People often assume that my husband and I homeschool because of our
political or religious beliefs. Yet our decision to homeschool had nothing
to do with dogma. It was a journey begun in desperation, sadness and anger.
I'm a former public school teacher. I never dreamed that we would go down
In kindergarten, my son loved school. He loved books. He loved to write in
his journal with invented spelling. JD was joyfully ready to spread his
wings. Instead, he flew smack into a wall.
After moving to a new school for first grade, JD's sunny disposition
vanished. He glowered under a dirty baseball cap. He said the work was too
When my husband and I met with our son's teachers to express our concern, a
wall went up. If our child was unhappy at school, there must be something
wrong with him. They began to refer to JD as "distractible" and raised the
question of learning disabilities. Ironically, the head of school reviewed
his aptitude test scores and remarked that he was gifted. That was the
first time we heard this word used to describe our child.
One teacher, a 20-year veteran, told us: "He's so far ahead, it doesn't
matter if he doesn't learn anything all year." But it did matter. It
mattered to our son. He wanted to learn something new.
We took JD out of private school in late February and homeschooled him for
the remainder of first grade. Surely we just needed to find a school that
could challenge bright kids. Homeschooling would be only a brief sojourn.
We turned to our public elementary school, a theme school for high
achievers, ranked among the top schools in our state. I met with the gifted
teachers before enrolling JD in second grade. I shared his private test
scores and stressed his need for challenge, especially in language arts.
At first, JD was thrilled about going to a new school and tried hard to
adjust. Soon, we heard a familiar complaint. The work was too easy; he
compared school to a prison. The school declined to give him an individual
achievement test. He must wait until spring, when the Iowa tests would be
At home, he read Harry Potter; at school, he read Henry and Mudge. His
language arts teacher had created an in-class lending library; she knew
that he was reading the hardest books on the shelves. Each time we asked
that he be moved to the more challenging language arts class, we heard a
different reason why he could not be in that class.
The principal described our son as "quiet, compliant and unengaged." She
told us, "We don't see what you see."
The county's battery of group tests did not identify our child as gifted.
This school uses the inclusion model for gifted services. They were already
giving him what they deemed "gifted instruction." The gifted teacher taught
a weekly science class and provided occasional pull-out classes in math for
students who had tested out of a unit. Enrichment consisted largely of
extra worksheets or projects done at home.
JD came home many days crying and discouraged. His disillusionment was
complete. He hated school.
During spring break, in desperation, we traveled to Winchester, Kentucky,
to consult with Dr. Edward Amend, a psychologist whose work focuses on
gifted children. He administered additional tests. He assured us that our
child is gifted. He said that JD would need a dramatically different
As a former teacher, I trusted the school. I thought they cared about the
needs of my child. I thought they would believe me when I described his
growing despair. I thought that if I held up my end of the bargain, they
would hold up theirs.
Although we advocated for our son, volunteered at school and tried to work
cooperatively with the staff, our efforts failed; our child became
increasingly despondent. We struggled to console him. What good were wings?
He had to fold them back up and sit on them for six hours a day. His love
of learning was overshadowed by frustration.
We wrote to our district's gifted coordinator. We described our child's
experience in school and shared some of Dr. Amend's comments. We received
At this point, we could have filed an appeal. However, our confidence in
the school was badly shaken. There was nothing to fight for. The principal
told us "grade-skipping" was out of the question. There would be no
advanced language arts class for third graders. Gifted services would again
be limited to a weekly science class and an occasional pull-out in math. We
chose to go another route. We began our "accidental journey" of homeschooling.
Instead of pushing others to meet JD's needs, we strive to make sure his
needs are met. It is a task that is often daunting, yet we see the direct
results of our efforts.
In homeschool, JD is not lost or overlooked. We find our way together. My
son is happier due to a more flexible schedule, the chance to work at his
own pace and to explore his interests.
I participate in a number of gifted listserves. If I have a question, I
turn to cyber-friends. Someone has always "been there, done that." I'm a
bit of a curriculum junkie; I have both paper and electronic folders
bulging with ideas, links, and book titles. Distance learning opportunities
expand my son's horizons; the yellow school bus has morphed into a PC.
