Such, Such were the Joys (cont’d)

Today, FedUp Mom answers a question she posed three weeks ago in her guest post where she suggested that people read Such, Such Were the Joys by George Orwell. Read her answers to the first and second questions she posed here and here. And, of course, don’t forget to chime in with your own answer.

Such, Such Thursdays
by FedUp Mom
(part 3)

QUESTION #3:

(from Such, Such Were the Joys)
3.) “Looking back, I realize that I then worked harder than I have ever done since, and yet at the time it never seemed possible to make quite the effort that was demanded of one…All through my boyhood I had a profound conviction that I was no good, that I was wasting my time, wrecking my talents, behaving with monstrous folly and wickedness and ingratitude — and all this, it seemed, was inescapable, because I lived among laws which were absolute, like the law of gravity, but which it was not possible for me to keep…The conviction that it was not possible for me to be a success went deep enough to influence my actions till far into adult life.”

Would Orwell have fared better or worse in your local “gifted” program? Explain.

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FedUp Mom’s ANSWER:

I see echos of Orwell when I look at my daughter’s experience at our nominally high-performing public school. My daughter was singled out as bright because of her performance on various exams. Once the school figured out she was bright, they figured they could squeeze a lot of achievement out of her that would make the school look good. When I complained that she was becoming anxious and depressed, it made no difference.

For a sensitive child, as many gifted children are, the experience of constantly being judged “not good enough” is devastating. This is why I can’t agree with those who think that what gifted children need is harder classes, and that the experience of failure will somehow be good for them.

It is true that some gifted children don’t learn study skills, because everything the school hands them is so far below their actual level. This happened to me, actually. When I got to college, I took an intro Biology course that I enjoyed a lot. I attended every lecture with great interest. When our first test came back, I was astonished to discover that I had flunked it, big time (less than 20/100, I think.) I had the following conversation with the teacher:

Me: I don’t understand what happened! I was here for every lecture!

Teacher: Well, you need to take notes during the lecture, and read the chapter in the textbook. Then, the night before the test, you look back through your notes and review the chapter in the textbook.

Me: Really? Wow!

I honestly had no idea. I followed the teacher’s advice and got As from then on.

So it is true that letting a gifted child drift along, passing classes with no effort, is not doing them a favor. But the opposite strategy, putting gifted kids in “rigorous” classes so they are constantly struggling, does them no favors either.

A gifted child who works hard and does her best should be allowed to feel successful. School should be a pleasure for all children, but a gifted child in particular should experience real joy in learning. A school where the brightest kids are anxious, stressed out, sleep deprived, and terrified of failure is a school that has put its own reputation ahead of the students’ health.

19 Comments on “Such, Such were the Joys (cont’d)”

  1. Fred Baumgarten says:

    “School should be a plea­sure for all chil­dren, but a gifted child in par­tic­u­lar should expe­ri­ence real joy in learn­ing.”

    I agree with the first half of the sentence, disagree with the second. Ideally, I think all children equally should experience joy in learning.

    Other than that, the whole question of what constitutes “gifted” and what should be “done” about gifted children is an open one to me. At the risk of repeating a story I might have already told:

    My younger daughter, in second grade, could be “gifted,” though I don’t know if she meets any formal criteria for such. But we know she reads far ahead of her grade level and has grasped advanced math concepts as well, ever since she was a pre-schooler.

    We debated whether her to skip her from Kindergarten to second grade in the public school, after she found Kindergarten to be frequently boring (if, for example, the teacher reviewed basic counting skills that our daughter had long since surpassed). After meeting with the principal, teachers, and guidance counselor, we decided to take their advice and not skip. Probably a good idea.

    But we did ask that she get some kind of extra “enrichment” in math, and at least a half-dozen times during first grade she was pulled from class to do a small math enrichment with the middle school math teacher — the same one who gives my older daughter fits with the same droning homework/classwork, night in and night out.

