Field Trip (or My Litmus Test)

The school may not get it, but Prufrock Press and Gifted Child Today sure do.

We took a field trip into the unknown today. We visited a school. A real, bricks and mortar, sit with other kids in the classroom school. And we survived. My older even liked it.

I’ve always said I’d homeschool as long as it works for all the parties involved. If I’m not pulling out too much hair, if the child is learning, and if we’re glad to be together (on the whole), we continue to homeschool. But until today, neither boy has expressed anything short of revulsion for and panic about formal schooling. We visited a local Catholic high school’s open house, not with the intent to enroll, but rather just to see that school was, well, kinda neat.

The place has a strong ooh, shiny factor. It’s a new site for an old school, and is frankly gorgeous, from the spotless and generous athletic fields to the classrooms filled with the latest white board technology. No, not the kind with the stinky markers that leave shadows after erased. The kind that allows you to see the text from a book up on a screen and mark it up. The kind homeschoolers don’t have because buying one would necessitate charging tuition and the kids just don’t get that much birthday money to make that happen. The lab tables are fresh, unblemished by decades of spills and accidents with heavy sharp objects. The floors and walls gleam. ooh, shiny, indeed.

And the kids? They were dressed in ties, made eye contact, and were able to carry on a conversation with kids and adults. Now, that alone might be worth the $10K a year and two hours of back-and-forth driving a year. Additionally, my older son noticed the kids aren’t giants. He’s a mighty small kid compared to his age peers, and one of his main concerns about attending any school is being teased for being small. I can’t say it wouldn’t happen there or anywhere else, but at least he realized many other eighth graders aren’t exactly giants.

So will he go there? No. Beyond the price tag and the drive lies the reality that we like our homeschooling lifestyle and the freedom it affords. We like being homeschoolers, not full-time schoolers. Besides, they flunked my litmus test for schools, and that’s hard for me to overlook.

When my older was preparing to enter first grade, he was accepted to a local public gifted school. My question to his potential teacher was this: What will you teach him in math? At five, he had long been adding, subtracting, and multiplying four digit numbers and playing with negatives. First and second grade math, as traditionally taught, would offer him nothing other than how to endure an hour of boredom a day, and that’s not an acceptable math curriculum to me. So I (innocently, at the time) asked my question. This long-time educator of gifted children said that in her classroom, they didn’t move beyond second grade curriculum because that’s what the children needed for the MEAP (Michigan’s standardized test) and, besides, children at 6 and 7 can’t conserve number value. Meaning that while my child could abstractly consider negative numbers and apply them to concrete events, he was, according to her, unable to see ten objects he had counted and hold that those 10 objects were still indeed 10 objects if rearranged.

Thus the math litmus test was born. It’s not failsafe. The Montessori he did attend that year answered the question correctly (he can move along as fast as he wishes) but really meant he could move through hundreds of repetitions regardless of his readiness to move on to new material. I’ve become more savvy over the years about discerning what programs and classes are most likely to work for my PG kids, but I haven’t vetted a school in quite a while.

So as we entered one of the math rooms, my son surveyed one of the precalculus books, noting how much more he liked it than the one we were using while I surveyed the web of math classes listed on the board. I turned to the teacher nearest me and asked what was offered after AP Calculus. I received a bland expression followed by an explanation that no more was offered. I proceeded to explain that my son was studying precalc currently and would likely be ready for Calculus for next fall (well, if we pick up a bit of steam). She stiffly stated that the school had no arrangements for students to study at local colleges (most public do, and so does another major boys’ Catholic school in the area), and, besides, it wasn’t needed. She explained that students who came in with Algebra from middle school really didn’t know it well and that they could just start the honors math track, an algebra class with some Algebra II and geometry, both continued the following year.

