One Day at a Time

by Tedra Osell on October 10, 2012

So homeschooling is turning out to be kind of like sobriety? Which started as a joke–and no, I am not an alcoholic or addict, except for being a former smoker, which does, actually, count–but on thinking about it, I wonder if there might, actually, be a more than casual relationship between addiction and “giftedness” that’s like the one between “giftedness” and depression. Or for that matter, addiction and mental illness. At least, in my experience of the latter, a big part of the problem is the gap between conception and reality. One sees problems globally and is overwhelmed by realizing that you can only chip away at them in tiny increments, or imagines a fabulous project or goal but is frozen with anxiety by not knowing how to start, or by perceiving the enormous gap between starting and actually achieving the thing.

I’m starting to think that this gap is a big problem for “gifted” kids–kids in particular, because their abilities are so limited simply by the circumstance of being a child. PK often complains, for example, that he can’t get research funding (!) or access to “real” scientific equipment. He has a chemistry set, but of course no lab, and was enormously disappointed in middle school when he realized that he wasn’t going to have access to a school lab until seventh grade. He frequently feels overwhelmed when he comes face to face with the gap between what he knows and what an adult knows, for instance when he realizes that something he’s thinking about has “already been invented” or proven. And yes, this kind of thing depresses him, and his anger and sense of despair over it remind me, a bit, of the addicts I know and have known. I have read a bit lately connecting these things–if I were better organized, I would provide some links, but my learning curve on this stuff is so steep right now that I’m not paying too much attention to mapping my path yet, just to trying to keep my footing.

One of the things I am figuring out, though, is that homeschooling a kid is more about “forcing yourself” to do the work “to focus, to pay attention, to offer dedicated support,” than it is about forcing the kid, as this really helpful and thought-provoking blogger points out; “by setting aside those blocks of time, you are making it more likely that [your kid] will be able to do the work she wants to do. You are helping her turn her ideas into reality.” This has always been a problem for me with PK, and I’ll bet I’m not the only parent with a bright kid who has it: if I followed every new whim or passion of his, I’d never have time for my own thoughts (and dammit, he gets his brains from me and the husband, and as a brainy person myself, I value time with my own thoughts!). It would be impossible to keep up, and prohibitively expensive to boot.

But I can, and am beginning to, not only provide him the space but also some carefully-researched and chosen materials. So, for instance, the Interactive Mathematics Program that a reader of my other blog recommended. Yes, I am having to “force” him to do it in the sense that he is not going and picking up the book on his own; but it’s not at all in the way that I used to have to “force” him to do his math homework. The way it works is that I say, “let’s do some math,” and maybe we negotiate a bit on whether to do it Right This Moment or In A Little While, and then we sit down and read the book and talk about and work through the problems together. (Which works great with this curriculum, by the way, since that’s how it’s designed to be done.) It’s challenging to me as well as to him–not least because, as the adult/teacher/parent, it’s on me to stay calm when he starts to get frustrated, and to subtly and indirectly keep him on task by staying curious and calmly saying, “I’m going to keep trying to figure this out” when he stomps off in a huff (which SO COMPLETELY WORKS by the way–literally less than a minute later he was back with a new idea, and eventually we worked through last night’s problem). And because math is, in fact, something that he wants to learn, that’s what he needs: the focused, supportive hand-holding to help him struggle with and through his fear and frustration when it gets hard and scary.

I’m not gonna lie: there are times when I completely fucking hate that I am having to take on the unpaid, uncredentialed job of being his dedicated teacher. And the limits in terms of money, time, and patience reinforce my belief that it would be far more effective and cost-efficient to provide this stuff collectively, through the public education system. As we in the US are in a historic moment of enormous educational inflexibility, though, and we’re collectively too goddamn cheap *to* provide those resources in public schools (see above re. no lab for sixth-grade science just for starters), well, thank providence PK’s mother has the (credentialed!) research skills, connections, and years of therapy to be able to find the material and step up to the plate with the dedicated support, while his father has the income-earning potential, math/science background and motivation to back me up.




Manta 10.10.12 at 5:11 pm

If he is really likes maths and is competitive, there may be some organization preparing students for the IMO.
(Disclaimer: probably he’s too young for that, and I don’t know how things work in your country).

In my country, they organize stages to teach maths (with emphasis on stuff that can be useful at the international competition) to promising students.


Adam Pearce 10.10.12 at 5:28 pm

In terms of IMO prep, local math circles are best at his age. If those aren’t available, this site has good online courses and other resources.


Retief 10.10.12 at 5:40 pm

Doesn’t everybody struggle with the “if only I had the right equipment, I could really get started” issue? Isn’t that why so many more nordic tracks and home gyms are bought than are used? I believe Portlandia has recently addressed a similar subject:


Tedra Osell 10.10.12 at 5:52 pm

@Manta and @Adam: I’ve looked into a couple of math circles in nearby cities–those things are hard to get into! And PK is still in an I-hate-groups-of-any-kind stage. But I have my eye on that as a possibility for down the line, absolutely. Thanks for links and suggestions.


Tedra Osell 10.10.12 at 5:55 pm

@Retief: it’s a little more than just regular procrastination (although I’d hypothesize that serious procrastination might be another thing linked to “giftedness”?). Partly it’s just that, as a kid, he literally doesn’t know yet how to plan and organize independent work, especially given that the kind of projects he would like to do are dissertation-type material. But partly, as the comparison is meant to imply, it’s that ambitious intellectual projects are often really intimidating and anxiety-provoking, I think, for a lot of different reasons.


clew 10.10.12 at 6:08 pm

It’s remarkably self-serving to believe that the ‘gifted’ are more prone to depression. I asked a psych nurse living in a depressed town and she laughed like a drain; when poor, uneducated or ‘ungifted’ people get depressed, they aren’t diagnosed. Well, they’re diagnosed as being stupid and shiftless, even before the Saturday night self-medicating at the bar. (Wikipedia currently agrees that the link is widely believed and scarcely supported. Ay argument that would work two hundred years ago for ‘genteel sensibility’ is highly suspect, except for purposes of reinforcing the class system. …Oh.)

Being less ‘gifted’ means having fewer tools to make life come out as one needs it to. Having the failures come as a bit more of a surprise is not necessarily cheering.

That off my mind, being a good teacher is clearly really hard, and this is an interesting take on it.


awy 10.10.12 at 6:17 pm

“although I’d hypothesize that serious procrastination might be another thing linked to “giftedness”?”

well, that made me feel better. time to play some d3 instead of doing work. yay


Substance McGravitas 10.10.12 at 6:54 pm

Not that sitting him in front of a machine all day – cough – is a great way to live or educate, but has he gotten into programming? You can make cool things quickly with things like Processing and you can exercise some math skillz at the same time.

Scratch is simpler.


Western Dave 10.10.12 at 7:20 pm

My daughter loves her some Scratch.


Scott Martens 10.10.12 at 8:15 pm

…more than casual relationship between addiction and “giftedness” that’s like the one between “giftedness” and depression…

There’s some anecdotal evidence of this. The most parsimonious explanation is that it’s in fact the same connection. “Self-medicating” behavior is well documented among the mentally ill. The tie between psychosis and cigarette use is pretty well-established. The link between episodic depression and alcohol is too. A suspicion that it might apply to a larger set of mental issues is not unreasonable.

Of course, the link between “gifted” and mental issues is, as clew points out, not abundantly well supported except in anecdote. Since neither mental health nor giftedness come with very objective criteria, it’s probably not possible to do any definitive research along those lines.

He frequently feels overwhelmed when he comes face to face with the gap between what he knows and what an adult knows, for instance when he realizes that something he’s thinking about has “already been invented” or proven.

I didn’t fully understand a real problem – one that I thought I could contribute to and that was not yet solved – until I was in my 20s. (I thought I understood a few such problems earlier, but I was full of it.) This problem is even worse in second language education. When you start, there is so much you don’t know, and you are so far from mastering it, that it seems just impossible. Feeling that you’re getting there is a big challenge.

You might try something like what language educators do: Making sure there is a constant perception of reaching the goal. What worked for me in math and science was studying it with its history and tracking the years when what I was studying was discovered. Euclidean geometry and simple physics: 5th century BC. Algebra and basic astronomy: 9th century AD. Calculus and Newtonian mechanics: 17th. Convergent and divergent series: 18th and early 19th. Probability theory and thermodynamics: late 19th and early 20th. I remember feeling very happy the day I realized I had reached the 20th century, and when I realized I understood discoveries and theorems proved by people who were still alive, and pure joy the first time I read a contemporary paper and realized I knew how its author had screwed it up. (Though that didn’t happen til my first time in grad school.)

I’m not gonna lie: there are times when I completely fucking hate that I am having to take on the unpaid, uncredentialed job of being his dedicated teacher.

That is part of how homeschooling got so closely bound to right-wing ideologies. Where else will you find women happy to take on enormous unpaid workloads?


straightwood 10.10.12 at 9:34 pm

What is the goal here? Is it to create a prodigy, a happy person, a productive person? There seems to be enormous pressure to provide this student with every possible learning advantage. To what end? With infinite home-schooling resources, including the equipment of a national laboratory, what would be the desired outcome?

An alternative approach would be to invest parental energy in addressing the psychological issues that are preventing this student from benefiting from conventional schooling. Sooner or later, the student will have to function outside the home schooling cocoon. Preparing for that day is more important than piling up instructional materials.


SusanC 10.10.12 at 10:30 pm

Science is nearly always done in really small pieces.

The big, important problems are much too hard for anyone to do in one go. The trick is to pick some small piece of the big problem that you think you can do with the time, skill, and equipment you have available, and go for it. And if enough people each solve a small piece of the big problem, maybe – if we’re lucky – we get the whole thing done.

PK’s way too young to be doing real research, of course (though amateurs occasionally get lucky), but I think there’s an analogy here: one small step at a time applies to both growing up to be an adult, and to what you’ll still do when you’re an adult, if you still want to be a scientist.

Picking a small piece of a big problem is a learned skill you can get better at. I think what I actually do when (e.g.) writing grant proposals is to know how I’m going to do 95% of the small piece of the big problem I’m proposing to do, and the other 5% looks like its the kind of thing that ought to be achievable. Telling the difference between “ought to be doable, even if I can’t quite see how to do it right now” and “way too hard” is something of a black art, so maybe I wouldn’t recommend that approach to beginners.


Harold 10.10.12 at 10:30 pm

I have known several homeschooled kids who voluntarily decided to go back to school. They did just fine.


Tedra Osell 10.10.12 at 10:41 pm

Clew @6: “It’s remarkably self-serving to believe that the ‘gifted’ are more prone to depression. I asked a psych nurse living in a depressed town and she laughed like a drain; when poor, uneducated or ‘ungifted’ people get depressed, they aren’t diagnosed.”

Um, poor and uneducated people can indeed be “gifted”–though you’re right that often that isn’t recognized. I’m completely aware of the diagnostic gap between the haves and the have nots, but I don’t see that that’s any kind of counterevidence?

I think part of what’s happening with this comment (and a couple of others) is that any time one uses the word “gifted,” the presumption is that one means “privileged.” Which PK is, definitely–but that’s a separate issue from his intelligence/facility for learning. God knows I don’t like the term “gifted”–I put it in scare quotes because I think it oversimplifies things, sounds snooty, and implies that “giftedness” is an unalloyed good, which what I’ve been reading of contemporary psychology is starting to suggest isn’t the case–but it’s the term that’s used.


