I was a gifted kid in the 1970s. My parents seemed to constantly be in meetings about what to do with me. What they did do with me, eventually, was have me skip two grades, going from 6th to 9th grade. I began high school at age twelve and college at age sixteen. The same thing happened with my younger brother, who went from 4th to 6th grade in the middle of a school year. He later wrote a poem about it for a class assignment, concluding with the line that he had discovered "a foolproof method for shortening school."
My husband was homeschooled from the time he was old enough to be schooled until he went to college. He went to college at age fifteen (thereby beating my record). When we got married, he announced abstract plans to homeschool our children. I announced abstract plans that he would do no such thing. I too had been bright. I had endured the hard knocks of public school. I believed with all my heart that this was the necessary ritual that must be endured by all gifted children—to find the ways of fitting in that will stop the mocking, to learn what society expects in terms of cultural conformity, and to become an expert at faking the appropriate cultural responses.
The philosophical argument continued right up to, and after, the birth of our first child. My husband believes in homeschooling, but he also believes in self-determination. (If you ask him, he might say he's an unschooler.) Our daughter went to preschool. She loved it. So I was not at all surprised when she asked to go to kindergarten.
Her teacher was a kind, loving, and funny woman who helped her master the basics of reading. And therein lay the problem. Once she had mastered the basics, she kicked into high gear and was reading the first couple of Harry Potter books and the Chronicles of Narnia by the end of the school year, at which point she was six and a half. Her teacher put her in the highest reading group by herself, but our daughter still came home with stories of children who mocked and ridiculed her. (I do not fault her teacher. No one teacher can be everywhere with twenty-five kids.) She essentially stopped talking much for months.
The next year we moved. We were spending half the month in one state and half in another because we were waiting for construction in the new place, setting ourselves up for getting on somebody's list of absent kids. Our daughter did not want to go back to school. My husband said he thought it was time to try homeschooling. We properly, legally announced our intent to homeschool, over my still strenuous objections, and took our daughter out of the public school.
Together, with my husband in the lead, we did science experiments and learned social studies by doing art projects and cooking the food of different cultures. Her father told her the complete history of the English monarchy, with an emphasis, at her request, on battles. (One day she announced that she wanted to watch the Lawrence Olivier Henry V with us and surprised me greatly by identifying a longbow!) She spent time doing math and spelling curricula every day. She learned cursive because I insisted that I did not want to cut her off from reading centuries of past history written in longhand. We allowed her obsession with dinosaurs to blossom. (One day I went into her room and she had completed a comprehensive dinosaur diorama in imitation of a children's museum, right down to the snarky captions: "A sauropod is even heavier than your dad when you can't move him off the couch!") She took French (her pronunciation is better than mine). Slowly, the inventive, thoughtful child I remembered from her preschool days re-emerged.
Over time we joined a homeschooling co-op. She made friends there who loved science and reading and making up stories as much as she did. She takes dance lessons and goes to church activities and her social schedule is full. She likes to wear vintage clothing (i.e., mine) and the only electronic device she owns is a ten-year-old laptop that does not connect to the internet. She uses it as a glorified typewriter to write down her stories. She has her share of angst in her friendships and she is surely getting peer pressure from her co-op friends, but it seems to be peer pressure as to who can be the goofiest and most imaginative, not the coolest or sexiest (if you think this is not an issue at age nine, you have never tried to buy clothing at reasonable prices for young female children).
Recently, my father moved to a retirement community (my mother died some years ago) and I have been going through the boxes of things he brought with him. Quite a lot of them are school papers belonging to me and my brother. One was a folder of report cards. Inside it, I made the discovery, unknown to me until that point, that I had an IEP in elementary school. For those who are not familiar with this term, an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is just what it sounds like: a list of special things to be done for the education of children who for whatever reason do not conform to the curricular norms. I have a friend on Facebook who spends much of his time as a disability advocate fighting for the enforcement of IEPs.Now I suddenly found out I had one.
And I suddenly realized, as I looked at my happy, well-adjusted fourth grader, so did she. And despite the best efforts of my loving parents, of caring teachers whom I remember fondly and still correspond with on Facebook, of flexible school administrators, of people trying so hard to make the system work for one terribly frightened and geeky long-haired nine-year-old with glasses, you know what?
Hers is working better than mine did.