I questioned further, but was met with resistance. Of course my son could take the finals for the three classes preceding Calculus. But, she noted, he was unlikely to pass. Case closed. As the informational math meeting began, my mind flashed back to my first math encounter 8 years earlier. Little had changed, it seemed. A young man’s voice interrupted my bitter thoughts. He was in geometry and wondered what math he’d head into. He was curtly told what I was: chances are he needed to start at the beginning again. His shoulders slumped. After the meeting, I thanked him for his question and told his parents of my encounter with the teacher minutes before the session. We had a moment of mutual recognition of time and talent wasted and unappreciated and went with our respective tour guides.

Somehow, I’d thought high school, especially private high school, would be different. I thought ability might be appreciated and encouraged, nurtured and shaped. And while I know that teacher isn’t the whole department (although the other teacher in the room made no comment in the face of either discussion), I doubt the culture of the school is much different. After all, if you can’t put on a good face at the open house you’re not likely to be more accommodating after the checks are written.

But our purpose was met.  My older thinks school, especially the labs and computer rooms, are appealing and that the kids aren’t giants.  He’s asking to try a few classes at our local high school next fall, filling his desire to have time with agemates while still being a homeschooler and my desire to see him spread his wings while being accountable to someone else for part of the day. 

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6 thoughts on “Field Trip (or My Litmus Test)

  1. It appears that the exercise achieved the results that your family needed!

    I am glad that you applied the litmus test. What a shame that they are so set in their ways! My similar Catholic school accomodated this type of acceleration in 1987! Forge on with your own plans, dear one!

  2. I would love to talk to you about the way schools tend to force gifted students to go along with everyone else’s pace. Daniel is experiencing this currently. I’m not thrilled. My mother-in-law suggested a “child study” which I think is sometimes called an IEP. I don’t know what to think. I don’t want to step in if there’s no need, but he’s already acting out and you should see the work they are doing. Daniel mastered this stuff at 3 and he’s almost 6.

    • IEPs (Individual education plans) are, in Michigan, reserved for children with learning disabilities. A few states mandate them for gifted kids, but not ours. Your best recourse is to meet with the teacher and, if needed, the principal. I have resources on how to do this, what to ask for,etc. I had success with this in the boys’ preschool Montessori but none later. I’m not surprised he’s frustrated, but I am sorry. Let’s talk more!

  3. This too common reaction from the ‘professionals’ disheartens me. Why is so hard to imagine that not all children fit the mold? As educators, don’t they see these kids often enough to know they are there and need something more?
    I also love my homeschooling lifestyle and have no plans to return my children to the world of brick and mortar school. However, I know not all families CAN homeschool and wish there was a way to make it easier for those kids in the traditional system.

  4. In defense of the school Sarah, very rarely does a home-schooler perform the way their parents say their child will perform. Especially in math.

    You should let your son take their final exams, just to see how well he does. Then ask them again what they would do after his freshman year in Calculus. I’m sure once your son has proven his talent they would be willing to work with you.

    • Kelly, I don’t object to him taking a test, but I do object to him taking three years of math finals to move onto a single course (and given the visit was for a general look at high school and not a place I’d send him, for reasons I mention in my post, taking the tests doesn’t make much sense). I’d have no issue with an objective measure, such as the ACT math section or the SAT II Math 2 exam, either. He’s taken the first, and has scores to prove his skills are the real deal.

      I am aware that parents can overestimate their children’s abilities. But as son’s teacher in math his other studies for the past six years, I’m in the best possible position to know his strengths and weaknesses. I’m honest to him and myself about both and wouldn’t consider placing him in a situation that he’d be likely to find cognitively too difficult. He takes the tests at the end of each chapter, and if he scores less than 80%, he returns to the chapter and retests on a different test. We’re about mastery around here, especially with math. Is he perfect? No. Should he have to repeat Algebra, Algebra II, and Geometry after years of rigorous study and high standardized test scores? Absolutely not.

      My hat is off to teachers of all levels in all settings. I can’t imagine accommodating a roomful of kids with different learning styles and issues. I’m delighted to teach my boys at home, where I can really see the lights go on (or not) as new information comes their way. I’m thrilled to see my older willing to return to a classroom, even if just for a class or two, after feeling so slighted and out of place there when younger.

      Thanks for your thoughts and your dedication to young people and their math education.

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