Tedra Osell 10.10.12 at 10:42 pm

Straightwood @11: Read some of my previous posts about PK. I’m far from trying to provide him with an optimum education–I’m just trying to ensure that he gets an education, period. And believe me, I’m not ignoring his psychological issues.


Tedra Osell 10.10.12 at 10:44 pm

Substance @8: Thanks–he did a summer camp thing about building computer games, and has some moderate interest in programming, but isn’t *quite* ready to really bite into it yet. It’s definitely something I’m considering introducing later, though.


Tedra Osell 10.10.12 at 10:48 pm

Scott @10: Yeah, the thing I like about the math curriculum I’ve chosen is that it does exactly that–builds in lots (daily!) discoveries and solutions on the way towards learning bigger systems.

“That is part of how homeschooling got so closely bound to right-wing ideologies. Where else will you find women happy to take on enormous unpaid workloads?”

Well, not quite, I don’t think–homeschooling is largely perceived as right-wing because a *lot* of homeschoolers are evangelical-type Christians who homeschool because they find public schools too secular. Also, women taking on enormous unpaid workloads is how the entire fucking world goes around, whether we’re talking about motherhood, activism, or the volunteerism that undergirds an awful lot of public/social work. It really isn’t an exclusively right-wing thing, expecting women to work for free, or taking advantage of it when we do.


Lynne 10.10.12 at 11:42 pm

Tedra, this sounds really hard. How old is PK, or are you deliberately leaving that unsaid?

From the ages of 8 or 9 to 13 our two sons, who were identified as intellectually gifted by the school system, were in enrichment classes which ended at high school. In the information we were given I don’t remember any link mentioned between giftedness and depression or other mental health problems. That said, it is hard on kids to be different. The great benefit of the enrichment program for our kids was that they were put with their peers (the program itself was patchy).

When our older son began grade 7 it was in a brand new 7/8 enrichment class that had just been created in a tough school. The enrichment kids were taunted regularly, as we found out later, when our son’s friends referred admiringly to his quick return put-downs. The taunts didn’t bother the kids at all, I don’t think, because they had each other.

When I say the program was patchy, I’m being generous. Sometimes it was excellent, and sometimes it was just terrible. Also, in our whole region, which comprises three cities, the kids in enrichment were 2/3 boys. Always. So, it was flawed, but there is no doubt in my mind that it was necessary because the school system is overburdened. Teachers are given large classes and are asked to provide special help of all kinds, to deal with behaviour problems, to teach kids who don’t speak English along with native-speakers. The faster learners cannot progress at their own pace in this situation.

My husband and I had mixed feelings when our older son was offered a place in the class, fearing he would become part of an elite. Therefore we were glad he was going to a tough school with a diverse population. We ended up quite frustrated with the program, but no less frustrated with the high school’s failure to integrate kids from the enrichment program. Our younger son endured grade 9 math three years in a row. He was mathematically gifted, but not allowed to progress, and the school actually managed to grind his interest in math into the dust.

None of this necessarily has anything to do with your situation but you got me thinking how hard it can be to have kids who aren’t the average kids the schools are planned for.

One last thought, if you are still with me: I don’t think either of my kids would have welcomed the hours of tete-a-tete instruction you and PK have, or even that much purposeful time together. A kid in a classroom is not in the teacher’s high beams all the time, which is restful. If you can somehow reduce this one-to-one high beam time things might be less stressful.

Oh, and a further last thought, about the term “gifted”. I don’t mind it. We refer to people as musically gifted, athetically gifted, artistic—and all those gifts are laudable and parents are allowed to brag a little and to accommodate their children’s talents/gifts. Intellectual giftedness is just another type of giftedness, but it’s one that you have to hide.


JanieM 10.11.12 at 1:19 am

One Day at a Time



Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all? — Vin Scully (LA Dodgers announcer)


JanieM 10.11.12 at 1:39 am

I hate trying to do tags correctly in comment boxes while multitasking on a rainy autumn night.


Like Lynne, I have memories and anecdotes but nothing very systematic to offer. Our homeschooling was very much of the unschooling variety, except to the extent that my son actually went to school about a third of the time after he was 10 or so. And I get the feeling that my general approach to life is more random and less systematic than yours, Tedra, so I don’t know how much of my experience might be useful to you. Different strokes — it matters. My own two kids were so different from each other that I pretty much never assume, anymore, that anything that applies to one human being will necessarily apply to another.

My kids’ situation was also different from PK’s in that they started out as homeschoolers right from the beginning, so the whole evolution of their attitudes was different. Middle school (12-13 or so) was when they actually started to settle down and get serious about academics. Before that they spent a lot of their time, as my son wrote in a letter to Newsweek once (it was actually published) “running around in fields and playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures.” My daughter substituted a lot of movie-watching for some of the Turtle time; I tolerated it because she was never only watching movies, she was always writing or drawing or making stuff out of Sculpey while she watched. (We didn’t have cable; she watched videos.) It was always about the stories for her, whether movies or books, and that has carried through to her current efforts at writing young adult novels.

One of the first articles I ever read about homeschooling was by one of the parents in a family that had started homeschooling when the kids had already been in school for several years. They said it took a year for the kids to decompress, during which time they “wasted” a lot of hours. But after that they got more engaged on their own terms, which I suspect will happen with PK over time as well.


JanieM 10.11.12 at 2:09 am

Harold (I think) and maybe a couple of other people pointed out in the last homeschooling thread that the early teens are difficult, and I’d second that. I hate perpetrating gender generalizations, but I’ve known a number of boys who were so impossibly contrary at the age of thirteen that I found it hard to be in the same room with them for any length of time without either tearing my hair out or breaking out laughing.

When my son was thirteen, I gradually took on a policy of “speak only when spoken to.” If I initiated an interaction, 100% of the time he contradicted me. I got so weary of it that I just stopped initiating, and talked to him with some care when he initiated, which was a lot. (He likes to share his thought trains….) He argued about everything. It was maddening. But I had known other boys who were just like that, and they had grown out of it and I had faith that he would too.

One day during this period he came to me with a book he had been reading, William Zinsser’s On Writing Well, which he knew I had also read.

He said, “Mom, I want you to hold me to this standard when we work on my writing.”

I said, “Okay, but only on one condition.”

He said, “What?”

I said, “You have to promise that you won’t argue when I critique your writing.”

He said, “Okay, I promise.”

And he kept the promise, which was a hell of a feat, really, given that he wasn’t really out of the arguing phase yet.

He also became a really good writer. The credit isn’t mine, particularly; he was “gifted” in that way in the first place and he also had a great teacher in the writing class he took at the local high school.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.11.12 at 3:21 am

All children are gifted. I think it’s important for children to experience the socialization process of schooling in a world outside the home, public schools or otherwise. Too much emphasis on formal education: more time for play and “doing nothing whatsoever,” being “bored” or….. Our anxieties, hopes, fears, insecurities, and the like are all absorbed by the child. And please pardon me for missing the earlier discussions. If you truly think your child is “gifted,” than he or she should be with others not so endowed, if only for their benefit.


JanieM 10.11.12 at 4:08 am

And please pardon me for missing the earlier discussions. If you truly think your child is “gifted,” than he or she should be with others not so endowed, if only for their benefit.

1. One of these sentences does not follow from the other.

2. The notion that some kids’ needs and mental health should be sacrificed to the alleged/theoretical needs of other kids is appalling (not really the word I want to use, but I don’t want to get banned). If nothing else, it ain’t that simple.

3. The use of the word “should” in this context, from someone who “missed the earlier discussion” and therefore doesn’t know a fncking thing about the situation, is offensive, and some other adjectives that I will omit because I am now walking away from the keyboard.


Dave 10.11.12 at 4:17 am

Anecdote: One of my good friends is a non-functioning alchoholic and another is a Ph.D. Their lives are essentially indistinguishable.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.11.12 at 4:36 am

Oh my. I now truly understand the meaning of “drama queen.” Who spoke of “sacrificing” anything to anybody? All children have “needs” and we care, I presume, about the mental health of all children.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.11.12 at 4:37 am

I’m now walking away from the keyboard to watch the latest episode of Modern Family. Who gives a shit?


Marc 10.11.12 at 4:49 am

Not all kids are the same, sanctimonious obnoxiousness on the internet to the contrary. Smart kids have different issues than average kids. There is no crime in saying so, nor is there anything wrong with wanting average kids to get a good eduction.

But there is a persistent attitude that somehow we should pretend that all kids are the same and they all should be educated in the same way. They’re not, and they shouldn’t be. I think that home-schooling is incredibly hard, thus not a good global solution. But that doesn’t stop it from being the right thing for one particular child.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.11.12 at 4:56 am

Who said “all kids are the same?” Who’s pretending same? Who decides who are “smart” kids? I’ve known quite a few children putatively and presumptively identified as “smart” who, in time, acted in ways quite contrary to that characterization. Conversely, I’ve known children who others thought “average” who turned out rather more than that, at least according to the prevailing criteria and standards used to assess or talk about such things.


dbk 10.11.12 at 7:08 am

Tedra, I admire what you’ve undertaken to do enormously; I would not have had the fortitude or the patience to homeschool either of my children, both of whom feel they were poorly-served by the formal education system until they entered an IB program at 16, at which time things got much better vis-a-vis schooling.

If PK enjoys reading, one thing I’ve enjoyed on occasion is biographies of great scientists – I still recall the thrill I got while reading Helen Fox Keller’s biography of Barbara McClintock (“jumping genes”), A Feeling for the Organism; I got a similar sense of the beauty and mystery and exaltation of pure mathematics from reading Robert Kanigel’s The Man Who Knew Infinity (Ramanujan). I see from the NYRB that there’s a new biography of Copernicus out – even reading the review was exiting!

You note that one of your problems is keeping him “on track” as opposed to giving him free rein to follow his own whims – I think that that would have been one of the most difficult (read: impossible) things for me – I would have followed every whim right along with my kids, eek. But allowing them to follow their whims to an extent is, I think, okay – because whims can lead to wonderful and unique discoveries (and really, the actual excitement of discovery is the same, even if what’s discovered is already known). It’s the sense of discovery that needs to be cultivated at a young age, I think, not the actual discovery itself.

A couple months ago I asked child #2 (who recently finished her BA in Neuroscience) what she felt the formal education system she went through had not given her, and that in retrospect she would have enjoyed and appreciated. She thought about it for a few seconds, and then replied that she would have liked to build a circuit board. I was shocked into complete silence. Moral: no matter how well we know our children, their minds and thoughts are their own, and this, in a way, is the most thrilling thing of all about being a parent.


Zamfir 10.11.12 at 7:10 am

<IOh, and a further last thought, about the term “gifted”. I don’t mind it. We refer to people as musically gifted, athetically gifted, artistic—and all those gifts are laudable and parents are allowed to brag a little and to accommodate their children’s talents/gifts. Intellectual giftedness is just another type of giftedness, but it’s one that you have to hide.
‘Gifted’ in this context is often a shorthand (even a euphemism) for ‘intelligent kid with some social and/or psychological problems’. I was a gifted kid once, for a few years. With special programs, advice from experts, my parents joined a group of parents with similar issues, I played with their kids. When my problems got less, all of that disappeared, as did the ‘gifted’ label. I just became smart, very good at school, etc. Children whose problems were stronger or longer lasting also stayed gifted for longer, while other kids (especially girls) with seemingly similar abilities never become gifted, if they don’t run into much problems.