    At the beginning of second grade, we renewed our request for math enrichment. At the first parent/teacher conference in November, we asked whether our daughter was getting opportunities to accelerate in math. The teacher told us that she had made available to our daughter various worksheets and other advanced activities — but that she consistently chose that time to play with various math games the teacher also made available to all the students.

    This was after we were already neck deep in the homework fights and tears of our older daughter, especially over her math work (textbook pages, worksheets, ad nauseum). You could say I’d gotten religion. Eureka! I told the teacher that I was thrilled that our second grader was playing games. As long as she continued to see math as fun and games, I have no doubt she could go far if she wanted to. And at that point I decidedly did NOT want her pulled out of class to get “enrichment” from the middle school teacher.

    Does it matter that my daughter is not getting the opportunity to do challenging and interesting work at the level she might be fully capable? I don’t know. On the other hand, does keeping her right where she “belongs,” even if some of the school learning is using only a fraction of her ability, do her good — let her be a child, as she should be?

    And are there other solutions not at one extreme or the other? I’d like to think that somewhere out there, there might be math programs (in school, preferably, or extracurricular enrichment programs) that challenge kids in fun and thoughtful ways, not that simply give higher-level work at a lower grade level (the school’s idea, more or less, of “enrichment”).

    Math not as a race to cram in more facts and skills but as an exploration of pattern and beauty.

    May 6th, 2010 at 12:03 pm
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  2. FedUpMom says:

    Fred, you’re singing my song! At the moment, I feel like we’ve settled for a situation where dd is happy, although not learning anywhere near her potential. If I could find a school where she could be happy and also learning a lot, that would be better. She’s going to a different school next year in any case, so we’ll see how that works out.

    Here’s how gifted she is — the other night she told me happily that she had hardly any math homework. Why? Well, the teacher has them start the work during class time. If they don’t finish it in class, they can finish it at home. If they do finish it in class, she gives them extra problems (!) to do at home. So my daughter told the teacher she was “struggling” with the last problem, which she had actually just about finished. That way, all she had to do at home was finish the problem, which took about 30 seconds.

    Why should any child let on to being gifted if the result is more work?

    May 6th, 2010 at 1:10 pm
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  3. PsychMom says:

    Yay, for that perceptive child….

    But you know…that’s the kind of work most of us currently know. That way of “working” is the exact cause of an unproductive labour force made to sit for 8.0 hours a day in our Dilbert like world. Why do more than the minimum when the only reward is more work? That’s why I like the idea of Results Only Work Environments….you have work goals, you do ’em when and how you want, and then you do what you want.

    May 6th, 2010 at 1:55 pm
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  4. HomeworkBlues says:

    My daughter would look forlornly out the window at all the base school kids playing outside after school. She was ten, we’d just pulled her out of private to attend our county’s vaunted GT Center. She mumbled listlessly, “it’s like they’re punishing us for being smart.”

    She kept saying, I want harder not more, I want harder not more. We couldn’t seem to get it in the school system. Some gifted kids can manage in a regular program. Mine cannot. It’s not just the academics, it’s the social, the peer group, she just didn’t fit in, which is why we yanked her out of private. She loved the school but she had a hard time making friends, couldn’t get past a coterie of very socially aggressive girls. She was very quiet and shy.

    In the GTC, we traded problems. Better social group, lousy academics. More not harder. So I pulled her…again. This time to homeschool. It was the most magical year of our lives.

    On days when she had writing assignments due (FABULOUS on line writing course), we could only take two hour walks, not full day hikes in the Shenandoah. On a frozen winter afternoon, we walked through a forest as we dissected the finer points of Shakespeare. School would probably consider that goofing off because we were having too much fun; laughing ,walking, talking, sharing. In those two hours we covered literature (Shakespeare), poetry (stopped on the banks of the creek to reflect), PE (walking) and science (flora and fauna in the frigid winter),

    How could I forget all that mother daughter bonding? After all, school is all about strengthening family times, now isn’t it? At least that’s what they keep telling us. Never mind that we had to leave school to get that.

