Read this most intriguing and lengthy story the other day in the magazine while waiting for an oil change; then found it on-line later that day courtesy of reddit.com, increasingly a go-to destination for this curmudgeon.
Any sensible culture would know what to do with Annalisee Brasil. The 14-year-old not only has the looks of a South American model but is also one of the brightest kids of her generation. When Annalisee was 3, her mother Angi Brasil noticed that she was stringing together word cards composed not simply into short phrases but into complete, grammatically correct sentences. After the girl turned 6, her mother took her for an IQ test. Annalisee found the exercises so easy that she played jokes on the testers–in one case she not only put blocks in the correct order but did it backward too. Angi doesn’t want her daughter’s IQ published, but it is comfortably above 145, placing the girl in the top 0.1% of the population. Annalisee is also a gifted singer: last year, although just 13, she won a regional high school competition conducted by the National Association of Teachers of Singing.
Annalisee should be the star pupil at a school in her hometown of Longview, Texas. While it would be too much to ask for a smart kid to be popular too, Annalisee is witty and pretty, and it’s easy to imagine she would get along well at school. But until last year, Annalisee’s parents–Angi, a 53-year-old university assistant, and Marcelo, 63, who recently retired from his job at a Caterpillar dealership–couldn’t find a school willing to take their daughter unless she enrolled with her age-mates. None of the schools in Longview–and even as far away as the Dallas area–were willing to let Annalisee skip more than two grades. She needed to skip at least three–she was doing sixth-grade work at age 7. Many school systems are wary of grade skipping even though research shows that it usually works well both academically and socially for gifted students–and that holding them back can lead to isolation and underachievement. So Angi home schooled Annalisee.
Time calls it squandered potential.
To some extent, complacency is built into the system. American schools spend more than $8 billion a year educating the mentally retarded. Spending on the gifted isn’t even tabulated in some states, but by the most generous calculation, we spend no more than $800 million on gifted programs. But it can’t make sense to spend 10 times as much to try to bring low-achieving students to mere proficiency as we do to nurture those with the greatest potential.
Please read for yourself.
[Per L-HC’s reformed process, please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]
The education of the gifted has been controversial for all of my life: this writer represented a challenge to school systems throughout his childhood, seldom met effectively. Our older children, growing up in the same supposedly enlightened district that I had, were identified as gifted, offered some sop “enrichment,” but not much else. They survived the neglect, and have thrived despite it.
One conundrum: I’m remembering that our older son was given an SAT test in 4th or 5th grade, scored off the chart verbal, higher than expected but hardly genius in math. Too bad for him. They knew what to do with math geniuses: send them off to the high school for algebra, geometry, calculus class work. Verbal: so sorry, no answers. He should join the after-school problem solving competition team. Sigh.
In Hollingworth’s day, when we were a little less sensitive to snobbery, it wasn’t as difficult for high-ability kids to skip grades. But since at least the mid-1980s, schools have often forced gifted students to stay in age-assigned grades–even though a 160-IQ kid trying to learn at the pace of average, 100-IQ kids is akin to an average girl trying to learn at the pace of a retarded girl with an IQ of 40. Advocates for gifted kids consider one of the most pernicious results to be “cooperative learning” arrangements in which high-ability students are paired with struggling kids on projects. Education professor Miraca Gross of the University of New South Wales in Sydney has called the current system a “lockstep curriculum … in what is euphemistically termed the ‘inclusion’ classroom.” The gifted students, she notes, don’t feel included.
People, as we outsource ourselves into a second-class nation, our last, best defense is our brain power, as exemplified by the gifted children highlighted in this Time piece, as honed and magnified by our peerless university system, still the envy of the world (and nurturer of the second and third world’s talent, now all too often finding irresistible the lure of newly fertile ground back at home).
That’s not to say the best approach is a cold Dickensian bed. But Einstein’s experience does suggest a middle course between moving to Reno for an élite new school and striking out alone at age 15. Currently, gifted programs too often admit marginal, hardworking kids and then mostly assign field trips and extra essays, not truly accelerated course work pegged to a student’s abilities. Ideally, school systems should strive to keep their most talented students through a combination of grade skipping and other approaches (dual enrollment in community colleges, telescoping classwork without grade skipping) that ensure they won’t drop out or feel driven away to Nevada. The best way to treat the Annalisee Brasils of the world is to let them grow up in their own communities–by allowing them to skip ahead at their own pace. We shouldn’t be so wary of those who can move a lot faster than the rest of us. *
Let’s order a few fewer F-35s and do better by our gifted children. A mind is a terrible thing to waste, indeed.
It’s it for now. Thanks,