Zamfir 10.11.12 at 7:22 am

That first a lines was a quote, but the italics tags got eaten…


Manta 10.11.12 at 12:05 pm

In related news's_School_for_the_Sciences

“The Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Sciences (PGSS) was one of the Pennsylvania Governor’s Schools of Excellence, a group of five-week summer programs for gifted high school students in the state of Pennsylvania. […]
The program was discontinued in 2009 due to budget cuts by Governor Ed Rendell. […] Alumni of the program are currently trying to raise sufficient private funds to continue the program without support from the Commonwealth.”


Shelley 10.11.12 at 3:23 pm

He stomps away and comes back in only a minute? That’s remarkable.

Be sure you give him lots of boring stuff to do, too, because building a tolerance for that is required for holding a job.


BigHank53 10.11.12 at 3:39 pm

He frequently feels overwhelmed when he comes face to face with the gap between what he knows and what an adult knows, for instance when he realizes that something he’s thinking about has “already been invented” or proven.

Everyone runs into this, and the only way to overcome it is to realize how little anyone knows or even winds up contributing to the total of human knowledge. Right now the most he can do is get better at researching in databases, but that skill is 100% real and identical to adult skill. I never though much of my own research skills until I duplicated three days of a PhD’s effort in twenty minutes. Everyone doing any kind of science has to go find out what’s already known about a problem so they don’t waste time.

Drag him off to a real university library at a research institution and spend some time hacking through a search and digging out the journal article and looking at the references and pulling one of the reference articles, too, and let him know that there are people who do that for a living: look stuff up. Every minute spent finding out what’s already known puts you hours closer to finding the problems that still need solving.

And again: this is an adult skill that he can learn now.


b. newman 10.11.12 at 6:22 pm

I admire your home schooling efforts — We don’t home school, but we definitely supplement, in the form of keeping our kids’ curiosity fed on whatever they like to learn.

For anyone with a mathematically inclined inclined child, when s/he gets to programming, I’d mention that Scratch (free from MIT) has been a truly great tool for mine to learn a full range of programming concepts. Mine loved to play with it from 2nd grade or so. It frees you from all syntax errors (no missing parentheses to track down), leaving only your conceptual and logic errors to sort out. It’s powerful enough to write simple video games, like tank battle or space war, which hold the young programmer’s interest. Once a kid can program a bit, Project Euler (, provides a list of math problems to be solved by writing computer programs. It is intended to teach programming, but has been a great way to combine programming and abstract mathematical problem solving. Scratch gets too slow for these problems pretty soon, so the kid may need a regular language, which Project Euler will prompt him to learn step by step.

I have no connection with Scratch or Project Euler other than as a happy user.


Matt McIrvin 10.11.12 at 6:33 pm

I remember finding it really strange and frustrating that I was a child, and then finding it strange that I found it strange. I thought, most of a typical person’s life is spent as an adult; a small minority of people are young children. So what strange luck that I’m in that minority! Yet everyone has to be in it at some point. My puzzlement was similar to that over Gott’s doomsday argument.


William Timberman 10.11.12 at 7:47 pm

When I was probably close to PK’s age, I’d guess about 12 (I’m working from relatively few clues here, so forgive me, please, if I get this wrong, and no, you don’t have to reveal anything by correcting me,) I decided that I wanted to know everything, mostly so adults couldn’t continually pull rank on me. I wanted an end by any means necessary of the secretive whispers, the isn’t-he-precocious tongue-clucking, which really, REALLY pissed me off.

As the gods would have it, this was about the same time that my Dad saw fit to invest in R. M. Hutchins’ Great Books of the Western World. For himself this was, not at all for me (He fancied himself a working-class intellectual, if any here are old enough to remember when that was even a category, and wanted quick access to the fundaments.) I found myself in hog-heaven, and remained there pretty much until I went off to college. Interestingly enough, he started at one end with Socrates, and I started at the other end with Freud, so we never talked. I suppose if I’d turned out to be a novelist, that would’ve made some swell material for me.


sam b 10.12.12 at 12:50 am

Warning, anecdotal: both intellectual talent (highly awarded scientists, prominent politicians) and mental illness (depression, bipolar, schizophrenia) are way over-represented in my family. This actually gave me quite a skewed view of the world, because I expected people to be both stranger and smarter in general than they’ve turned out to be.

I was marked out young as a ‘gifted’ child, but always felt like a fraud. I learnt to read very quickly is all, and I could remember what I read, and read for fun, and then I knew things. It never felt like a special talent. Teachers would let me drift off, knowing that I’d pass whatever test they put in front of me at the end of the term. I wouldn’t say I was ever challenged at primary school, but it was enjoyable enough, and there were books and conversation at home.

Secondary school, though – a different picture. I went to small-town high school in a poor area, and was pretty miserable for five years. I had to personally petition the principal to get a history class going when I was sixth form – he wouldn’t allocate a teacher for it unless I personally could find six other students who’d take the class. I ended up, in the year before leaving for university, doing half my classes via correspondence school. Being lazy, I spent half my term time napping in quiet corners and crammed the year’s work for three subjects into the last fortnight of term. The fact that I passed gave me a lot of confidence heading in to university.

There’s no moral to this story. Going to a shitty-ass school deprived me of opportunities and made me miserable, but it was all the same once I was at university anyway. In fact it gave me an advantage, because I valued the expert teaching and didn’t expect to have my hand held. Socially it was good too, because all that interaction with rugged, pragmatic, violently anti-intellectual kids helped temper my naturally abstract and pretentious personality.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 2:31 am

Lynne @18: re. time with me vs. time alone–one of PK’s issues, I suspect, is actual separation anxiety. Believe me, I would like to spend less one-on-one time. I think I’ve given a misimpression, based on your comment (and others): in fact PK is left to his own devices for most of the hours of the day; I spend at most an hour “doing work” with him, unless we’re watching a documentary or something, in which case add that time too. And of course he does read, Minecraft, etc on his own, all of which is also educational. I keep telling myself.

@JanieM: as always, thank you for your understanding and kindness. Specifically, in this instance, for suggesting that a year of decompressing isn’t abnormal. He *is* starting to make quiet, occasional noises about wanting to do something other than video games, and as I’ve said he is reasonably agreeable about doing *some* math/reading/etc with me most days, so we are coming along. But my own anxiety and mama fretting make it hard to be patient sometimes.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 2:33 am

BigHank53 @34: I agree with all that you’re saying, except for the part where you say he can learn this kind of perspective now. It is something he’s going to have to come to later, I’m afraid; at the moment, whether because of his age or because of his psychology, he really isn’t ready/willing to encounter his smallness in the world.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 2:36 am

Patrick @22: I once thought as you do (I forgive your not knowing that, but). Once my kid started talking about suicide, I started worrying more about his well-being and less about how much his presence in school was benefiting Society At Large.

Also, as I said, I don’t like the term “gifted” because it evokes responses like “all children are gifted.” I use it only because it is the term that is generally used. Again, having not read previous posts, you don’t know this, but PK has gone through hours of testing and assessments and his IQ is, in fact, very high; he is not, intellectually, like “all children.” Nor, as I am trying to demonstrate, is “giftedness” entirely a blessing. There is a fair bit of research in psychology on this kind of thing, most of it quite recent–again, you can’t be blamed for not being familiar with it, but please be willing to recognize what you don’t know.


Maggie 10.12.12 at 2:58 am

As a survivor of the label “highly gifted” (it was right there in the name of our school) and as a homeschooling parent, I’m with clew at 6 and straightwood at 11. Please, please don’t special-snowflake your kid – especially if he’s already got trouble getting along with others. Frankly, I may be misperceiving you, but your attitude comes off as very indulgent, perhaps unhealthily so. If you want a productive adult out of all this, you cannot, MUST not, humor grandiose fantasies such as “my talents, at age n, can only be fulfilled in the finest post-graduate research facilities.” There’s no way that’s actually true, right? There’s no way he already possesses not only all the necessary intermediate domain language, but all the writing, computing, statistics, etc. skills to boot? If he did he’d be commuting to MIT or CalTech from your family’s apartment newly rented for the purpose. He wouldn’t be Pseudonymous ’cause his picture would be in your local daily. So…….. spare us. Now don’t put it to *him* in such harsh terms, but you do need to burst, gently, kindly, slowly, burst what you’ve made sound awfully much like a convenient bubble of “I’m too smart to apply myself to anything that’s actually available to me now.” In the meantime there are all sorts of summer and after-school programs for accelerated kids in all fields, including lab work, and you know who ends up with places at the national-rank libraries?????

The kids who show up to those programs, who make their mark there, who have can demonstrate that they’ve had their nose to the grindstone consistently from Fall of 9th grade forward, the kids who make a point of doing as well as they possibly can in their weakest subjects, not making excuses. Not the kids for whom the initial shock at how much smarter they are than so many people outstays its due date and becomes adolescent narcissism. I can see on Facebook what happened to people and those with the most exciting and socially useful science careers at 40 were the dull, steady types in youth.


Maggie 10.12.12 at 3:01 am

Gah. Knowledge not language, laboratories not libraries. Race against mobile battery, to which also attribute blunt tone.


Maggie 10.12.12 at 3:16 am

And I also want to add that I feel that way because I was one of the types I describe less flatteringly – and I thought my underperformance was an aberration, until I got on Facebook and was absolutely gobsmacked by who had achieved the most.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 3:34 am

Maggie @41: Gee, thanks for giving me an ounce of credit, and for being such a careful reader. OF COURSE my kid isn’t ready for MIT; he couldn’t even fucking deal with middle school. The fact that HE has grandiose, defensive, and unrealistic views of the world is part of the problem. Duh.

Also? He is a CHILD. Children are occasionally unrealistic.

If you want me to “spare you” reading about my kid, feel free not to read my posts. But let me say first that the attitude that kids with problems need to be smacked out of them–or that their parents need to be smacked–is, IMHO, part of why there are so many kids with problems.


JanieM 10.12.12 at 4:23 am

those with the most exciting and socially useful science careers at 40 were the dull, steady types in youth.

And those with the most exciting and remunerative jobs as NBA centers were the ones who were seven feet tall.

I don’t think you can make the one to order any more than the other.

And why would you want to try? A favorite mini-sermon:

One of the legendary Rabbi’s of yore, Rabbi Zusya said, “When I reach the world to come, God will not ask me why I wasn’t more like Moses. He will ask me why I wasn’t more like Zusya.”


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.12.12 at 5:42 am

For the record, I have little confidence in IQ tests. Nor do I think it necessary or valuable to think of children largely and comparatively in “intellectual” terms if this means arriving at conclusions like “he is not, intellectually, like all children.” Indeed, what child is, intellectually, like all children? Intelligence is often overrated inasmuch as moral monsters can be quite intelligent and what is important is that children develop as full human beings, of sound mind, heart, and, so to speak, soul. Every healthy child is unique and their individual capacities or potential with regard to the various dimensions of human nature is unknown and unknowable. Were it that children not assessed as “gifted” had the same amount of attention and fuss devoted to them as their gifted brothers and sisters.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 5:52 am

Patrick @46: “Were it that children not assessed as “gifted” had the same amount of attention and fuss devoted to them as their gifted brothers and sisters.”

Funny, in this very thread others are telling me that I fuss too much over my kid and am undoubtedly damaging him as a result.

FYI? Where I live, “gifted education” is not mandatory–nor is it funded. In his elementary school, the school budget for gifted ed was $500/year. Total. In his middle school, there was enough money to fund *a* gifted class in language arts & social studies, but not for math, and of course no science. There is, in fact, very *little* fussing over “gifted” kids here.

That said, yes, of course every child is unique. And intelligence is hardly the measure of human worth.

THAT said, why are you so bound and determined to be dismissive of my accounting of my child’s unique and particular situation? Especially when by your own account you know almost nothing about my background, or his? You’re making a lot of assumptions about how much “fussing” has been done over my kid’s intelligence, and for the record? Your assumptions are wrong.


