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One More Chapter

Thank you for your advice yesterday about school.  It was interesting to hear — first and foremost — how other places approached education but also, the wide range of experiences with school — either your own education or what you were now doing for your children.

I should have also told you that I am the product of public schools.  I was never a fantastic student.  Actually, I was such a terrible speller in fourth grade that I had to go down to a third grade spelling group because the lowest spelling group in my fourth grade classroom was still too advance for a child who could not tell the difference between “flour” and “flower.” (And to be fair, could spell neither one correctly.)  I was in a few honours classes later in school, and one or two AP classes.  But mostly I was an average student in average classes who daydreamed way too much to follow what was happening in the classroom and who didn’t ever want to sit in her chair.  I wandered the room; and when I wasn’t wandering the room, I was making glue sculptures inside my desk.

And look, I turned out okay.

I always point that out to kids — my own and other people’s children.  That the fully functioning adult you see before you once struggled with math and French.  The person who has published four books wasn’t in the highest English classes.  That doing school well doesn’t always translate into doing life well.

And I think, whatever shortcomings I had during my school years — nursery school through graduate school — I have done life well.

*******

Let me tell you a story about a lollipop.  I once took a lollipop that someone offered that was in the shape of a flower.  I took it because it was pretty and it was candy.  As a kid, I always accepted any candy offered because you never knew from where your next dose of sugar would come.

I kept said lollipop in my room, looking at it all the time.  I was really psyched that I owned such a cool lollipop.  At some point though I realized that I had no intention of eating it.  I’m not really a fan of lollipops, and this one looked particularly vile.  The clarity reminded me of a Jolly Rancher, another candy I dislike.  But I had this lollipop because how the hell do you say no to a lollipop?  And this single piece of candy drove me crazy because I didn’t want to eat and I didn’t want to throw it out, and in the end, it became clutter.

I feel like we’re supposed to want to apply to that GT school because who knows when our next educational hallelujah will come about?  Turning down the opportunity feels like rejecting the lollipop; it just isn’t done, not by people who care about sugar and worry where their next treat will come from.  But I also know that I don’t really want that lollipop.  And I’m not getting a strong sense that the twins want the lollipop.  All four of us in this house only know that we’re supposed to want the lollipop… by which I mean school… and I guess the two adults don’t know why we are so reluctant to push the kids ahead.  To nudge them towards the greatness that these schools silently promise by their mere existence and exclusivity.

*******

I have no clue how we got here.  I know rationally that I celebrated my 7th blogoversary last June, and that the twins were giving up the bottle around the time I started this blog.  Along the way they moved from cribs to toddler beds to real beds to separate rooms.  They learned how to build a sandcastle and tie their shoes (sort of) and bake cookies and write stories and program computers.  They cut their hair for the first time, and then they cut it again and again — the Wolvog more often than the ChickieNob.  They lost teeth and grew new ones.  They’ve said hello and goodbye to 6 teachers.

Along the way, they’ve become these amazing, inquisitive, funny human beings that cry over iOS changes and friendship slights, and then turn around the next day — all smiles — and spit out the answer to 3 x 9.  They are third graders in the largest sense of the word: excited pleasers who feel things intensely.

What I am worried about is that things are moving so quickly that every day feels like a blur.  And when time moves like that, to the point where you don’t know how you ended up with two third graders, you wonder if you’ve missed things along the way.  Have we instilled in them all the values and ethics and information they need in order to keep succeeding?

Sometimes life feels a little bit like a sick day, when you come back to class and have no clue what is going on because you missed a vital lesson and now nothing makes sense for a while.  I show up every single day in their lives — overly present some might say — because I don’t want to miss one minute of them, and I don’t want them to miss one minute of whatever vital lessons I can instill, mostly because I feel if I don’t, I am sick-daying their life.

And then how will they catch up?

*******

Nothing is broken right now.  They are not bored — as far as I can tell.  They are just regular kids doing regular kid things with their regular kid friends.  They like school enough, though they really come alive during after school activities.  They are curious.  They are sensitive.  They are obsessed with fairness as well as trying to figure out how they’re perceived.  They’ve got a great group of friends.  As Somewhat Lower told me in regards to her own education decisions: “”if it’s working, then there’s not a problem, and if it stops working, we’ll make a change.”  That’s really smart, and maybe instead of looking at what we’re getting or giving up, I just need to see it as not trying to fix something that isn’t broken.

I guess if I had one moment that I wanted to serve as a snapshot for their childhood, it would be this great moment that came during their book club recently.  We were reading aloud Percy Jackson after the kids had finished shouting out answers to my etymology quiz in exchange for Hershey Kisses.  The ChickieNob went into my bag and doled out more candy to everyone else while I read, and the kids were flopped on the floor or sofas or each other.  And everyone was silent as I read the moment with the Minotaur; collectively holding their breath during a great moment of fiction.  And it was just getting cold outside but the doors were open to let in the night air.  And I thought: this moment is exactly how I want learning to be.  This is the sort of moment that will turn them into writers; that will make them love books.  And sure enough, when I told the kids I was only going to read until the next page break, one of them screamed out, “no!  I need to know what happens.”  And I jokingly told them that we were going to pull an all-nighter then.  And they looked at me, totally earnest and said, “really?”  There was this popcorn chorus of kids saying “really?” with such hope that maybe I wasn’t teasing; that we were really going to stay up all night reading Percy Jackson together.