We live in a metropolitan area where there are many homeschoolers; some
organize their own classes. Museums also offer events for homeschoolers
during the day. Often we pack the car with books and snacks and travel to
points north or south like educational "hunter-gatherers." My son has met
new friends all over town.
"Homeschool" really means "learning everywhere."
This past year, in addition the individualized study that he did at home,
JD took group classes with other homeschoolers, including creative writing,
Spanish, acting and geology. He studied reptiles at our local nature
center. We joined the mineral society and the "mineral of the month" club.
JD explored online learning and dabbled in computer programming. At the
arts center, he learned to throw a pot on the wheel. He discovered chess,
entered several tournaments and won his first trophy. He played soccer,
basketball and baseball; he received his baseball team's sportsmanship
award. With family and friends, he visited museums and attended plays,
puppet shows and concerts.
People ask, "What about socialization?" I have to smile.
On a recent summer morning, we had a playdate with several other families
who homeschool gifted kids. While the children ran shrieking through a
fountain in the park, the moms sat in the shade and discussed the merits of
studying Latin and the benefits of entering a robotics contest.
Whatever the reason they choose to educate their children at home,
homeschooling parents are among the most dedicated teachers I have ever met.
Our journey, begun under a cloud of disappointment, is now bright with
possibilities. We're not out of the woods yet, but the scenery's rather
nice. There's sunlight filtering through the branches.
We take this journey one day at a time. JD works well above grade level. If
he were to return to a traditional school, we would need some assurance
that the learning opportunities would be appropriate.
I joined our state and local gifted association. I have thought long and
hard about our educational system.
I am in awe of parents who are effective advocates. I hope to learn from
them so I will be better prepared if my child returns to public school. I
wonder how parents and teachers can work as a team in the best interests of
the child. How can we listen to each other and avoid defensiveness?
A free and appropriate public education for all children is a noble and
democratic goal. But within the current school structure, how can I expect
a classroom teacher to deal with my child's extreme asynchrony, along with
the individual needs and learning styles of at least 20 other children?
The identification of gifted children should be a flexible, fluid process.
When there are major discrepancies between private, individual test results
and group test results, this should open a dialogue, at the very least.
In our state, the identification process offers a label, but is not
necessarily tied to appropriate services, especially in the early grades.
Once deemed gifted, children are "plugged in" to whatever program is
available. Even though a child's strengths may be in language arts,
compacting or differentiation may only be available in math.
Locally, a formal magnet program for high achievers doesn't begin until
fourth grade. Admission is by test scores and a lottery. A child's
educational future is determined by chance.
Gifted children may be the happy high-achievers. Or they may be the quiet
ones who disappear in the back row. They may be the students who daydream
and make careless mistakes. They may disrupt the class; they may have
learning disabilities. Sometimes they are medicated unnecessarily for
misdiagnosed ADD. Or they are treated for depression. Yet the true cause of
their depression is not addressed.
Children need work at their level, even when that level surprises us.
There are no easy answers. The brightest children are underserved in most
schools, both public and private. They are not allowed to move forward.
With the increasing emphasis on standardized tests, much class time is
spent teaching to the test. Teachers do not have the time, resources or
support they need to offer a more flexible curriculum.
In our efforts to leave no child behind, we have forgotten the children who
are ready to leap ahead. Do we want school to be a place where children
march in lockstep through rigid, age-grade curricula? Or do we dare to
dream of schools where children can truly spread their wings and soar?
If we see in children a vibrant spectrum of learning styles, strengths and
differences, if we allow them to progress at their own rate, support them
when they need help, challenge them when they need more, what will school
look like then?
I've always liked theologian Howard Thurman's advice: "Don't ask yourself
what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do that, because
what the world needs is people who have come alive."
So perhaps we do have a homeschooling dogma after all -- our belief that
learning should be a process where children can come alive.
Permission to reprint this article was granted by the author.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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