Meredith 10.12.12 at 6:12 am

Tedra, my heart is with you. I respond entirely to your concern for your child. But I also get confused by your posts about PK since you tend to assume your readers know a fuller history than is, in fact, readily available to us if we haven’t been following all along. So I also understand where Patrick is coming from — I have (silently) responded sometimes to your posts in similar ways. Might you be ready soon for a step back and a big-picture story-telling, of the story up to now?


Meredith 10.12.12 at 6:14 am

(And if you’re not ready, I understand that, too. I really am speaking as one mother, one woman, to another.)


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.12.12 at 6:31 am

You raised the subject and the terms of the discussion and I’m simply responding as to how things look to an outsider now privy to things you chose to broach in a public forum. I can’t see how you arrived at the inference that I’m “so bound and determined to be dismissive of my accounting of my child’s unique and particular situation.” I’m not dismissive of your accounting as such, just questioning the apparent assumptions and premises upon which that account appears to be based, at least according to what I’ve read. The point or points I have been making are generalizable and based on that reading, and thus don’t demand I know any more than what you’ve chosen to make public about your background or his. My comment about attention and fuss was not directed specifically at you although I took your account as symptomatic of same. I’ll let others come to their own conclusions as to whether or not I’m wrong about this. Perhaps there’s some generational and personal differences at work here (our children are in their 20s and 30s): I can’t imagine discussing in public fora such intimate family matters and, in any case, it was you who introduced the topic of your kid’s intelligence…. Please have the last word, as I suspect it’s unproductive to further provoke any irritation.

All good wishes,


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 6:34 am

Anyone who’s interested can easily find links to the “big picture” story.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 6:50 am

@Patrick: The primary reason I talk about things like this in public forums is that I think that doing so sheds light on the experiences that people have of issues (education, intelligence, psychology) that are far too often treated as simple abstractions. I think it’s very important to recognize and acknowledge the effects that things like education policies and practices, how we think about “intelligence,” how we talk about kids and parenting, actually work out in the real world.

Which is to say, inasmuch as this blog is written by and read by people with a more-than-usual interest in educational issues, I am deliberately writing about my family’s first-person experience of some of the major issues in US education right now.

I also write as a teacher; one of the things I have found most gratifying about blogging–for over a decade now–is how many readers have identified with or found resonance in these private things I write about and said, publicly or privately, how reassuring it was to them to realize they weren’t alone in these things.

Re. irritation, I think this hits precisely on what causes it: “My comment about attention and fuss was not directed specifically at you although I took your account as symptomatic of same.” No, your comment wasn’t directed specifically *at* me–but it was also quite clear that you were reading me that way (ditto initial comment about “all children are gifted.”) This is a particular problem in talking about parenting issues, or personal issues generally: how to make generalizations when reacting to particulars. It’s a tough thing to do, and part of why I am writing this stuff is, as I said initially, because I did actually used to think very much the same things you do about gifted ed, and I have been forced by circumstances to reexamine those beliefs and start to recognize that, whether or not they work as generalizations, they certainly don’t work in every case.

Which again, is something that I think those who are interested in educational practice or policy ought to be thinking about, and thinking hard.

Basically all I ask is that those reading do me the courtesy of assuming that I am neither ignorant nor indifferent. Which I think is surprisingly difficult when it comes to people talking about kids. I, too, am sometimes prone to thinking that what people write about their kids is crazy shit (though I make it a matter of principle not to say so)–and I think that, too, bears thinking about. I believe that we are, socially speaking, very prone to distrust parents (mothers in particular) and teachers (K-12 teachers in particular). I think this distrust is at the bottom of much of our really shitty US educational policy right now.


Maggie 10.12.12 at 7:11 am

Nobody said anything about smacking. Actually I was the one who was smacked – literally – and not coincidental to my “gifted” label. I grew up with a constant narrative about my “giftedness” and its ramifications, good and bad. (Thank God my mother didn’t have the internet! I don’t know how strong your “pseudonymity” is, but probably not as good as you think, particularly vis-à-vis said kid. Kids whose mothers go about speaking about them in these terms tend not to miss it, what with being so smart and all.) The term has too much baggage, the dynamic of labeling is irredeemably poisoned, and btw the idea that it’s OK because you’re only doing it in scare quotes or something doesn’t wash – I don’t buy it, I have a very negative emotional reaction to it, and I’m continuing to have that reaction. (Some might use the term “triggering”; BTW I wasn’t even slightly kidding when I called myself a survivor.) It’s bad stuff even in well-meaning hands. That narrative is what I would like to be spared, not talk of your kid as such. If you conflate the two, there’s a problem already, perhaps.

“I hate doing this but it can’t be avoided because you’re soooooooooo different” may not equate to physical abuse but it’s not exactly graham crackers and a nice mug of hot chocolate either.
Don’t act like it’s an attack on your *kid* when someone who’s been on the other end of it suggests you keep such sentiments to yourself.

I planned to homeschool before having kids, enjoy it, and was committed to doing it for whatever kind of kid I happened to get. Whereas there yours is, a burden to you because of his special attributes. (Wait, but isn’t intelligence good? She certainly bragged enough! – And so the therapist earns his bread.) You can’t erase his memories of being labeled and Othered thus far, but you can stop doing it henceforth. If you resent it or are conflicted about it or something, you should get a job and pay tutors. It’s not worth the potential negative effects on aspects of self much more fundamental than academics.


ponce 10.12.12 at 7:35 am

Don’t overlook the social opportunities video games like “Minecraft” can provide to kids of all levels of social skills.

KIds that share an interest in a particular game can develop social ties as strong as those developed on sports teams.

The trick is to find kids in your area that like the same games.

A few suggestions how:

1. Flag your kid as a Minecraft player by buying him t-shirts that announce his interest

2. Have your kid bring along a few game guides to conspicuously read the next time you go to the park or a restraunt.

3. Spend a little time and money and set up a Minecraft server that your kid can administer.


Salient 10.12.12 at 7:43 am

@Patrick, there’s no taking “good wishes” at all seriously after Oh my. I now truly understand the meaning of “drama queen.” which really careened pretty deep into explicitly sexist, explicitly misogynist territory.

@straightwood, What is the goal here? Is it to create a prodigy, a happy person, a productive person?

Maybe the first baseline goal should be a non-suicidal person, the second baseline goal should be a non-tormented-feeling person, and a third baseline goal should be a person who feels sufficiently safe and comfortable in the midst of others to participate in basic social activities without suffering or causing others to suffer.[1] Among other, loftier goals, these should be first on the checklist, don’t you think? As someone who was forcibly reintroduced to public school for exactly the high-minded pro-socialization reasons listed upthread, and who attempted suicide that same year, let me emphasize these seemingly innocuous baseline goals are actually really fucking important, and it’s hard to trust some folks’ sincerity in allegedly caring for the well-being of PK when they’re cruising right past all that. Blowing off something like ‘severe depression correlates with characteristic X’ as “self-serving” because severe depression also correlates with Y and Z is a strangely cold way to respond to the news that someone with characteristic X is in the early stages of working through a severe depression. Something more like “any general correlation between depression and giftedness turns out to be tenuous and intermediated by other factors, so there’s reason to hope PK isn’t doomed to suffer depression no matter what” would at least acknowledge that yes, in this case, we’re talking about a ‘gifted’ kid who is probably depressed.[2]

Besides, even under the fairly unobjectionable assumption that ‘giftedness’ or ‘intelligence’ is a highly suspect clustered psychographic category whose manifestation is facilitated or stunted by social-behavioral characteristics inherited from class identity, surely we can at least stipulate a plausible correlation between severe depression and individuals whose psychographic profiles invite distancing alienation at best, and outright mistreatment at worst, from a substantial number of their schoolmate peers? Even if the kid is ‘at fault’ for inducing that alienation and provoking that mistreatment from their peers, an accusation I anticipate is lurking just underneath the surface of the class-identity complaints, hopefully we can at least agree that in such a circumstance ordinary immersion is not therapeutic, is arguably actively harmful to both the child and their peers, and can’t be said to serve any reasonable goal of social justice or personal betterment.

[1] Disclaimer or whatever–I included the word ‘baseline’ to emphasize they’re not necessarily individual goals for PK at the moment, just goals that should be assumed in general at the outset. I have no idea if PK has ever had thoughts of self-harm or harming others. However, I don’t think it needs to get anywhere close to that stage before it’s worth taking depressive symptoms seriously and intervening as best as one can on the kid’s behalf.

[2] I share Tedra’s fondness for scare quotes around ‘gifted’ for the same reasons


magistra 10.12.12 at 7:46 am


I’m coming to this from the perspective of someone who was very academic and didn’t enjoy school much. My daughter L (almost 10) is also very academic and is so far enjoying school a lot more. The big difference isn’t about the schools we went to, it’s the fact that while I was very shy and found social interaction difficult, she’s a lot better in social situations (not perfect, but far more able to cope).

So the fact that PK is very bright and can’t cope with a typical US school are really two slightly separate issues. (I think you said in a previous post: “PK is the kind of kid who can’t make accommodations easily and he is the kind of kid who requires some accommodations from others”). It sounds like your current teaching plan is playing to his strengths, which may well be necessary initially to allow him to recover. But in the longer term, improving his ability to work/play with other people is more important than focusing primarily on his academic gifts. In other words, PK may want a research lab, but what he needs is to learn how to be part of a research team. There are very, very few areas of life where being a lone genius is enough. Since he’s academically bright, he will be able to catch up quickly on academic subjects even if he misses out on them at this stage. (I stopped studying history at 14, but have now got a PhD in history). But you can’t cram social skills.

There’s an obvious issue here of whether PK is neurotypical, but whether or not he is, he needs to be able to cope in a neurotypical world. So somehow, you need to develop his ability to get on with others, or at least, to be socialised enough that he can cope with working in a team. The big problem with schools is that you’re grouped by age rather than interests (it would be weird if I just associated with other 47-year-olds), whereas much adult interaction is around interest groups or at least shared tasks. So is there any way you can find interest groups for him in which he can learn to cope with other in real life? Can he meet up with friends he’s made online? Are there science lectures he can go to where he can talk to people about his interests? I know home-schooling doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no interaction with others, but it does require a lot more deliberate planning. Social isolation is self-reinforcing and it’s not good for anyone’s mental health long term.


Salient 10.12.12 at 7:51 am

…crap, sorry Maggie, your latest comment wasn’t up while I was writing mine, or else I’d have retooled my comment to avoid the phrase you identified as triggering


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.12.12 at 11:17 am

Salient, You are not a careful reader: the “drama queen” remark was not directed at Tedra, and so there’s no connection between it and the closing sentiment that was so directed. Where I live, the expression “drama queen” is quite commonplace, routinely used by both sexes (my wife calls me that on occasion), and by those different sexual orientation: it is not understood as being in any way sexist and/or misogynist (indeed, I dare you to find any women who know me, family members or otherwise, who would describe me that way or who have ever heard me utter sexist and/or misogynist comments).

And Tedra: I try not to waste my time engaging people I believe are either patently ignorant or clearly indifferent, nor was anything I said remotely motivated by such an assumption in your case.


Lynne 10.12.12 at 2:45 pm

I feel I have entirely misunderstood the situation—he’s talked about suicide?! Good Lord, no wonder you are so galvanized.

