Guest Author - Lorel Shea
The primary purpose of a school is to educate. Every child deserves to learn something new each day. This applies to gifted learners as well as their more average classmates. Yet some people feel that it is unfair or elitist to offer accommodations to these students. Heck, they are already smart, why should they be given an additional advantage?
Can you imagine a system that discourages athletes from training? How about one that regularly forces a star player to carry heavy weights on his ankles, to slow him down a bit? It may sound absurd, but when we choose not to support gifted children at school we are weighing them down. Their brains urge them to explore new material, to synthesize information, make connections and form opinions, but if we don't feed these desires, we are effectively handicapping them. We're holding them back.
A second grade teacher once told me quite sternly, “In my class, we all read from the same book.” It mattered not a whit to her what my son was reading for pleasure outside of school. On her watch, he sure wouldn't be learning anything new! At the end of the year, my son was directed to write a letter to an incoming second grader, telling something about what he'd learned in Ms. H's class. We had to think long and hard to come up with a single bit that he gained that awful year. Finally, my son lit up like a Christmas tree! His printing had improved! Marginally better printing, after 180 days of school? That was his first and last year in that neighborhood school.
There is an old myth floating around about how left alone, kids will all even out by third grade. In actuality, some kids who took a bit longer to adapt to school may “catch up” with the average when they reach third grade. A child who wasn't developmentally ready to read in first grade may pick it up at age seven or eight. But a child who is reading six years ahead of age-mates will not be content to read Dr. Seuss or Henry and Mudge forever. If more challenging material is not offered in school, the child may resort to acting out or daydreaming. I've heard countless tales about under challenged gifted kids who invented elaborate games to play in their heads; who spent hours doodling or staring out the window. Perhaps to the casual observer, they may appear to have “evened out” because they no longer overtly demonstrate intellectual curiosity. Is this the best way to nurture our future leaders?
Smart kids need accommodation. Countless studies support this fact. Bright students allowed to move through subjects as they are ready are happier and more successful. So why is it that acceleration is so rare in our schools?