    The solution to all the school madness? If you can’t homeschool, brainstorm and put together some co-ops where you all team teach. Vote with your feet. Easier said than done. But if you build it, they will come. Consider yourselves the pioneers at the frontier of a new dawn.

    May 6th, 2010 at 2:18 pm
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  5. K says:

    Homework blues – thanks for your comment.

    I am on the edge of the precipice here, ready to homeschool my son for fourth-grade in my office at the college. I am worried a bit about social isolation (but, how positive is the social scene in grade-school anyway?). But, a year where my gifted (but ADD) child can use his disability to thoroughly explore a topic while it grabs him – then, drop it when his interest is exhausted? That sounds tailor-made to his needs.

    He proposed last night, “Oh, and can I have a logic puzzle every day?” Can you imagine that in the public school, I’d have to answer that “no”? How sad.

    In our case, the gifted classroom has been geared toward high-achieving (but not necessarily intellectually gifted) kids. More work, much the same, over and over. If you like drawing characters from your books and summarizing chapters – you’d love it.

    Gifted education can be fabulous – project-based, enriching, and stimulating. But – you hit the nail on the head, more creative, stimulating, challenging – but NOT MORE.

    May 7th, 2010 at 8:16 am
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  6. HomeworkBlues says:

    K, thanks for the validation. I loved reading your post. Yep, my daughter. EG/PG ADD. Endlessly curious, creative, intellectual, inhales knowledge. I hear you about the GT Centers. Teachers think GT means straight A, high achiever, little adult. What about asynchronies, perfectionism, uber-sensitivity, in depth, creativity, consumed with justice and fairness?

    I have some big deadlines today so have to force myself to stay off StopHomework for a while. But K, go for it, if you can. You’ll never regret it. I’ll expand on this in a few weeks. Have to go out of town.

    Do it! Your son will really thrive, rediscover his passions, all that hyperfocusing which is really such a gift, just not when your child has homework in every subject. These kids are tailor made to go in depth, child led learning and not the “a little bit of a lot” coupled with endless projects that have little or no educational value.

    My daughter asked me to wake her up at 4:30 am in 7th grade, the year before homeschooling, when I said, enough of this nonsense. She began working immediately while my heart broke at all this sleep deprivation. I came in and noticed she was coloring. Coloring! For this she gave up two hours of precious sleep. Yep, this was the homework in 7th grade GTC.

    School is so much about what ADD kids can NOT do. What about what they can? You’ll find ADD is much more of a gift and much less of a disability when your child ceases to be a round hole in a square peg.

    For example, my daughter is a voluminous reader. Give her a stack of books and she won’t come up for air for eight hours. So on days when I needed a nap, that’s what I did. Again, school would consider that goofing off. What, they would ask? She attacked a pile of high quality literature in her pajamas, book in one hand, apple in the other, in front of the fireplace at 11am while you slept? But we assign a half hour with reading logs! Read, grimace, wince and repeat (Fed Up, I saw that on kitchentablemath too!). You’re having too much fun learning, we just can’t have that. Reading is supposed to be a chore, an overcoming. Why else was Accelerated Reader invented?

    May 7th, 2010 at 8:58 am
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  7. FedUpMom says:

    ****
    In our case, the gifted class­room has been geared toward high-achieving (but not nec­es­sar­ily intel­lec­tu­ally gifted) kids.
    ****

    That was our experience too. My older dd is bright, but she’s also extremely sensitive, quirky, and dreamy. She isn’t the teacher’s pet, straight-A type kid that the public schools seem to think is the same as “gifted”.

    The kid the public school really wants is smart enough to do well, but not so smart that they correct the teacher or notice that what they’re doing is pointless. And what the school wants more than anything else is a kid with a conventional, conformist personality, who delights in following rules and getting the gold star. That’s actually more valuable than brains in the public schools.

    May 7th, 2010 at 9:53 am
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  8. HomeworkBlues says:

    You got that right, FedUp. Couldn’t have said it better myself. And yes, add quirky to dd’s mix, definitely delightfully delicious quirky.