Of course then you want him to heal, to decompress, to feel better. And you know him, whereas we don’t so you know what helps him to feel better. It sounds like he spends hours a day playing video games—does this help him relax? That’s not a snarky question, it’s serious. With my boys screen time was an ongoing negotiation because they would have played all day, every day, if we had let them, and often it was not relaxing. It could be frustrating and leave them in bad moods, depending on the child and the game and the day. But it could be fun for them, too, a simple pleasure. I hope PK is having a lot of the latter and not too much of the frustration.

Our older son used to get very stressed at school sometimes, before he got into the enrichment program, and I taught him a simple relaxation exercise which I recently learned he still remembers, at age 23 (!) Maybe PK would like to know something like that, too.

In any case, I wish your family all the best. This parenting business is not for the faint of heart.


Salient 10.12.12 at 2:55 pm

You are not a careful reader: the “drama queen” remark was not directed at Tedra,

I never. said. it. was.

and so there’s no connection between it and the closing sentiment that was so directed.

The connection is the sexist misogynist brain in your sexist misogynist ass.

Where I live, the expression “drama queen” is quite commonplace

Suuure, that’s a fantastic excuse. Where I live, the expression “fag” is commonplace enough to be directed at everyone with a pulse, “gay” is used synonymously with “stupid” among the het population, and the expression “X raped me” is used for nearly any academic assignment graded for quality; this must totally excuse the people who say these things, just because they’re not understood to actually be offensive by the people who utter them.

I dare you to find any women … who have ever heard me utter sexist and/or misogynist comments

…what a stupid ‘dare’ to issue over the Internet in lieu of coherent forms of intimidation. Certainly, my unwillingness to drive out to where you live and stalk your friends and family is obviously an argument point in your favor.

What a load of crap. I am glad that you owned the ‘drama queen’ comment as something you would say while rational and calm–if it was a temper flare-up that would be one thing, but you’ve gone ahead and confirmed you feel comfortable permanently endorsing what you said. Good to know that’s how you really feel about it after an opportunity for reflection, and good to have confirmation that you have every intention of continuing the practice.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.12.12 at 3:01 pm

Thank you for the exquisite exhibition of public reasoning and argument.


JanieM 10.12.12 at 3:13 pm

I want to put the phrase “learning disabled” next to the word “gifted” and then erase both of them. When my kids were growing up I cultivated the habit of using “LD” to mean “learning differences,” for reasons that perhaps will be obvious in the context of this discussion. Salient has highlighted age-grouping as a problem, and this is one of the big reasons: that people learn differently, that people have different levels of “natural talent” at different things, etc.

To say the least, schools don’t do a stellar job of accommodating differences in such a way that all kids thrive. My sense is that some of them do a much better job than they did when I was growing up, and at least the existence of learning differences is more recognized now, whereas when I was a kid in the 1950s, the kids who struggled to learn to read at the right time, let’s say (more or less first and second grade), struggled forever after, because there was no special help then or ever.

Now, before anyone chimes in with a sermon about how there aren’t enough resources on the planet to accommodate all these differences and anyhow it’s a great life skill for kids to suck it up and realize that the world is not going to accommodate their every little quirk, I’ll say that I agree with the sermon — up to a point. Yes, resources are finite, though they’re more finite than they should be when it comes to education. Yes, learning some resilience is part of the process of growing up. But the discussion Tedra has initiated has to do with a kid, kids — people — at the extremes, or really (I extend it in my thoughts) to anyone who, for whatever reason of inborn traits, environmental influences, just plain luck — is seriously unable to thrive in the given environment.


JanieM 10.12.12 at 3:14 pm

Patrick says that intelligence is often overrated: well, yes, and so what? Football is often overrated, ice cream is overrated, but we live in a world that places outsized value on all of those things, and the question here (IMHO) is not how to form an abstract thought train of pious generalizations and a program of “shoulds” for other people, especially Tedra, but to figure out how to actually put one foot in front of the other from one day to the next.

“Intelligence” is overrated — ironically, by our system of schooling first and above all. But the thing that this discussion is making me see in a new way is that it isn’t just “intelligence” — it’s intelligence plus a certain kind of temperament. And if you’re really smart, but you don’t have the kind of temperament that makes it easy, or even possible, to buckle down and get with the program (dull and steady, as Maggie says), then you can really be in trouble, and lots of kids are.

And I don’t care if IQ is unreliable, either. Like Maggie, like PK, like other people I have known, I was a school child who could do anything in school, anything my little backwater poorly-supported small-town midwestern school could throw at me, with laughable ease. (Well, except phys ed, but hey, there was no phys ed for girls for most of my growing up years, so that didn’t matter much.) I was different in a very tangible and visible way, from pretty much everyone else in my world, and it mattered, for both good and ill. Luckily for me, I had the kind of temperament that made me happy to get with the program. For kids without that particular kind of luck, you can’t just wave the situation away with generalizations about helping “children develop as full human beings.” Maybe you could, if that’s what schools were doing. But they’re not. They’re valuing and rewarding success at a certain narrow range of activities and tasks, and calling that success “intelligence.” There really isn’t a lot of help in school for learning … all the other stuff that would make us full human beings.

To say the very least.

As usual, this topic is way too big for the time and space available. Maybe more later.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 3:18 pm

Magistra @87: Oh trust me, I know very well that this kid needs to learn to work with people. This is one of the reasons why I’ve chosen a math curriculum that focuses on group work–for now, of course, the “group” is him and me and sometimes his father, but at least it’s a start. And for now, dragging him to “park day” with the other homeschool kids and insisting we stay for at least a couple of hours is my primary “you will not sit alone all day every day” approach….


JanieM 10.12.12 at 3:25 pm

One more quick one, a favorite quote from a review of an Ivan Illich book in a now-defunct homeschooling newsletter:

…one of my favorite sentences in the book is about the “pedagogical hubris of schools: that schools can do what God cannot, namely manipulate others for their own salvation.

Based on some of the advice that’s been given and judgments that have been passed in this thread, I would add that I don’t think parents can manipulate their kids for their own salvation either.

Not to suggest that parents can’t make a huge difference, but just to push back at easy answers and prescriptive generalizations.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 3:28 pm

Patrick @59: Look, whether or not comments are “directed” at the author of the post to which they are attached, if you are being dismissive of the topics of the post, you are being dismissive. Moreover, careful readers can detect things like “subtext” and “implication.”

There is an important difference between saying “I’m suspicious of this whole ‘gifted’ business,” which is a statement of opinion on a general topic, and declaring as an opening “all children are gifted,” which refutes one of the premises of the post (based on what?), followed by telling someone what their kid “should” be doing. Saying rude things in a polite tone doesn’t make them not-rude, and when someone points out that they’re rude, saying loftily that “oh, I didn’t mean you” when clearly you did is just compounding the offense.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 3:28 pm

Oh, and @Salient: thank you.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 3:31 pm

Maggie @54: “Don’t act like it’s an attack on your *kid* when someone who’s been on the other end of it suggests you keep such sentiments to yourself.”

No, it is a criticism of me to “suggest” that I am treating him badly. He is not you, and I am not whoever it was in your past that treated you badly.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 3:35 pm

Ponce @55: We’re talking about setting up a server, in fact. I need to figure out how to go about it. Which is to say, I need to figure out how to go about helping/getting him to figure it out as a “research project” and a lesson in “computer science”…


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 3:38 pm

Lynne @60: I think that video games are not only helping him relax–which they definitely are–but are also his way of keeping his mind engaged without having to deal with the world, or think about the stuff that is upsetting to him. I read something recently about video games as a “tool” for helping people cope with depression, and I think that’s what he’s doing. So yeah, I’m being very lenient about his screen time for the most part; my primary criticism of it is that I want him to get outside and not sit all day simply for the sake of his health. We generally go for walks together (which also gives him a great chance to tell me about whatever’s on his mind) most days, sometimes quite long ones.

And thanks for the kind words.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.12.12 at 3:59 pm

Oh my.


LizardBreath 10.12.12 at 4:05 pm

Tedra —

Has PK looked into Tekkit? It’s a mod of Minecraft that allows for more complex designs; my son’s got a Tekkit server running for him and a couple of friends. If you want info on setting up a server or anything else related, shoot me an email and I’ll see if Newt can answer your questions.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.12.12 at 4:09 pm

Let’s see: sincere questioning and disagreement is being dismissive, and it’s not the fairly transparent meaning of what I what I expressed, but tortuously construed subtext and extravagantly derived implications. Moreover, I’m simpy misogynist and sexist (my ‘sexist misogynist brain in [my] sexist misogynist ass’], having said rude things in a polite tone and I merely compounded these myriad offenses by trying to clarify what I intended to say. Oh, yes, and all of the stupid things I’ve said that amount to a load of crap. Precious.


Patrick S. O'Donnell 10.12.12 at 4:10 pm

please pardon the redundancy as I typed too quickly


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 5:22 pm

@LB: Thanks! Will do.


Eleanor 10.12.12 at 5:37 pm

@LizardBreath: I think your comment might have revealed more than it intended about the situation.

@Patrick: Your tone throughout your comments has been presumptuous and un-self-aware. “Drama Queen” is a straightforwardly sexist epithet: if you wish to maintain your reputation for not being sexist, I suggest you discontinue its use, apologise for the offence and irritation you engendered when you used it, and encourage others to reject the term as well.

I think what Tedra, Salient and others have been reacting to in your comments is not a lack of clarity, but a disingenuous disavowal of the spirit and subtext on your part (per your comment at 74), coupled with your apparent comfort to read your own assumptions into the text of the initial post.


awy 10.12.12 at 5:46 pm

I think if you tell him about the actual works necessary for his dissertation level ideas, then he would welcome it.

But yea, video games is cathartic. Prolonged immersion though is a problem and some kids don’t have the control to limit that.


Eleanor 10.12.12 at 5:49 pm

@Maggie: Your presumption that you, an internet stranger, know more than *his parent* about what is in PK’s best interest is, I think, why this line of Tedra’s posts are important and necessary.

They undertake to think critically about how to relate systematic problems and solutions with particular situations: not an invitation for a prescription from you or anyone else on the behalf of any specific child.

Your animus against the label “gifted”, which I think Tedra might share with you to a certain extent, would be better applied to the system in which it is received as a valid category, rather than attacking a specific parent’s attempts to think through the pragmatic and the ideological ramifications of her child’s educational path.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 6:43 pm

Eleanor @77: Good catch, thanks. Fixed.


Harold 10.12.12 at 6:56 pm

My sister had serious problems with her two younger sons when they reached early teens. They were reacting to the stress of their parents’ recent divorce, possibly, by getting involved with the “wrong crowd” and acting out behavior.

My sister is a member of Kaiser Permanente in California, which has an adolescent mental health and substance abuse program that was extremely supportive in enabling her to set the boundaries and limits her boys were clearly crying out for. She severely limited their computer time (and her own) — amazingly, they didn’t object, in fact they seemed to welcome the structure.

It was awfully suspenseful for a while, but I think now both boys have had interesting summer jobs and are ready to graduate high school.


Whatever 10.12.12 at 6:58 pm

I believe a cottage industry has grown around the parents who want to think their kids are super duper extra brilliantly gifted.
As a parent myself, I care less about the giftedness of my child than to provide her an ability to socialize with a diversified class, enjoy her education and hopefully be happily productive. I have no desire to flaunt her unique talents and skills, or to provide her skills to humanity at age 16.
I want to teach her cleanliness, time maanagement, music, sports and help her out with her homework to a point that she is self sufficient at home and at school.
My question is what is the motivation of parents to bring their kids up so that they are quickly bored with their peers, want to go to their corner to read their Ayn Rand or write yet another treatise disproving Einstein?


