Thursday, June 27, 2013

Another Damn' Gifted Kid...

And in news from the All-Duhhh Channel today, a psychologist confirmed after three sessions of testing and interviewing that young Genghis is, like his brother, up in the Exceptionally Clever range, and should probably have his education adjusted accordingly.

On the one hand, it feels stupid being the parent who hounds the school, saying "My kid is special." On the other hand, it feels even worse watching your kid absolutely hate and loathe his mandatory schooling. So what do you do?

I've had the 'gifted' label described as a bit of a poisoned chalice, and yes, it certainly can be. It's well established now that telling a kid he (I'm gonna stick to the male pronoun, 'cos I'm dealing with Genghis, by and large, in this post) is smart is potentially detrimental to his learning. Instead, you're supposed to praise the  work and effort the kid puts in.

I get that. I really do. I was one of those kids who skated through everything, pretty much ignoring the teachers and the curriculum, and passing exams because that's what they wanted me to do and it was easier than making a fuss. And then I got to high level calculus, and suddenly discovered I couldn't do it. That was a real shock. And all without knowing what I was doing, I actually had to develop study and learning strategies to get through university. (Mostly they didn't amount to much. I admit it. I passed my science subjects by studying the night before the exams. And the English subjects... yeah, I was drunk some of the time... and other stuff.) I credit the martial arts training with a lot, to be honest: that was where I learned that breaking something down into component parts, practising them individually, and practicing repetitively was a good way to master complex techniques.

But you can't ignore the fact that the kid is bright. Especially when it's precisely that factor which frequently makes schooling a misery. Example: they have this 'lexile test' thing, where they check out the students' vocabulary, and try to advance their reading. Genghis pretty much maxed it out. And why not? He really enjoyed Dune. He's still working on The Master and Margharita, but H P Lovecraft isn't slowing him down.

Now, the school librarian knew he'd maxed it. But she kept handing him books that were part of their 'lexile program', and told him kindly, and gently (but altogether patronisingly and erroneously) that while he could read adult books, she needed to know that he was comprehending what he read. That pissed Genghis off a whole lot, and drove him away from the school library. And I understand that. I get it. It makes sense. Frankly, that kind of shit pissed me off too when I was his age.

My answer was just to keep reading books I brought from home. But then, I wasn't the victim of some kind of lexile crime. It was - literally! - Old School teaching, and they figured if I was reading at all, it was good. Poor Genghis has been the victim of Advances in Educational Science.

But you see what I mean. There's no point in trying to pretend the kid isn't smart enough to handle high-level books. And there's no way to hide from him that his friends and the other students his age (and older; the lexile/reading age thing maxes at 19. It doesn't actually go higher than that, I understand.) aren't reading those books, and can't yet read them fluently, with comprehension.

So for all that the 'gifted' label represents a new raft of dangers, at least it puts his abilities into black and white, and nails them to the mast of his record. The school can't ignore them now. The psychologist says she's already had a word with the library folks, and that's good -- because if I hear any more shit about Genghis being restricted to their 'lexile programme', I'm going to press the Ugly Parent button.

At least with the primary school, there's hope. I know the kid's already involved with the math group a year above him. And the teachers do seem genuinely engaged with his learning. His main teacher is excellent, and his math/sport teacher seems quite good too. Now, hopefully, with this assessment report behind him, we'll be able to get a bit more of a challenge in front of him on things like German, for example. And the psychologist has already encouraged us to get him to touch-type, and agreed that he should be allowed to work via a keyboard, rather than by oh-so-slow-and-ugly handwriting.

In the end? Well, I guess it was no real surprise. I've been having conversations about quantum physics, immunology, chemistry, and a host of similarly unlikely topics with this boy for a long time. He asked his mother a question about valence electrons a couple weeks back; she gave me a look like a desperate rabbit in the headlights of a semi-trailer. Lucky he didn't ask me -- I couldn't remember the answer to that one!

But it is a pain in the arse. Because, yes, you can't just chuck it all in the school's lap. They haven't got the capacity for it anyhow. More importantly, the kid learns more from parental attitudes and actions than he ever does from the school process. Of course, we were already trying to challenge and extend him, so really, there's not that much more work involved... not really.

It just feels that way.