Accelerating to What?

As a high school student, I didn’t really understand that my math education was “accelerated.”  I knew that once a week a small group of my friends and I traveled to a nearby university and spent the afternoon with a college mathematics professor.  I knew that we covered 4 years of high school math in 2 years.  And I knew that I enjoyed getting out of a few regular high school classes while I made the weekly math jaunt.

I also knew that I was supposed to be covering much of the material independently during the week between classes.  I knew that it was supposed to be more rigorous and challenging because the pace was accelerated.  I knew that I didn’t crack the textbook on any day other than “math day”.  I knew that I completed my homework on the thirty minute bus trip each week.  I knew how to balance my notebook in just the correct position so my penmanship didn’t reflect the bumps and jostles of the bus.  I knew that I passed the 2 years doing the bare minimum without putting a dent in my 4.0 gpa.

Why do I bring this up?  Certainly not because I’m bragging or feeling better than anyone else.  I bring it up to point out the limitations of acceleration if we are only accelerating gifted students into more of the same type of academics.  The problem with gifted education is not simply the pace.  It is the lack of depth that is missing.  It is teaching to a test when gifted students want (and need) to follow their deep and inquisitive thoughts down rabbit holes to discover new information, new ways of thinking, new connections, new ideas and innovations that couldn’t possibly be on the test because they’re brand spanking new.

I had one little guy, about 8 years old, in my office.  He informed me that school was really stupid.  When I asked him why, he said that today he had to begin working on a writing assignment which involved gluing words in place, but he was only allowed to temporarily place the words correctly because tomorrow’s assignment was to actually glue them.  He said, “Heather, it was the stupidest thing.  I put the words in place in about five minutes, then I had to take it all apart, just so I can redo the work tomorrow.”  But then, as though he could read my thoughts about talking to his teacher to find more challenging assignments, he quickly stated, “But, you CAN’T tell anybody that I got it done so fast.  You CAN’T tell anybody that it’s easy for me, because then I’ll just have to do more!”

More of the same isn’t helpful.  More or faster paced of the same isn’t helpful.  For the most part, our current education system in the US isn’t meeting the needs of our gifted learners.  And giving them more of that is simply not going to be the answer.  Gifted children learn in different ways than the norm.  They need to be challenged and to be allowed to ask questions and to be allowed to dig as deep as their brains can take them. 

That little 8 year old understood very early that he needs to hide his intelligence for fear of being moved into doing more of the same meaningless work.  Is that the message we really want our brightest minds to be sent?  I know that the only thing I truly learned from my accelerated Math class was that I could get away with doing the bare minimum.  And I certainly wasn’t the only person sitting in the back of the bus completing that week’s assignments.  Is that the message we really want our brightest minds to take on?  It doesn’t matter if you’re challenged, just do the minimum and get the grade?

Accelerate or don’t accelerate, for gifted kids in a broken system, the end result will be roughly the same.

This blog is part of Hoagie's October 2016 bloghop.  Check out more great posts about acceleration here.