JanieM 10.12.12 at 7:14 pm

@Eleanor: I think what Tedra, Salient and others have been reacting to in your comments is not a lack of clarity, but a disingenuous disavowal of the spirit and subtext on your part (per your comment at 74), coupled with your apparent comfort to read your own assumptions into the text of the initial post.

I really appreciate Eleanor’s comments and would second most of what she wrote, but speaking for myself, my strong reaction to Patrick’s first comment was about the lack of clarity, along with other stuff (condescension, generalization to the point of nullity, etc.).

Patrick’s first comment was this:

All children are gifted. I think it’s important for children to experience the socialization process of schooling in a world outside the home, public schools or otherwise. Too much emphasis on formal education: more time for play and “doing nothing whatsoever,” being “bored” or….. Our anxieties, hopes, fears, insecurities, and the like are all absorbed by the child. And please pardon me for missing the earlier discussions. If you truly think your child is “gifted,” than he or she should be with others not so endowed, if only for their benefit.

Tedra has already sufficiently (to my mind) dismantled the first sentence.

The second sentence says that it’s important for kids to go to school (public or otherwise) — “to experience the socialization process of schooling” — but then the next pseudo-sentence seems to suggest that we (or someone; since it’s actually not a sentence, who knows?) put too much emphasis on formal education, and kids should have more time to play. Since “play” is pretty much exactly what schools allow no time for (an anecdote about that may follow), the second sentence and the third pseudo-sentence seem to contradict each other. Of course, it requires reading for subtext to interpret this way, but reading for subtext wouldn’t have been necessary if Patrick had actually said something coherent in the first place.

The last sentence, following the one before it, is — as I tried to convey last night, with a degree of outrage that I suppose only helped befog the situation, for which I’m sorry — reaches new heights in terms of combining lack of clarity with condescension. Patrick objected to my interpretation of his meaning as involving “sacrificing” some kids to the needs of others, but what on earth else does “if only for their benefit” mean? The sentence overtly says that a “gifted” kid should be with other kids for their benefit, even if not for his or her own. In the context of Tedra’s situation, it’s worse than that, it suggests that a kid should be with other kids for their benefit, even if it’s harmful to him. And if it didn’t mean that, then Patrick shouldn’t have written it, because as a generalization it’s so useless as to mean nothing.

Patrick tries to explain it all away with another generalization about how surely we all care about the mental health of all children. Well, yes. A lot like libertarians who simply ignore any question about power relationships in economic exchanges, Patrick conveniently waves away the messy real-world question of what happens when one person’s needs conflict with another’s. Never mind the fact that we aren’t even talking about the real conflicting needs of real children, we’re talking about one real child’s specific needs placed over against educational theory platitudes about imaginary other kids’ needs.

Besides just reacting to the combination of incoherence and condescension, I reacted strongly to this because I have heard it so often before: that kids who are bored silly (or worse) in school should nevertheless have to sit in the same classrooms with everyone else, all day, because their presence somehow benefits other kids.

This comment is long enough without an attempt to take that notion apart, so I’ll just summarize: bullshit.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 7:15 pm

@Whatever: I wouldn’t know. I’m not one of “those” parents. I’m not actually sure that those parents really exist.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 7:18 pm

Janie @83: Thanks for articulating that more patiently than I would have been able to. It will make no difference, I suspect, but it’s still a good thing to have done imo.


JanieM 10.12.12 at 7:22 pm

By the way, I most emphatically don’t think that kids who are bored silly by the level of academic work in school are special flowers or should be treated as such. I just don’t think letting kids work ahead in math — let’s say, because it’s the real-world example (and conflict) I’m most familiar with — is treating them as special flowers.

I don’t think there’s any good reason why kids should have to sit there and be bored silly, day after day, year after year. At least, I have never heard a convincing one. I’ve heard self-serving platitudes, I’ve heard theories that seem to be based on the ideas of people who have never actually paid any attention to actual kids, etc. But again, this is too big, I don’t have time to work it out at greater length right now.


Harold 10.12.12 at 7:22 pm

I agree wholeheartedly with Whatever.

In the case of my sister’s children, some years ago, a self-proclaimed, snake-oil-peddling California “specialist” diagnosed her younger son as “profoundly gifted” and said he would need a specialized education to meet his needs. I don’t know when my sister realized this was malarky — in the words of our VP. The important thing is to be in the 99% of niceness, IMO.


Substance McGravitas 10.12.12 at 7:42 pm

Now I want to try Minecraft.

One of the things about the computing-related suggestions is that they’re about making stuff, and with what’s out there and free (and proprietary I guess) one of the things PK’s sharpness might allow for is an assignment like “I want you to make a movie or song or picture containing the answer to this or that.” Or maybe the form something takes can be the answer to a problem: “This guy’s nose should be (equation) pixels long.”

Obviously I’m not an educator and you’re probably on this in some form anyway, but free tools are out there to make crazy things, and rather than just leaping a math hurdle maybe getting some made item out of it would be inspiring, and grappling with the tools, even the simple ones, to make things happen was a good lesson in logic for me (not to mention something that improved my ability to conquer the next oddball program that came along). With most of the video games (but not Minecraft) you don’t wind up with things that people can see and appreciate.


Uiwoeie 10.12.12 at 7:42 pm

From personal expirience with depression and videogames, they are at best some kind of sedative. No good that. My father still thinks today im doing better when i just sit arround and play video games because that way i dont cry, i dont scream and dont bother him. But most of the time im playing video games, im actually just so bad that i cant even cry anymore or try anything to get better.


JanieM 10.12.12 at 7:45 pm

I understand the real-world usefulness of learning how to work with other people, but as a fairly extreme introvert (by my own estimation and via the MBTI), I want to put in a word for the possibility that not everyone works best in a team structure. I’m not saying that makes it easy to know what path to follow, or just how or how hard to push a kid that isn’t an extravert, just that I’d rather see some acknowledgment here, as elsewhere, that one size does not fit all.

On my to be read list: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

(Longing for preview, praying to the html deities.)


JanieM 10.12.12 at 7:57 pm

Semi-promised anecdote related to why I thought the juxtaposition of “kids should be in school….too much emphasis on formal education” made no sense.

When my daughter was in high school age she thought about enrolling in school because she felt that she needed more rigor in certain areas. For reasons I won’t go into, she didn’t want to go to the local public school, so we were batting around the possibility of a year or two of boarding school.

We went off to pick the brain of an acquaintance who teaches English at a school near where we live. He had formerly been president of another boarding school, then switched back to classroom teaching, and he knew a lot about private schools from the inside out and from a variety of vantage points.

He said that the thing that struck him most in this era was something that he thought all private schools — from the most unconventional and funky to the most traditional — have in common, and as far as he could tell most public schools as well, and that was that they all make it their unstated but primary mission to keep kids busy every minute of the day.

Or in other words, as he said: “No one trusts kids to sit under a tree and read.”


magistra 10.12.12 at 8:12 pm

JanieM@89: I’m pretty introverted myself, but partly for that reason wasn’t disruptive in school. When I got bored (and even in a well-arranged lesson, if you’re one of the brightest kids in the class, you are going to get bored sometimes), I just retreated into my head and day-dreamed or wrote song lyrics or stories or factorised numbers. Or are there different ways that other introverts react?

Tedra – sorry, when I posted previous my earlier comment, I must have missed the comment in which you talked about your son feeling suicidal. At that level of mental distress, what you do with home schooling would have to be very different from what you could do in less extreme circumstances.


Whatever 10.12.12 at 8:26 pm

Tedra, that was a weak attempt at humor.

But more to the point, why even test your kid for “giftedness”?

So, again, to my question about parental motivation. What exactly is the motivation for a kid to complete his PhD by age 15? Is it so that he has more time in his life to come up with revolutionary nobel prize winning invention/discovery? Is it as mundane as getting into the book of world records? Is it because he can get richer quicker? Is it because that will make him happy?


JanieM 10.12.12 at 8:30 pm

magistra — I wasn’t thinking of introverts in relation to school so much as of the question of how to guide an introverted kid into an adult world where so much emphasis is placed on teamwork. I don’t have any answers, I just wanted to suggest that it’s not an easy question.

In school I was like you. Also, I was very lucky in high school in having teachers who would let me read quietly in the classroom when they knew I already understood the material. (Again, this is more straightforward in some subjects than in others.) Of course, back in the dark ages when/where I was a kid, there was no special ed, there were no gifted and talented programs, and for most of my twelve post-K years in school there were often forty+ kids in a classroom.

I just don’t buy all the theorizing and justifying I’ve heard about why it’s so impossible or inappropriate to create a context where different kids can spend more of their school time learning at their own pace, whether faster or slower than “average.” And of course again, it matters most at the extremes.

Also, contra Patrick (not for the first time), in my school district, at least when my kids were younger and I was paying more attention, vastly more resources went to “remedial” work and special ed than went to “gifted and talented” programs, of which, when the kids of my neighbors (several years older than mine) started school, there were exactly none. Not even — again — a willingness to let a kid work ahead in the math book on his own.

Oddly enough, maybe partly because I spent so much time in school daydreaming, I am never bored. If I am in a boring situation, I just retreat into my head, and oftentimes I doodle. In fact — I won an art contest in high school with my doodles. Heh.

But I don’t want to contradict my own assertion that kids shouldn’t have to sit and be bored for most of the day, most days, for years and years of their lives. To say nothing else, I would have been much better prepared for the college I eventually went to if I had used some of that daydreaming time to learn stuff — and had had some guidance in doing so.


Medrawt 10.12.12 at 10:05 pm

Whatever@93 –

I share some of the general skepticism about testing kids for their aptitude, but I think you’ve gotta go kid by kid, and one of the things that’s been clear about this thread is that while Tedra feels she’s written enough in the past few years to make clear what’s going on with PK, a lot of the participants don’t seem to have read it. (And I haven’t either.)

I don’t know that anybody called me “gifted” – maybe the term wasn’t in currency in the late 80s? maybe I didn’t manifest the attendant social awkwardness the term seems to imply for the conversation here? – but I was very precocious, and pretty clearly the smartest kid in my elementary school (and I had the rep for it). My parents never investigated skipping me grades, or getting my IQ tested, because they wanted me to have as “normal” a childhood as possible. BUT – I wasn’t manifesting any kind of social discomfort out of the norm (I was a sensitive but happy kid; serious depression set in during high school, but not because of it), my school had the desire and wherewithal to make allowances for the areas in which I was furthest ahead of my classmates, my parents had the ability, inclination, and resources to make additional enriching materials available to me, and I was also pretty clearly not going to turn out to be a polymathic genius. I was just very smart at most things and I had adult language skills before I turned 9.

If any of those variables had been different, who knows what choices my parents made? They wanted me to have a “normal” childhood, but I was a kid for whom that was relatively possible. If emotional distress, or an unspannable gap between what I was ready to learn and what my school could teach me, had been serious problems, maybe they would’ve investigated whether it made sense or not to put me on some much more accelerated track. Which would involve things like IQ testing, I presume.


Cala 10.12.12 at 10:18 pm

Tedra, does PK play any sports, and do you think he’d have interest in any? I am not a terribly gifted athlete, but through sports I learned — much later than I would have preferred — that it can be valuable to work at something that doesn’t come naturally, that improvement is possible, and that the same work ethic can be applied to things where I do have more natural talent.


liberal japonicus 10.12.12 at 10:47 pm

This is probably too mundane, but if you set up a server for PK to learn something and not use it for anything else, I’m thinking tax deductible.

