I am ashamed to say that when my then 8-year old asked me if he could do the testing for One Day School at the Gifted Education Centre, I thought that he wasn’t clever enough to get in. I knew he was smart, but he’d always been happy at normal school, he wasn’t a problem in class and he’d never expressed any feeling of dissatisfaction with the education he was getting, and to be honest, I didn’t think he was gifted. But his two best friends were both doing One Day School, his point was that he believed he was as clever as them and he wanted to go as well.
The person who did the testing noted that my son was intellectually gifted (the top 2% of the population for his age group), and also that he was gifted in the area of leadership. And that his conversation was as sophisticated as an adult’s (I’d assumed that was because he was the fourth child of six and we all read and talk a lot, but apparently not). She offered him a place at the school on the spot, and the next term, he started at One Day School.
It was true that he was happy at normal school; it was also true that he wasn’t a problem in class, and that he had never expressed any dissatisfaction with the education he was getting. What can I say – he’s a positive kid and makes the best of most situations. But he LOVED One Day School. He loved being able to explore and build and bounce off other kids who challenged him. He had a teacher whose only complaint about him was that he was too much of a team player – apparently it’s more common for gifted kids to work as individuals. The reverse side of that was that he managed to include everyone in the class in his schemes and plays and could successfully work with any group of kids or any individual – a rare talent. He got to invent and build and do much more challenging work than at school, in broader subject areas. I would pick him and his best friend up after One Day School and rather than being exhausted after a challenging day, they’d be buzzing – bubbling over with new ideas, discussing experiments and concepts – their minds were so open after a day at ODS. But if he hadn’t been insistent about being tested, I would never even have thought to offer him the opportunity.
The rewards for my boy of being at One Day School far outweighed the inconvenience and financial penalty. When his schoolwork and attitude slipped at normal school, we had to have a hard conversation about whether he could continue at One Day School, and he was in tears at the prospect of not being able to go any more. We negotiated and set in place some markers at normal school that he had to achieve each term to continue at One Day School, and never had to have the conversation again. It was important though in teaching him that just because he’d been identified as gifted, didn’t mean he was any more entitled to special treatment than any other child at either of his schools. In fact, I tend not to talk about him (or any of the other kids) being gifted to other parents, because really, you just sound a bit up yourself. At home, we remind the kids that being smart is an accident of birth, and it’s what you do with it that counts.
But then I look at other kids I know. “Normal” kids, not necessarily academically gifted, and I think how much they could benefit from some of the advanced learning techniques and range of interesting subjects there are available at the Gifted Education Centre. Why does it take a special school to cater only for gifted kids? Couldn’t they also teach “normal” kids? Or couldn’t “normal” school offer the same kinds of education? I appreciate that gifted kids often have a range of behaviours that don’t work so well in a standard classroom environment and need something a bit extra. But couldn’t we enhance the experience for all children by incorporating some of the lessons that are tried and tested and proven at One Day School?
Don’t get me wrong – I am not unhappy with the education my children have received at the state primary school they went to. They have had some wonderful teachers, who have found new and inventive ways to extend them. Their primary school environment was community oriented, espoused strong family and cultural values and promoted emotional growth as much as academic or sporting prowess. Most importantly of all, they have all been happy there. And they have also been happy and extended at their intermediate schools and now for three of them, their high schools.
But for a gifted kid, do they need that little bit extra? Does it take them from being a reasonably content kid to an inspired, enthusiastic one? And can we provide it at home? Should parents of gifted kids be the ones to go to One Day School to learn how to parent their extra smart child? And should a gifted child be entitled to extra extension? Doesn’t that just widen the gap between them and the children who aren’t achieving (this is assuming that they are achieving – I have learnt from the Gifted Education Centre that many gifted children do not achieve at school). Should it only be those gifted kids that need the extra help who go to a program like One Day School, or should kids like mine, gifted but coping well in mainstream school, have the same opportunity, but only if I can financially afford it?
I don’t have the answers to any of these questions, but I do believe that they are questions the education sector should take a good hard look at. Yes, we need to identify and assist our under-achievers. But we should also recognise that gifted and talented – and by that I mean academic, or sporting, artistic or leadership gifted and talented – deserve to have extra attention too. And so do the middle of the road kids. Because although we may think that they will never set the world on fire, who is to say what they would do if they had that extra bit of attention that under and over achievers have access to? Who knows what the potential is of a “middle of the road kid” if they are truly inspired by their learning? And there should be some way to make it financially viable for all parents, although that is probably a Utopian dream.
I’d like to finish with a quote from Dorothy Parker. “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” Long may we encourage curiosity in our kids, no matter where they sit on the spectrum! And long may the Gifted Centre for Education continue to promote gifted awareness, so that we can gradually mix it into mainstream, and in the meantime, provide our gifted kids with something to help them get through their weeks with boundless enthusiasm and curiosity. Happy Gifted Awareness Week to us all.
For more information on the Gifted Education Centre, click here. For information on GO- Gifted Online, click here. For more information on Gifted Awareness Week, click here. For the Gifted Awareness week blog tour, click here.