Friday, May 27, 2016

The Gold Star

On Monday morning, I met a friend for coffee at the local coffee joint--the place where I can buy a flavored milk drink for more than the price of a gallon of milk. We chose the spot because it was close, and both of us would likely have children at home, all alone. If anyone needed help, we could be there in five minutes.

We'd come together to discuss many subjects, one of them being homeschooling. I'd entertained the idea in the past, and she had plans to pull one of her three kids out of school. I wasn't there to give her my approval; we simply conversed about what we thought the schools did well, or didn't do well, and what our experiences had been like.

We've been rather lucky, I think, to live in a school district with great teachers and administrators, and for the most part, we're happy. But I often think of what my kids' education could be like if I taught them myself. I'm not bragging, but I know a lot of different subjects and how to research those topics that I don't, and I think I could do a great job with the kids. But I also know that I need time away from my family, and that three out of four of our children benefit socially from the schools.

My friend understands my stance. One of her children said no to homeschooling because she only has three years left to go. I get it. When I mentioned homeschooling to the twins, they said, "Uh, no. We like our friends and want to see them."

But part of the challenge I see with the schools is making sure that each child gets what they need. My kids are not brainiacs, but they do very well, and could be enriched more than they are. Some years, they get that enrichment, depending on the teacher. At home, I could make that enrichment happen more than on just the weekend, when we normally build and create and learn by play. Just to be clear, we're not consciously seeking out enrichment and pushing it at the kids on their days off, but our kids (especially Aaron and Melina) are at the age where they question everything and like to put together projects and work with hands-on experiments.

Sadly, enrichment for our district doesn't always happen, and sometimes it depends on entrance to the gifted program. Why should the "gifted" only benefit from some of those resources? And furthermore, why is "giftedness" dependent upon a number that measures cognitive ability?  I know a whole cadre of people with a "gift" that involves reading, writing, and/or an aptitude to remember historical facts, among other talents, but whose cognitive ability score doesn't say they're "gifted." When tested, they fall just a bit short of the number required to get into the "gifted" program, and yet, these children excel at school and have an enthusiasm for learning and knowledge. In my mind, those kids should be enriched, too, along with their "gifted" peers.

The whole concept of the "gifted" program is also complicated by the fact that many parents see it as a gold star. "My kid is in the gifted program," a woman once said to me as a smile spread across her face. She stood there then, as if I should respond in some way. I had no response. I don't care that her child is in that program. I only care if the child treats mine with respect and kindness.

I've also encountered the parent who goes on and on about how talented his child is and how "he better be in the gifted and talented program" because it "would be wrong if he wasn't." Why would it be wrong? And who is the program for? The parent or the child? Both of these parents wanted that gold star on their foreheads. A seal of approval, if you will. Or the seal that told everyone else just how great they and their children are. (I have to be upfront and tell you that my friend referred to it as the gold star, but I agree with her.)

For me, that program--regardless of whether or not my child is in it--has nothing to do with a gold star. I had my time to do well in school, and if I've learned anything over the last 30 years, it's that your IQ and your academic record have no bearing on your success in life.

Be kind. Be patient. Be a generous teacher with the knowledge that you have. If you do those things, you might get a gold star from me.

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