That’s what I want learning to be; something more akin to the old Greek tutors except with perhaps a bit more cheekiness.  I love that the ChickieNob felt comfortable to help herself and others to the candy.  I love that they were all flopped on the floor and furniture like puppies.  I love that they were so engrossed in the story that they wanted to stay longer.  I love that even though I’m the twins’ mum, in that context, I’m just Mel, the bringer of the books.

An education well played should always make the person ask for just one more chapter.

10 comments

1 Nicoleandmaggie { 10.29.13 at 8:21 am }

I don’t like the way this decision is being framed in many of the comments, and indeed, many similar decisions in the “mommy” media. This isn’t a black and white decision with the gifted school being clearly better but gifted schools don’t result in well rounded kids and kids do great in public schools therefore your sacrifice is the optimal one.

Yes, commute time is important. It is also highly unlikely that this gifted school is a gifted nirvana. You local public options may also be fine. Unless you know it is a lot better for your kids, then it makes sense to go someplace closer, which is what it sounds like you’ve been wanting approval for.

That doesn’t mean you would make the same decision if the school were closer.

And a lot of gifted kids don’t do well in public schools. They are at higher risk of dropping out, but probably not your kids.

2 Sharon { 10.29.13 at 11:20 am }

I didn’t comment on the last post because my sons are only 21 months old and I have thus not yet faced the school choice decision myself. I did want to comment today, though, from the perspective of someone who attended public schools and was considered gifted.

I grew up in a small town in a small state, and my sister (also gifted) and I were seldom provided with appropriate gifted/accelerated education. Despite this fact, we both excelled in school, attended college (my sister went to Yale on scholarship), earned advanced degrees and have been academically successful.

Could we have done more/been more/learned more had we been afforded the benefit of attending a magnet program or magnet school for gifted students? Maybe. Would it have been better for us in the long run? I’m not sure.

I am a firm believer in the notion that “cream rises,” and I have no doubt that two involved parents like Josh and you will give your children enrichment opportunities different from, and beyond, what any school environment will afford them.

3 Aerotropolitan Comitissa { 10.29.13 at 11:26 am }

And I have to say (to put my previous comments in context) that a lot of my views on primary school education comes from things like being punished for reading ahead to the next chapter. Not because I was gifted and talented, just because I was quiet and studious and the other kids were… ordinary primary schoolers, getting distracted and finding it hard to sit in their seats and daydreaming.

But apparently they’re not allowed to punish kids for quietly working on one more chapter any more. Apparently under the new system they are required to just set them extension work or other activities and then leave them the hell alone whilst they concentrate on bringing everyone else to the table.

4 mrs spock { 10.29.13 at 1:23 pm }

I come at this form two angles- is it working for your kids? Are they happy? Do they feel challenged enough. Then good.

Having been a gifted kid myself, I don’t resent that label, but really, really wish my teachers back in the 80s understood what made me tick differently. I read at the college level on the 4th grade, and spent a great deal of time pretending that I didn’t already finish the math book 4 months ago, or trying to sneakily read Homer under my desk in English class because I read the books we are reading in class in kindergarten.

If your kids aren’t complaining of boredom or getting in trouble for daydreaming they are probably fine. I myself really wish my mother would have let me skip grades or take college courses in high school as was recommended. I will never make the same mistakes with my own kids.

Our kids are too young to be tested as gifted, but our son is already constantly in trouble in kindergarten. He finishes his work in 3 seconds and then has all this extra time where he is getting in trouble for “being distracted”. Being stuck in a class with average learners can be a frustrating experience (it still is for me), and I’d hate for my son to resent school or think learning is for the birds because it holds no interest for him.

5 Dora { 10.29.13 at 4:56 pm }

Love this post! I hope that as a full-time working mom, I can continue to foster a joy in learning. http://mypreconceivednotion.blogspot.com/2013/10/gin-tonic-yes-please.html

6 Dora { 10.29.13 at 4:57 pm }

Oops. That coding didn’t work right. Obviously, that’s my G&T post.

7 Mali { 10.29.13 at 7:37 pm }

I read somewhere recently the result of a study that showed in fact that genetics are a far greater influence on how a student does than the school they attend. If that helps.

I also applaud you for recognising that academic success does not mean success in life. And it is success in life (and to me, success means happiness, not just achievement in career) that is most important.

The fact is that the twins have intelligent, informed, connected parents who think about life and decisions and discuss all these things with their children. To me, that is a greater gift than any fancy academic programme. (Excuse me, but I can’t bring myself to use US spellings!)

Good luck with the decision.

8 Queenie { 10.29.13 at 10:47 pm }

I’m sorry, did you just say that your children have a book club?! Sometimes I think you don’t give yourself enough credit for what an extraordinary, think-outside-the-box parent you are. Your kids don’t need G/T. . .that’s for kids who don’t have you guys for parents. 🙂

9 Erica { 10.30.13 at 3:14 pm }

Thanks for sharing all of this here. I have a good friend who was moved ahead a year and who has told me she wishes that she hadn’t been. She was definitely academically ready, but wasn’t ready, socially, to be thrust into a class of older kids. A very different story from the one you’re telling me, but it strikes me as important that your kids have a good group of friends, and encouraging that you’re so aware of all the elements of a good education, not just the academics. I think your instincts are spot on (which, I’m guessing, doesn’t make the decision any easier but probably means that whatever you decide, your kids are going to continue being generally awesome.)

10 Liz Self { 10.31.13 at 9:18 pm }

That’s very Deweyan of you — the purpose of education is growth. I’m an educator, getting my PhD in education, about to send my oldest to kindergarten in the fall, and you echo some wonderful sentiments here. Sometimes, I think I’m the only one doesn’t want to buy what everyone in the education world seems to be selling.

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