Wednesday, July 16, 2008

There should have been coffee

Yesterday, it was my turn to take AJ to camp. After I walked him to his class, I stopped by the information desk to look at some of the literature they had displayed. One of the people behind the table said, "Oh, the parent meeting is in 216." I hadn't heard about the parent meeting. I'd been planning on asking if there was some place I could hole up with my laptop for a couple of hours. But since it sounded like I was supposed to go to a parent meeting, I found my way to room 216.

It was not what I was expecting. I had assumed they were going to talk to us about some of the other programs that the place that runs the camp has to offer. Instead, it turned out to be a sort of airing of issues of gifted education. And I was really surprised by some of the things I heard.

All of us had come to the camp because we were looking for some additional challenges for our children. All of us were very active in our schools (some public, some religious or private; none for gifted kids only. I was the only person dealing with no gifted program at all). There were cub scout leaders and school board members and PTO presidents. The thing that surprised me was that with all that experience in the schools, no one seemed to have done much to advocate for their kids in their schools, to try to get different programs, to questions policies in place. They mentioned being afraid they would look like one of those parents just trying to push their kid too far (been there. done that. got over it.). Or they didn't want to bother the teachers. Some, like the woman who said her school didn't want her son working ahead in the math curriculum because they didn't know what they'd do with him when they finished it, were frustrated, but they didn't know what to do about it. In talking with them and telling them about my experiences this year with AJ, I realized just how much I have learned. The reason it was so shocking to hear some of these things was that it was exactly where I was about a year ago.

In the end, I came home feeling like I'd taken over the meeting. I was asked a lot of questions and I talked a lot. I felt like a bit of a blowhard. But I do feel that working with your school is something every parent needs to learn how to do. Every kid deserves it. And we all need to get past what other people may think of us. Because if we're embarrassed and hold back, the only people who suffer are our kids.

Beyond the discussion of school advocacy, there were some other things I found interesting. We talked for a while about the way our kids tend to obsess on different subjects, drag you into it, and then often give up on it when they've gotten all they needed and decide to move on to something else. This is challenging for parents. Adults are more interested in achievement and commitment. But we need to get over that too. There's a time to push, and there's a time to let your kid explore. AJ was almost afraid to tell us when he'd decided that space was no longer his most favorite thing. He's still interested. He still likes it, but it's not the same as it was for a couple of years when he could hardly be induced to talk about anything else. Now it's Pokemon. In a few months, it will probably be something else.

We also talked about how we're collectively on the fence about grade skipping. I stand my my previous statement that it may be a good option for some kids, but not for every kid. And I still think it can cause nearly as many problems as it can solve. But it depends very much on the student and on the school and teachers involved.

We also all have trouble getting our kids to eat breakfast. I found this a funny coincidence, but it also made sense. These kids wake up in the morning with their brains running in overdrive. Although getting AJ to sit still for any meal is hard -- he's always begging for a book or a game or to watch TV because the boredom of mealtime is too much for him and apparently talking to his parents is not good enough -- breakfast is definitely the worst. This may seem like an unimportant detail, but it drove home a point, which is that gifted children don't just learn more quickly, they learn differently. I think this is a point I did not drive home enough in my post responding to Miss Self-Important's post on gifted children as victims a few days ago. It's not just about finding advanced work: It's about finding appropriate work and methods. This includes identifying gifted children not only by their test scores, but also by observation in the classroom. Plenty of gifted kids do poorly on tests or in their grades because they are bored and therefore inattentive or because they think it's stupid and don't bother. Giftedness often manifests itself as a behavior problem in the classroom. Appropriate work can make for a better learning environment for everyone.

Although the meeting was not particularly productive, it was interesting and it gave me a lot to think about.I


lemming said...

I've said it before and I say it again - not all schools are willing to have parents advocate for their kids. "We know more than you so shut up and go away" is not an uncommon attitude.

Harriet said...

Oh, I agree with you, lemming. But it appeared that these parents had never attempted to intervene. They didn't know whether or not their schools were receptive. It hadn't occurred to them to try.