    You’re right. There was the most adorable brilliant kid in dd’s 7th grade science class. Politely and quietly he was always catching the teacher’s inaccuracies and she hated him for it. She once snapped at him that she had to prepare the class for tests, no time for questions. You can’t make this stuff up.

    School prepares you to be a middle manager, part of a compliant work force. As John Taylor Gatto writes, smart children make trouble for schools.

    May 7th, 2010 at 12:11 pm
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  9. PsychMom says:

    Here’s a novel thought for a Friday afternoon….

    What if school were just really seen as a place where children are socialized? If we want to get at the true essence of “human beingness”, don’t we want to teach our kids to get along with other human beings?

    Wouldn’t it be interesting if that were the basis of “school”?

    Forget the academic focus all together and make that an afterthought… “Oh, by the way..today me and this other kid learned how to make a cool thingamajig”.. The teacher was there as a resource…it wasn’t her/his idea..it wasn’t her/his agenda.

    Imagine school as a place to grow with, as a support throughout childhood, a haven.

    The idea of giftedness would become irrelevant, as would the idea of delays or learning disabilities.

    I can dream.

    May 7th, 2010 at 1:31 pm
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  10. northTOmom says:

    “School pre­pares you to be a mid­dle man­ager”
    HomeworkBlues, that is so true. Especially with all the focus on “time management.” When a teacher or other parent defends homework on the basis that kids need to learn time management, I always says, yes, of course, because it’s never too early to train them to become middle managers! My sarcasm doesn’t always go over well, and of course there’s nothing inherently wrong with middle managers but, really, is that what education is all about? Time management and PowerPoint reports, and “data management” (one of the math strands in the elementary curriculum here)?

    May 7th, 2010 at 2:19 pm
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  11. northTOmom says:

    PsychMom,
    There actually was a school in Toronto called the The Beach School, modeled on the Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA, that operated in a fashion quite similar to what you’re musing about. I actually considered sending my daughters there, but I confess I’m not totally opposed to a bit of structure (it’s authoritarian structure that bothers me). It’s an extremely interesting concept, though, and I believe the Sudbury Valley school is still going strong. The Toronto version closed in 2008, but I think it might be slated to open again under another name in 2011. Check out the Sudbury Valley School at http://www.sudval.org/ .

    May 7th, 2010 at 2:33 pm
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  12. HomeworkBlues says:

    northTOmom, I hear you that a Sudbury School might be a little too loosey goosey. But it’s better than a top down management factory authoritarian style, in the end.

    I like unschooling. We did unschooling with some school, during our lone magical sabbatical. Those walks, how all that stress melted away, the freedom…ah, all too short.

    May 7th, 2010 at 3:38 pm
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  13. miriam says:

    I like the “singled out as gifted”.
    I had HORRIBLE study habits– when one teacher taught me how to write an essay, I remember thinking– oh! That’s it. How easy!
    Same thing in 9th grade. Take notes? Oh! Then I can study them before the test!
    It takes 30 seconds to explain, but I needed it and it made such a difference…

    May 7th, 2010 at 6:15 pm
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  14. FedUpMom says:

    ***
    The idea of gift­ed­ness would become irrel­e­vant, as would the idea of delays or learn­ing disabilities.
    ***

    PsychMom, I hear you. I’m not crazy about the labels myself. I think we get stuck with the labels and the silly IEP meetings in public school because the norm is that all the kids are cranked through the same curriculum in the same way. If you can just get your kid a label, you think there’s some chance your child might be treated more appropriately. Ha!

    Of course, a school that really respected every child as an individual could do away with a lot of those labels.

    For what it’s worth, the school my kids attend now doesn’t do “gifted”. It conflicts with their Quaker beliefs in simplicity and equality. There’s a lot less competition and pressure.