And thanks to Tedra for front paging this sort of thing, I usually lurk, but am very appreciative.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 11:41 pm

Whatever @93: I wasn’t joking. Nor do I have any intention of my kid getting a PhD by 15; he may well not get a PhD at all.

As to why we had him tested, we were advised to do so by his therapist on the grounds that it would give us a great deal of information about his academic strengths and weaknesses, his psychological state, and a couple of other things, and that given how unhappy he was in school, it would be important to know as much as we could about those things in deciding what to do next.

Not that I think you actually care about the kid one way or the other; I think you care about trying to prove some kind of point about what kind of person/parent I am.


Tedra Osell 10.12.12 at 11:43 pm

Liberal @96: I don’t *think* educational expenses for homeschooling are tax-deductible, actually. More’s the pity.

Thank you for commenting; reaching people who generally lurk, because they’ve read something that speaks to them, is important to me.


Whatever 10.13.12 at 12:03 am

Tedra @11:41 I apologize and you are right, its impersonal to me since I have not followed this conversation and I just saw this thread.
So maybe I will go back and reread.


DU 10.13.12 at 12:59 am

I think one problem I see on this thread are that there are different social understandings of what “gifted” means.

At least ’round where I am, it’s seen as pretty much a learning disability/difference: the gestalt of your learning fits together differently. Yes, some of our most brilliant minds have been gifted, and some have been dyslexic, Asperger’s and other spectrum, etc. In being an outlier learning type, you’re synthesizing in ways that are surprising to other more standard learning types, and sometimes that’s innovative and matters. But not all dyslexics will be Einstein.

So being an outlier doesn’t mean you’ll Doogie Howser it up (or that that’s going to be a good, healthy, path for you.) It means, in some way, that Society Will Think Your Head Is Broken. You might be broken interestingly as a child. How many ‘gifted’ kids were the fun performing monkey who can read Tennyson at four?

I think anyone who has seen gifted kids trotted about as performing monkeys by proud parents do have a reason to think poorly of the label, yes. And as I can tell others know, it’s no freaking fun.

But the learning disability of being gifted does exist, and it can make it hard to fit in. Different individual kids need different individual strategies. I don’t see a performing monkey, here. I see Tedra addressing that challenge as a parent who cares for her son.


Tedra Osell 10.13.12 at 2:39 am

DU @101: Oh, but you haven’t seen how cute he is in his little fez. (Thanks.)


ME 10.13.12 at 4:31 am

You may find it frustrating that PK has to cope with the gap between conception and reality. Actually, learning how to cope with that is probably more important to his education and development than the subject material itself and the “giftedness” you speak of. I’ve heard it said many times that college teaches you how to study, but doesn’t necessarily give you the knowledge you will need for the real world. This is true because while many people have creative minds and good ideas, few are able to carry them out. While I’m not saying that he shouldn’t have a multitude of opportunities and excellent curriculum content, I do believe the process of finding such content and utilizing it will be just as valuable for him. The great thing about homeschooling is that PK can observe this learning process, that is, how to learn rather than what to learn, firsthand as he watches you struggle with homework problems, designing a curriculum, and locating education opportunities. As a recipient of such a homeschool education, I applaud your efforts.


Salient 10.13.12 at 4:40 pm

I’ve been thinking about how to combine some of JanieM’s and DU’s insights…

Part of the difficulty that lots of kids like PK face is interactive/social, but part of it is also structural/environmental. Getting slowly told something you picked up on right away feels like insufferable smothering condescension, even when you’re part of a group all getting told the same thing. It feels that way to pretty much every single person on the planet, and triggers the beginning of an impatient/upset reaction in pretty much everybody. It’s not that the instructor is actually being condescending to anyone. It just feels that way to those who don’t need the nth attempt at explanation.

In fact even overhearing such an explanation feels like vicarious insufferable smothering condescension, in a twisted way that can actually trigger anger toward the recipient. The underlying feeling is less Ohmigod how can you possibly need this and more Ohmigod how can you tolerate this mistreatment, but “Ohmigod how can you possibly need this” is generally how the feeling manifests in lots of immature kids, transmuting crude empathy into something crudely antisocial.

We adults have mostly gotten used to tolerating variety in others’ needs, and to processing our own impatience when we witness an insufferable-feeling explanation in the third person (although frankly even that’s debatable; there were a lot of hostile sighs in the post office line today while a clerk patiently re-explained how to properly prepare a shipping box for re-use). It’s harder to process that feeling as a schoolkid for a few reasons, (1) you’ve had far less practice (2) you’re immature and (3) it’s a constant condescension-feeling eight hours a day, which is overload.

But it’s important to learn how: as a college student I couldn’t believe what all I missed from a couple high school courses, where I mostly phoned it in while doodling, missing out entirely on the kind of interconnective understanding that makes an appearance on, like, every learning goals guide ever written in the history of ever. As it turned out in those classes where I “phoned it in” I learned a lot of discrete technical skills by catching on very quickly and sat dead bored through the instructor presentations, but in doing so I missed a lot of content, learning without any real sense of underlying unity, beauty, utility, connection or meaningfulness. A lot of that was there, it’s obvious in retrospect. I’d just tuned out too soon. Then in college that content remained a regular part of lectures, but the most boring bits of technical instructor presentation got shunted off to lab or recitation. In calculus lecture I remember sketching and thinking, “Hey, holy shit, math is pretty.” This is something that could have been readily evident to me much sooner, but wasn’t. Is that my teachers’ fault? My fault? I think the answer is mostly, If I had been an adult, then it would obviously be my fault for immaturity reasons. Any time that type of statement holds for a kid, it’s basically a tough situation for everyone involved, and requires the kind of highly individualized accommodation we nowadays associate with learning disabilities (like DU noted).

It is completely reasonable to say: this kid is enduring what feels like incessant condescending mistreatment of themself and their peers. Yes, the kid needs to learn how to tolerate that phenomenon. No, sticking them in a circumstance where they endure that phenomenon constantly for hours every day will not teach them how to tolerate it better; that’s a “the beatings will continue until your morale improves” type strategy, and all that would do is isolate the kid, stoke resentment, and provoke backlash. Yes, this means ‘special treatment,’ or at the very least special sensitivity, is called for. No, that does not mean we are thinking of the kid as superhuman deserving of superhuman treatment. It’s just another way of saying the kid, like every kid, deserves humane treatment. We’ve identified a crucial environmental-tolerance skill the kid lacks and needs to learn, and we ought to realize and acknowledge that teaching this skill will require extraordinary intervention, not ordinary immersion.


JanieM 10.13.12 at 5:17 pm

This is just a quick note of appreciation for this whole thread, and more recently for DU’s comment and Salient’s more careful look at some of what came earlier. I for one have been slapping ideas down “on paper” in haste and in blog-comment-mode, which is very reactive and not very rigorous, and I’m glad Salient is taking the trouble to slow things down and dig a little deeper.

I’ve spent part of my morning making notes on things I would like to come back to and qualify, clarify, flesh out, cross-reference, and in general treat more carefully. I don’t know how much time I’ll have for it, but I’d like to try, because despite the bumps in the road this is a useful discussion (IMO, naturally). For me, it’s helpful to have some of the thinking I’ve done in isolation subjected to the scrutiny of other people who are thinking about the same issues, often from other vantage points.

One correction to start off with: I attributed a reference to “age-grouping as a problem” to Salient, but it was actually magistra who brought it up. We’ve talked about it very little, but I think it’s a huge “hidden” — in the elephant in the room sense — shaping aspect of our educational system, and the way that system fits into and “serves” the larger society. As an immediate example, the phenomena Salient just outlined are heavily shaped by the way school segregates people by age.

Or, to put it more succinctly for now: Youth is wasted on the young.


bjk 10.13.12 at 7:46 pm

Greatest lesson I ever learned in school was when I got my asked kicked. Reading about it in books isn’t quite the same.


ponce 10.13.12 at 8:35 pm

The internet is a pretty good place to get an educational ass kicking these days.


Tedra Osell 10.13.12 at 8:39 pm

Salient @103: YES EXACTLY.

“requires the kind of highly individualized accommodation we nowadays associate with learning disabilities (like DU noted).”

This is a real concern for me. Anecdotally, I found that it was impossible to get PK’s math teacher to relax about the homework without pursuing the paperwork and diagnostic testing nonsense to create a 504/IEP (two different names for what are effectively required “this is what this kid needs” plans that teachers have to take into account). The institutional reasons why this is so are obvious–big schools, teachers are busy, etc–but of course by going down that route you’re only adding to the problem (IEPs take up resources, which means there is less for everyone else). And ultimately, neither I nor, most crucially, PK, had the patience to do everything we’d need to have done to work through the system.

In the gifted ed circles I participate in, parents often advise other parents to look into what schools are *legally required* to do, and to pursue special ed services accordingly. On an individual basis, this totally makes sense, and it’s the logic that the system requires. But it’s a shitty, shitty way to structure the system and it just feeds the “parents v. the system” problem that is really, really bad for everyone involved.

I don’t have The Solution. But I do feel the need to register and write about my shock at recognizing how huge the problem is.


ponce 10.13.12 at 9:53 pm

I don’t recall that getting my son’s IEP was very hard.

IIRC, he had to take an hour long test and then I had to meet with his teachers and counselors for a couple of one hour meetings.


Salient 10.13.12 at 10:40 pm

ponce, the IEP process varies so hugely, depending on school district, that I’ve just given up trying to extrapolate anything whatsoever from my own experiences with it, despite having learned minutiae pretty extensively in some local school districts — the next county over might as well be a whole ‘nother world, one that just happens to use the same words and acronyms.


