Sunday, January 31, 2010

Mathematically gifted boy finally gets what he needs

Shortly after I published an Op-Ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer on how Reform Math programs like Everyday severely shortchange children on the autistic spectrum, the grandmother of an extremely gifted eleven year old boy (IQ: 180) wrote to me about how gifted children, too, are shortchanged by the current system. With her permission, I share her story here:

I loved your editorial. You are so, so, so right about how math is taught today. But, not just for autistic children--for all kinds of kids.

As to your statement about autistic children losing points for not explaining their answers and future engineers languishing--you are so right! Not only are the autistic children's futures being stunted--the gifted kids are, too. We've been fighting for my g.son to be taught at a level commensurate w/his abilities ever since pre-kindergarten when he taught himself double digit math and could do it in his head. He's now 11 and not one school (he's been in 4) have deigned to put him where the heck he belongs. He might as well spend his time drooling on his desk for all the good school has done for him so far.

Finally, this year in 7th grade, with pre-algebra (7th grade) and algebra (8th grade) in one building, we thought we had a shot at having him put in 8th grade algebra. He passed the requested pre-algebra test, but even so, when we asked the principal to put him in Algebra, the response was, "We've never had an 11 y.o. in Algebra I. I don't know how we could do that."

These are the people in charge of your math and science gifted autistic and non-autistic children. People so bereft of imagination that they cannot figure out they could let a kid walk down the hall to the Algebra class instead of keeping in pre-Algebra class. But, I guess no worse than the "upper school" administrator who wouldn't let my g.son (during first grade) go into third grade reading because he wasn't 8 yrs. old. Didn't matter that he could already read at the third grade level.

Not only are gifted children being penalized for being smart, they're penalized for not making more work for themselves. As you said, they get zeroes when they have the right answers, but are able to do it in their heads and don't show their work.

But, also, the schools' solution for "challenging" these kids is to give them extra work after they've done the regular work--and most of the time the "challenging" work is also stuff these kids already know. Who wants to do extra boring work? Not these kids! And then the teachers say they can't possibly be advanced 'cause they're not doing the "challenge" work, which is nothing more than busy work offered to make teachers and administrators think they're accommodating these advanced learners.

In my experience, no one cares about extremely gifted children who could be advanced ahead of their peers were there a framework in place. Some statistics show that 50 percent of dropouts are gifted children (and I'll bet some of them are autistic or Asperger's), yet not one single person I've spoken to or written to sees the connection between boring our children to death and dropout rates. Everyone thinks these kids can learn advanced subjects on their own outside of school (a fallacy), they will fail when placed with older children (another fallacy) and ought to sit down and shut up while in school--oh, except for that hour every week they're pulled out for gifted class--never mind that they're gifted 24/7.

I've contacted Rowan Univ. to talk about setting up a weekend program like Montclair, written to Jill Biden (VP Biden's wife) because she is in the teaching profession, and to Colin Powell because he recently made a speech about education, and no response at all except for Mrs. Biden who wrote back thanking me for my thoughtful message and then never even mentioning what my thoughtful message was about (I think it was a form letter). Even the people in the state gifted organization tell me not to bother, no one cares.

I've contacted all kinds of fancy schools asking if they would place my g.son according to his ability and not his age and the answer is always no. Heck, there are only a couple of universities in the country that actually offer degrees in gifted education, let alone gifted and disabled by something like autism.

Last week she wrote me again with a wonderful update that should inspire everyone who works with gifted children to see that appropriate settings are not only attainable, but can bring about fantastic improvements and unexpected miracles:
After speaking with the dean at the local community college, they allowed him to register for a math class. We are now two weeks into the class and a transformation has taken place in Christian that can only be attributed to magic.

When he entered school at age 4 years, he changed from an almost perfect kid (which was ironic 'cause his mother was the hardest kid on earth to raise!) into a child just filled with anger and frustration that spilled over into his life at home. My Lord! This child has been anything but pleasant between pre-kindergarten and two weeks ago. He gave Lord Voldermort a run for his money!

Now he's apparently in the proper educational setting (even tho' he's only 11 and in college) and the 4-year-old we had the day before he started pre-kindergarten has returned! He's happy, he's content, he's polite, he's empathetic, he can't wait to get to class. No more angry outbursts, no more fights with his brother (his 8-year-old brother is stunned and keeps asking, "What happened?"), no more defiance (we love that part!) , no more sulking, no more impulsive behavior, no more begging him to do his "home schooled" work (or like we used to do, beg him to do his regular school work during the times he was in public school).

He says he doesn't need his ADHD medicine anymore and he's right. We stopped it, expecting something awful to happen, but nothing did. He's with his intellectual peers and, most importantly, learning at the pace at which his brain works. The whole family is astonished at how changing his learning environment has changed his whole life. We are willing to sacrifice small animals to whatever god made this happen. He's happy--is there anything better in life?
Readers, please share this story as widely as you can; it's imperative for all gifted children that we disseminated its messages as widely as possible.


Beth said...

The update is thrilling. I'm so happy for this family.

Gifted ed is just a train wreck these days. What I'm hearing is that in districts that claim to provide gifted ed, for instance in magnet schools, it really just boils down to the same old stuff, but piled higher and deeper and with more pressure and a much higher workload. This results in huge amounts of stress, which produces mental-health problems.

The beginning of the end of my daughter's public-school career was the "accelerated" math class in 5th grade, which had all the above characteristics.

I love this:

But, also, the schools' solution for "challenging" these kids is to give them extra work after they've done the regular work--and most of the time the "challenging" work is also stuff these kids already know.

I had the following exchange with my daughter's 3d-grade public school teacher:

Teacher (with enthusiasm): " and when she gets the regular spelling words right, she gets to do the challenge spelling words!"

Me: "That doesn't feel like a reward to her. She feels like, I did the spelling words and I did them right, and now I have to do more?"

Teacher: "Oh. I hadn't thought of that."

and this:

The whole family is astonished at how changing his learning environment has changed his whole life.

Right. A bad school environment causes so many problems, for the child and the family.

lgm said...

If you're still in contact with the g'ma, you might consider referring her to the Davidson Institute:

They can help her.

Anonymous said...

I know kids who are in GATE programs and magnet schools who aren't particularly smart and who have no interest in reading and learning. One boy I know was offered a place in a magnet school even though he is only profient in reading and basic in math. So, there really is no place for the gifted and advanced kids.

I talked recently to a mother who said her advanced son is learning nothing in the "excellent" public school he attends. She is now looking into the possibility of homeschooling. It's one thing if people want to homeschool.It's unfortunate when parents feel that they have no other choice and feel forced by circumstances to do it.

JanetC said...

I have a cousin with a similar story. He was quite the behavior problem until his mom enrolled him in a programming class at the local community college when he was in fourth grade.

From that point he did continue in his local school district and in the community college until he was a sophomore in HS. At that point he started university and finished with a PhD in some theoretical branch of math which he received when he was twenty two. His mom said the only reason he stayed in HS as long as he did was because he enjoyed playing bridge with the teachers.

He received his degree in the early '90's so I doubt he would be accommodated as easily today.