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Advocacy for Gifted Kids: Vote With Your Feet

In celebration of National Parenting Gifted Children Week, Great Potential Press is pleased to present a series of guest blog posts covering some of the biggest topics in childhood development and gifted education today. GPP author and blogger Suki Wessling discusses her take on homeschooling versus traditional schooling, for National Parenting Gifted Children Week.

This is Part 6 of her guest series. Return to Part 1 for links to all the posts.

Have your own experience or perspective to share? Join the conversation onFacebook or tweet us @GiftedBooks or #NPGCW12, and you may see your comments featured in a future post!

My choice to homeschool my kids might look from the outside like a big vote of no confidence in our public education system. In fact, a fair number of homeschoolers do vilify schools, presenting homeschooling as the only valid choice.

My choice to homeschool my kids might look from the outside like a big vote of no confidence in our public education system. In fact, a fair number of homeschoolers do vilify schools, presenting homeschooling as the only valid choice.

My experiences and point of view, however, are somewhat different. I admit that public school and I got off to a bad start. I did due diligence on our local elementary school and opted for a small private school for our first child’s kindergarten year. I had many reasons, but the big two were these:

  1. Our local public schools had no interest in serving the needs of families. To make busing cheaper, our local elementary’s kindergarten started at 7:40 in the morning, and to save money on staff, it was only two and a half hours long. I did the math, and decided that private tuition was worth the extra hour sleep my kids and I would get.
  2. The principal scared me off. When I described my son’s learning and what we were looking for in a school, he said, “It sounds like you are a family I’d love to have at our school. Unfortunately, we can provide nothing that you’re asking for.” No GATE program, no foreign language (in fact, he said “teaching Spanish is illegal!”), no art, music, or PE besides what teachers and parents provided.

We eventually happened upon a charter school that was a better fit for my son and our family, but it ended up being a terrible fit for our daughter. Our quiet, compliant son was suffering through the long stretches of boredom he met in an undifferentiated classroom. But I realized that our twice–exceptional daughter would never function in a school geared toward serving the needs of the kids in the middle of the spectrum.

So we ended up trying private school for our daughter as well, and finally gave in to homeschooling.

As soon as we started homeschooling, I knew that we needed some sort of “school” to go to. Despite her difficulties in the classroom, my daughter is very social and was bored with me alone at home. So we found a public homeschool program that was wonderfully accepting of her and her unusual behavior, and then again accepting of my son when he started homeschooling.

So how do I see our schooling history as advocacy for gifted kids?

I think that too many parents keep quiet about their gifted kids’ needs. Their kids suffer in school, but not quite enough for their parents to feel like it’s worth making a fuss. And thus teachers, administrators, and decision-makers on up the educational food-chain don’t get the message that gifted kids’ needs aren’t being served by our schools.

Yes, I could have stayed with our neighborhood schools and advocated for more: teacher training, differentiated classrooms, broader educational goals, and reintegration of essential curriculum that has been lost. But I knew enough about the state of our local schools to know that I wasn’t going to be effective in that fight.

However, there is one thing that bean–counters do understand: money, and who gets it. My kids move from school to school carrying their ADA funding with them. I transfer them out of our district into a smaller, friendlier district, one that supports alternative education, if not specifically gifted education. By registering my children with a public homeschool program, I keep them in the system and the system knows where they are.

I wish I could do more on this front, but I decided long ago that I have to put my kids’ needs ahead of any activism that may tempt me. I make sure in a variety of ways that we vote with our dollars. Our local district has never bothered to find out why we—and many other families—transfer to another district. If they did gather that information, I believe they’d be surprised at how many gifted kids are “voting with their feet.”

To a certain extent, I do believe that our public school system needs to learn its lessons the hard way. The more they emphasize test scores, the more families with high–scoring kids leave the system. The more they cut the curriculum to the bone, the less money they will have for the active, experiential learning that would tempt these families back.

I have no wish for us as a society to lose public schooling. Our public schools bring us together and offer us a common vision of ourselves as a country. But as long as it is possible to choose an alternative to inappropriate schooling for my children, I will. I am glad that for now, we have a public school that we love.

Continue to Part 7.

Posted in Education, Homeschooling, Parenting.

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