    May 7th, 2010 at 8:41 pm
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  15. Anonymous says:

    For those who may be interested, Sudbury Valley School (in Massachusetts) continues to serve as a great and proven resource for its enrollees. In fact, there are numerous schools modeled on it across the US and abroad. And there is “structure,” not imposed by “authority” but created democratically by the students and the staff that comprise the daily population.
    You can read more at: http://www.sudval.org/

    And, yes, in Toronto, there is an effort underway to establish the Reach School as a Sudbury model school. You can see their web site here http://www.reachsudbury.ca/

    Mike

    May 10th, 2010 at 7:56 am
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  16. PsychMom says:

    I think it’s interesting that we’re still stuck on school having “structure”. I’ve heard this from some Moms here too…It implies, to me, that traditional school is so engrained not even us homework rebels can completely let go of it. In my musing I’m suggesting that we contemplate childhood completely differently…forget “school” altogether…you can’t even say unschool because that still implies the opposite of school. The fact that that’s so hard to do is the part that I find so discouraging. It means a lot of change and a breakdown of the hierarchy we’ve got going between children and adults. We would have to be more cognizant of what’s truly valuable in growth and development.

    I’m intrigued by a new movie that’s just been released called “Babies”…following the development of 4 babies each in different cultures. I haven’t seen it yet but I have a feeling it may be touching on the idea I’m putting forth here. Much of what westernized babies (and hence children) go through is a waste of time and energy and largely not needed to develop into a wonderful human being.

    I’m just so tired of the North American Norm for raising kids……I want to give something else a chance.

    May 10th, 2010 at 9:15 am
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  17. PsychMom says:

    Here’s a link that talks about the Babies movie:

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/movies/babies-four-babies-and-a-camera—a-match-made-in-heaven/article1559102/

    May 10th, 2010 at 9:20 am
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  18. northTOmom says:

    PsychMom, I’ve read about the Babies movie as well and it does sound fascinating. I also agree that we need to break down, or at least soften, the hierarchy between children and adults. (Though I’m of two minds on this issue, especially on occasions when I’m trying to get my daughters to do something, and I find myself saying things like, “where did you ever get the notion that this family is a democracy?!)

    I especially think that the structure in schools needs to be less hierarchical. An incident involving one of my daughters drove that home to me recently. While carrying her trombone up the stairs at school after a band concert, someone bumped into her quite hard (though by accident) and she fell into the railing, denting her trombone. The slide wouldn’t work, and afterwards at home, she had a total meltdown, crying her eyes out, saying that the band teacher was going to kill her, that we’d have to pay, etc. I assured her that since it was an accident and the band teacher is actually quite a nice guy, she would not be in trouble; they would just send the instrument out to be repaired. I told her to explain to the band teacher exactly what happened before the next band class. She said, “you don’t understand, he’s big, and I’m not, and adults don’t believe kids.” This kind of broke my heart because my daughter is conscientious and hard-working, and not the type to lie to the teacher. Yet this is how she felt about a teacher she actually likes!

    I went to the school this morning and talked to the band teacher, and of course everything’s fine (there’s even another trombone for my daughter to use for the remainder of the year), but there’s something wrong with the culture of school that my daughter at 10 years old did not feel she could speak to him herself.

    May 10th, 2010 at 10:08 am
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  19. PsychMom says:

    northTOmom:
    I do the same as you,…I constantly say “Because I say so and I’m the one in charge”. Playdates are first decided on by parents, not kids, same with sleepovers. There’s no end to the “heavy” role I play. But I think my reaction is just that, a reaction to the stress and busyness of our lives. She doesn’t see all the other parts..she lives in a different world than mine..and that’s what I want to take a look at..why does her world look so different? What would happen if her world got a little more time than mine?

    Why is it ludicrous for me to say: “I didn’t go to work on Tuesday because my daughter and three of her friends wanted to paint the doghouse that day?” It clearly is not within the realm of possibility for this to ever occur. Why can’t child resource managers (ie: formerly known as the teachers) sit down with parents and children on a weekly basis and plan out the child’s week, month?

    May 10th, 2010 at 10:59 am
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