My son Brian was ill all during his fourth grade year in a pubic elementary school. The following year he began auditing classes at a community college, and his illness disappeared. I’m convinced that he had been literally bored sick. He continued auditing for a total of two and a half years, gained regular admission to the community college, prepared to transfer to the University of California, completed a computer science major there, and graduated with his BA when he was barely 17. He returned to UC a few years later to earn a PhD in computer engineering. He is now Vice President and Principal Engineer for Research and Development at TiVo.
Matthew Snyder spent one year in high school, another year as a full-time student at a community college while he was still enrolled in high school, secured freedom from high school, and continued at another community college, studying engineering and music, until he stopped out for the first time. He worked as a carpenter, traveled to Mexico, and lived in Utah, where he skied and learned a lot about photography. He returned to California, designed furniture while living in Los Angeles, entered California State University, Long Beach, and earned a BA in creative writing. He moved to San Francisco, where he helped design buildings, and then he applied to Harvard, was accepted, and earned a graduate degree in architecture. He taught for a while at Northeastern University, and is now living in Santa Cruz and working as an architect. Matthew has a high school GPA that never mattered in gaining college admission, never took any AP courses, and never took the SAT or ACT.
Casandra Miller began at a women’s college in Kentucky and after one semester transferred to Wells College in New York State, another women’s college. She struggled with science and math but graduated at 19 with honors and awards and with a major in psychology and a minor in music. She returned to Kentucky, held several jobs, and completed medical school prerequisites at the University of Kentucky. Her advisor at Wells had told her she’d never succeed in medical school, but she’s now a graduate of the University of Louisville School of Medicine and in her last year of residency in Florida. She has a fellowship in Michigan lined up for next year.
More detailed versions of these stories and several others are in Forging Paths: Beyond Traditional Schooling.
Going to college is not always the best way to pursue one’s interests, develop talents, and find productive and fulfilling work. Some of the people I’ve worked with have chosen to say no to a college education and have been very successful in dance, music, acting, photography, sports, practical crafts, high tech, and entrepreneurial endeavors. Among these people are a principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, a well-known wedding photographer, a successful singer and recording artist, a leading man in movies, an acrobatic circus performer, and a professional rock climber.
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I work with many homeschoolers, but there are more school-leavers among my students. They typically leave high school early – sometimes they skip high school altogether – and move on with their lives, most often going to a community college and then to a four-year school.
Since I have seen so many young people succeed in college and other endeavors without a traditional high school education or its equivalent, I can’t believe that the supposedly necessary high school preparation is always actually essential to thrive in college.
I’m being equivocal here. When I was talking on the phone with Brian recently, he told me he thinks that when he completed studies at the local community college and was accepted as a junior transfer to UC, he was probably prepared to enter MIT as a freshman. I’m not saying that subject matter studies are always unnecessary for college, but I’m sure they sometimes are.
A number of years ago I wrote down my own version of a college preparatory “curriculum”; it comprised (a) mastery of basic skills; (b) passionate engagement in productive endeavors of any kind, leading to . . . (c) development/maintenance of personal traits such as confidence, curiosity, enthusiasm, realistic self-knowledge, capacity for wholehearted engagement, ability to persevere, and a sense of autonomy. I’m again being equivocal (in this case by writing “traits such as”) and am not saying that this is yet another one-size-fits-all “curriculum,” but I do think that the nurturance of positive personal traits is at least as important as subject matter studies in preparing for college or an adult life outside of academia.
I think kids and parents should evaluate whether personal strengths are growing along with academic learning, and that a red flag should be waving if this isn’t happening or if these aspects of learning and growing are being overlooked.
And I’ll quote Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kevin Rathunde, and Samuel Whalen, who said this in Talented Teenagers: “We can say with some certainty that enjoyment of a student’s talentrelated work was one of the most important determinants [in our study] of whether the student developed her or his talent.”
Another article, more broadly focused in some ways, titled “Tips for Parents: Some Thoughts about College Admission,” is at http://www.davidsongifted.org/Search-Database/entry/A10410.
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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