturing on the subway.  When I said so, commenting on their navigation skills, C. said, “Mom, it’s a GRID.”

This morning I told my mom, the Queen of Worry, about the girls’ adventure.  At first she was rather horrified. But since my telling came on the heels of her filling me in on a relative who is 18 and an utter mama’s boy/couch potato, I took the opportunity to say, “At least I can be fairly certain that they won’t be 26 years old and living at home in the basement.”  And she had to admit that my approach was proving right.

Maybe I’m missing some maternal gene or something.  Unlike the people who decried 16 year old Abby Sunderland‘s recent around the world sailing gambit, I said good on her.  A few days back I read a blog post in which the mom explained why her child was no Abby Sunderland.  She wrote, “It’s only been a couple of years since I’ve allowed my daughter to enter a public restroom on her own. Until recently, she had never walked up to worker at Baskin-Robbins to order her own ice cream cone. She has never walked to school on her own, nor has she ever ridden a bike to a friend’s house.”  I kept reading, thinking her kid was maybe 8 or 9 years old. Then she dropped,  “I have a hard time letting my daughter walk the dog solo around the block. That’s something I’ve got to change.  I won’t have a choice. In a little over a year, she’ll be eligible for a driver’s permit.”

Whoa Nellie, her kid is 14!  And never ordered an ice cream cone by herself until “recently”?  Really? My kids were doing that when they were 5.  I just don’t see how overprotecting kids helps them to become confident, competent adults.  My kids are already thanking me for having the confidence in them to let them explore and try new things.   That and for my mad minimalist packing skills.

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