riverdaughter 10.15.12 at 2:49 pm

Been there, done that. My kid falls into the exceptionally gifted category. Not bragging or anything. It’s just that once I recognized what her “problem” was, it was much easier to fix it. For awhile there, her teachers were adamant about getting her on ritalin because they thought she had ADHD. I have no problems with giving ADHD kids drugs if they need them but I didn’t think they were helpful for my kid, who I call Brooke on my blog. So I stopped giving them to her, stopped taking her to the ADHD coach, stopped cooperating with the schools. They had parent conferences and gave me a list of things I needed to do. I refused to do them. They gave her shit grades because she didn’t turn in her busy work for homework. I decided to go around the system. I was working at the time and as a divorced mom, I couldn’t afford to homeschool her full time.
I found Stanford’s EPGY program for her in 7th grade. Then I got her into the Stanford Online High School in 9th grade. I had to do this because her 8th grade English teacher refused to recommend her for the honors English course in high school. Why? It’s because she didn’t turn in enough revision sheets with her final essays. Yep, the kid used to get perfect scores for her essays but failed the projects because she didn’t show that she had corrected her errors. So, I enrolled her in Stanford’s OHS and they gave her a placement test and started her in an honors class. An *11th grade* honors class. She did fine. She took AP english language as a sophomore and got a 5 on the AP test.
What I’ve done is look for opportunities for her that will pique her curiosity. This lead to a remarkable discovery for us. My company had a global exchange program. They matched kids from different sites all over the world and had 2 week exchanges. The company picked up the transportation tabs and provided the matching service. Brooke was taking French in 8th grade (again, all A’s on her tests but the teacher wasn’t recommending her for French II in high school because, you know what’s coming- she didn’t do her homework). She spent two weeks in France and then our French exchange student stayed with us for two weeks. By the end of the summer, she was speaking French. I mean, REALLY speaking French. In HS, she asked if she could take the French I final. She passed it with a 98. They put her in French II but after a couple of weeks, the teacher had her take the French II final. She passed it with a 95 and went to French III. In November, her French III teacher said she couldn’t teach her any more. She went to French IV in a matter of 3 months. In the summer of 2011, she decided she wanted to teach herself German. She started in German II in the fall, took the national German exam for German II students and got a 99% nationally. Then she competed for a summer study program in Germany and won. This fall she started in AP German. She is also in Italian IV and is teaching herself Chinese. There aren’t any more French classes in her school. She got a 5 on the AP French test last spring.
See where I’m going with this? You need to go out of the system sometimes but you don’t have to do a complete homeschool. They just need to have a few classes at their level that interest them. Don’t sweat the bad grades they get in school. When they find something they love, they get obsessed with it in a way that you and I can’t possibly imagine. It gets MUCH easier when they get to high school. We were very fortunate that the language department has allowed her to accelerate and take as many language classes as she likes. In fact, they did put a limit on her. They thought she should slow down in Italian. They were worried they were overtaxing her, imagining that she was staying up all night learning all these languages. But that’s not how her brain works and she has figured out how to teach herself languages by immersing herself in them through podcasts, movies, literature and music. She’s also a grammar nazi and that helps.
So anyway, I sympathize. It sucks that the school system puts so many obstacles in the way of gifted kids. They could make it a lot easier on everyone if they got over their control issues. What these kids need is the freedom to pursue their courses at their level without artificial constraints. When I was a kid in a gifted program in an experimental school system in upstate NY, we were called “floaters”. We had more freedom to move around the school and take the classes we needed when we needed them. As long as the grades stayed high and the standardized tests were excellent, they let us set our own path. The thing about gifted students is that if you give them that kind of freedom and still set expectations, they’re not going to be the disruptive bad kid that they’re encouraged to be if you stick them in a class with future hairdressers and mailmen. Not that there’s anything wrong with those professions. It’s just that Brooke finds going at that pace glacial and it leads to boredom, twitchiness, frustration, outbursts, non-cooperation, trips to the principal’s office, detentions, in-school suspensions, etc, etc. We’ve been through it all. In middle school, she was the smartest kid I knew who had never made the honor roll. In high school, her teachers are falling all over her with praise, attention and encouragement.
So, you don’t have to give up on the public school system entirely. Stick to your guns, don’t let them tell you what’s best for your kid, make your own IEP, find alternatives outside of school, send them on trips, give them $50 and set them loose in the craft store and never look at their grades (because let’s face it, you don’t want to know). Have your kid take the SSAT (the secondary school aptitude test) and the SAT as soon as possible. Use those scores when you meet the authorities. Don’t bother with the IQ scores. I don’t know what Brooke’s IQ is but I know that she scored very highly on the G&T test in first grade. It was no surprise to me. She’s been walking and talking since she was 9 months old so I knew there was something different about her. That’s enough information. I’ve seen what she can do. I don’t need any more proof. I don’t want her to feel either limited or think she has to live up to an IQ score. The SSAT and SAT rankings are enough.
BTW, I also used to be on the school board when the IMP math curriculum first came out. The reviews were terrible. I did a lot of research on them at the time and wouldn’t recommend them. With Stanford EPGY, The Art of Problem Solving stuff and Khan Academy modules, there’s no reason why you need to give your kid an inferior and trendy math curriculum. I say that because after researching it thoroughly, it became clear that IMP was designed for teachers who were unprepared to teach math at the levels we now demand. I wouldn’t do it. JMHO.


riverdaughter 10.15.12 at 3:19 pm

Oh, and Whatever sounds like one of those parents who takes delight in squashing the joy out of kids like ours.
They have no idea how maddening it is to be the parent of one of these creatures.


Tom West 10.15.12 at 6:45 pm

I really wish they used a different term than “gifted”. At least in Ontario, “gifted” programs exist because these students are “at risk” (i.e. highly elevated chance of not dropping out). In general the criteria was a mix of both very high *and* very low abilities (classic ASD material).

While “gifted” was a nice euphemism to comfort parents (we knew one child whose parents were gravely told that he was “severely gifted”), it causes far more harm in terms of parents eager to have their children classified as gifted (and then horrified by their children’s classroom peers) and fights about funding privileged children, when in fact these children *do* have special needs and a highly increased chance of not completing high school.


bianca steele 10.15.12 at 7:28 pm

This is quite interesting, and I wonder if there’s been a change in policy. In my day, the criterion for “gifted” (our district went one year with “gifted and talented” for the enrichment program but switched after that to “academically talented, though) was an IQ or standardized test score two sigmas above the mean. Period. And the Johns Hopkins material (at least the earlier stuff that I’ve seen) uses “gifted” to mean “accelerated” or “high IQ,” which since progressive standardized tests are used amount to the same thing. I also have some memory of reading newspaper pieces that explained that truly gifted or high-IQ people, contrary to popular belief, are usually very beautiful, very personable, and normal in every way (the example for one of these was a seven year old studying calculus, whose parents had apparently called the paper to do a story about him, and he was indeed really cute), so take all that for what it’s worth.


JohnR 10.15.12 at 7:34 pm

I’m not going to wade into the swamps of arguing about what “gifted” means and home- versus group-schooling and all that. There are plenty of other strongly opinionated folks out there who have probably already offended as many people as I could, so why bother? There were a couple things that struck me about your post, though:
1 “..when he realizes that something he’s thinking about has “already been invented” or proven.” I first ran into that in grad. school, and it is a very frustrating thing. The point to make, though, isn’t you’re behind, it’s more how behind you are, and how much you’re closing the gap. My first year, my bright ideas had been published 10 years before. By my third year, some of my bright ideas were still being researched, and some didn’t seem to be getting any attention at all (and not always because they were pretty dumb, either, so there). At his point, a lot of his ideas (actually almost all his ideas, unless he’s into biology) are going to have been already worked out. He’s going to have to have a pretty solid base of knowledge before he can even see the problems that are still ‘open’. Perhaps what he can do is to treat each idea as a project. Lay it out, work out how to approach it, potential ways to reach a solution, potential reasons why the first try didn’t work, and the second, and the third, how to deal with the grinding frustration of science when you’re too young to drink, how to replace smashed glassware on a budget, that sort of thing.
2. Seriously, science involves truly startling amounts of failure and frustration, and what makes it workable is the community of fellow sufferers to help us deal with the trauma of yet another failed experiment, offer useful suggestions for next time, and help us have wild celebrations when things go well (a more or less annual sort of event). Obviously he’s a bit young to really want to deal with all that, but it would be a big, big help if he started finding even just a couple of friends to mess around with. We may not get much in the way of insight from our friends, but sometimes a throw-away comment can set off a trigger in an unexpected way. Friends help keep us afloat during the desperate times and make the celebrations better during the good times. Some of us aren’t really good at finding friends, but in many cases, that sort of skill is like an appreciation for broccoli. It suddenly appears as we get older. You don’t want to give up, because we change from week to week. Oh, and I agree that too much video-gaming is tough, especially if he’s having trouble with frustration. Most video games have no “success”; it’s only about how long you can put off “failure”. That’s not terribly satisfying for most of us. Now playing them with friends is a whole ‘nother story – getting killed is bearable if you can turn right around and kill your friends (especially in devious or underhanded ways..) From watching my kids and their friends, Mario Bros is a particularly enjoyable 2-4 player game. Lots of screaming and laughing. Anyway, as always, get lots of advice, and then throw almost all of it out and trust your judgement. Let him have fun; he’ll learn a lot more when it’s his interest, but help him deal with the inevitable anger and frustration. Just don’t quit. It’s like helping your kid to deal with piano lessons in that regard.


subdoxastic 10.15.12 at 8:31 pm

@Tom West

I may be way off base here, but I think the term being used in Ontario to refer to both low and high performers is ‘exceptional,’ not ‘gifted’. I’m not certain how I feel about the term as it still ‘others’ a group of kids who when taken as a whole are large enough in number that their occurence is not exceptional at all.

@ Cala

I was gratified to see Cala mention the use of sports/athletics as a way of mitigating some of the travails of school/learning frustration; there seems to be much anecdotal evidence of its efficacy in promoting sustained motivation and effort (patience really). The links between exercise and affect are also interesting, if not nearly as rigorously supported as the evidence for exercise and physical health outcomes.

@ Tedra

Caroline Dweck’s work on Motivational Processes Affecting Learning (1986) might be valuable in parsing out your young fellow’s frustrations. The epistemological beliefs of students and the influence this has on motivation and task persistence is quite interesting. Certainly, the concept of ‘giftedness’ could be seen as supporting an ‘entity theory’ of intelligence– a theory that Dweck has identified as potentially leading to maladaptive behaviours. Of course, please know that I offer this reading suggestion humbly and with no pretension at expertise (neither as a cognitive psychologist/researcher, nor as a mother her knows her son best).

Continuing in the vein of inexpert/hobby horse rider, I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest the power of educational experiences of the shop/trades/hands-on learning variety. Not always realistic, I know, but, anecdotally, I can testify to the amount of ‘exceptional’ kids who seem to benefit from such opportunities.

Okay, I’m going to go back to lurking now. Thanks for the always interesting posts Tedra.


Katherine 10.16.12 at 9:11 am

My daughter has just started in Reception Year here in the UK, and we’re now being told about the “gifted and talented” programme/facilities/something-or-other. Heck, we can nominate our own children!

In comparison, I was told (years after the event) that my mother called my secondary school just before I was starting there to tell them that I was a clever child and they’d better do right by me. Consequently, the staff had a meeting about me and one or two other “bright” children arriving that year.

What effect it had I don’t know, although I was also told that this lead some teachers to have it in for me from day one. But, to be fair, a couple of others really went above and beyond. Also, I cringe mightily in restrospect.

I’m not sure what point I’m trying to make, other than wondering which scenario is preferable.


Phil 10.16.12 at 11:09 am

Just before our younger child finished primary school I was at a parent’s meeting where somebody asked why the provision for G+T children seemed to have dried up. It turned out that, at least for our local council, G+T funding was a subset of ‘special educational needs’, and SEN funding was now being allocated in proportion to social need as measured by the proportion of free school meals claimants. So if you’re a bright kid in a prosperous area, go ahead and get bored with your lessons – you can always read a book when you get home.

In now-disinterested hindsight, I don’t think this is such a bad idea, assuming you’ve got G+T funding to dish out. I think the problem is further down – I suspect that the same lessons that bright kids find easy and boring are striking a lot of other kids as difficult and boring, but the system isn’t set up to see that as a problem. The kind of thing that gets thrown at G+T kids in the form of extra literacy and numeracy is sometimes more advanced than they’d get normally, but it’s often more interesting as well; building that into ‘normal’ teaching is the real challenge. (See Mike Rosen’s blog for much more along these lines.)


Tom West 10.17.12 at 3:29 pm

I may be way off base here, but I think the term being used in Ontario to refer to both low and high performers is ‘exceptional,’ not ‘gifted’. I’m not certain how I feel about the term as it still ‘others’ a group of kids who when taken as a whole are large enough in number that their occurence is not exceptional at all.

Interesting – one, the term may have changed in 10 years since my son was peripherally involved, and it may, now that I think about it, may have only been the Toronto board. I like the term ‘exceptional’ better though.

As for ‘othering’, for any large bureaucracy, if you don’t have a term, you don’t get support. Our primary school jumped through absolute hoops to get support for my son, trying to classify him in some way that was even remotely plausible that wouldn’t get him lumped with the kids that would “eat him for breakfast” as one teacher put it. To their everlasting credit (and my gratitude), they did get an aide for grade 1/2, although by grade 2 the aide spent more time with a classmate who’s parents refused to acknowledge he had any problems and needed help far more than my son.

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