Saturday, April 14, 2007

Still smug after all these years

Much to write about, but I’ve decided that I don’t have the energy to tease any of it out into the form I would like. So instead, I’ll fill in the details from the gifted education story I referenced in my last post.

In my elementary school, students who had been identified as “gifted” were pulled out of class once or twice a week for enrichment activities with the “gifted” consultant. (I put the word “gifted’ into scare-quotes here to indicate that I have some issues with the terminology, but I shall drop them from this point on.) Being in the gifted class required a yearly Individual Education Plan (IEP), something required for any student who wasn’t “normal” (OK, can’t resist those scare-quotes). My parents and I would meet with the gifted consultant to lay out my goals for the school year. Since we didn’t need to make any plans for remediation, this usually entailed listing subjects I wanted to study. But since gifted class involved all the identified students from a class or grade level, the resulting curriculum for the year somehow had to involve all of us.

Now here’s a question that always puzzled me: shouldn’t a gifted consultant be gifted? OK, that’s the 6th grade, prepubescent, smart-ass me. But it does get to the heart of my problem with the program. If you’re going to be dealing with students of higher-than-average intelligence on a regular basis, shouldn’t you be equipped to handle them? I was generally a compliant child, quite concerned about getting into trouble, so I tended to follow authority as long as said authority seemed reasonable.

So here’s where the gifted consultant I had for several years in elementary school went wrong. I figured out that the IEP was a crock. I could list any number of things I wanted to study and usually came up with a handful of things related to science and dance, probably creative writing too. And every year, without fail, we did... Spanish. And some other stuff—usually there’d be one unit that was at least tangentially related to one of my goals. Just to reiterate: not a dumb kid! I came to understand that the IEP was, technically and legally, not a wish list, but intended to be a blueprint for the educational enrichment I should receive. So now I had real ammunition; not only did I not like my gifted consultant, but I was also indignant that my education was receiving short-shrift.

I rebelled. Twice. Once in third grade, once in fourth grade. Nothing outright, nothing that could get me into too much trouble.

In third grade, she announced we would be doing a unit on fairytales. In retrospect, I think it could have been enjoyable, if framed in literary/writing terms or with a comparative approach. I might have been won over with that, but it wasn’t couched in those terms. So I announced that I wasn’t going to do it. Not on my IEP, can’t make me. My parents eventually talked me down from that, citing the approaches I mentioned above and steering me towards the stories they thought I would enjoy more. (Does it say anything that those were particularly dark ones?)

In fourth grade, it was Spanish. For the fourth year in a row. And as soon as she announced that, I knew exactly what it would be, because it had been the same every other year. We would learn the usual small talk (My name is x. I am fine. I am y-years-old. My favorite color is z.) and then move onto the days of the week and months of the year. And that would be it. I didn’t have anything specific against Spanish, but I still had it all memorized from our previous units. I went a little bigger with that fit—wouldn’t sit at the table, flopped down on the floor instead. And there was some crying too, but really that’s just me. In that case, the gifted consultant had to do an independent unit with me, carving time out of her schedule to do something that actually was on my IEP. Even though I didn’t particularly want to spend time alone with her, I was smug that I had made my point.

The smugness increased when I discovered in fifth grade that we would be directly addressing a couple things from my IEP, the first time ever. Which brings me back to one of the quotes I used on Thursday: “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.” If I hadn’t decided to push against authority, if I hadn’t held firm the year before, we might not have had a unit on science fiction and I might not have had that first, formative experience with Vonnegut.


alejna said...

That's great that you stood up for yourself, and your education. And that you got a real reward out of it. Yay, 4th-grader you!

I've wondered about those "gifted" programs, myself. I was in one at one of my schools (I moved around a lot), and while it was actually a pretty cool program, with varied projects and problem-solving activities, I'm not sure how good it was for me. We also had to do independent projects, and I'm afraid that's when I learned how to goof off and accomplish very little by puttering around acting busy. (Of course, my teacher also had trouble understanding my goals, and had a tendency to distort my project into something that no longer particularly interested me.)

kgirl said...

I was in the gifted program from grades 3-11, when we were destreamed and I became so bored that I dropped out for a year, before enrolling and graduating from an alternative school that was more like the school that I was used to.
I think I was incredibly lucky to be in the gifted program in the tdsb. It meant smaller classes, individualized learning, an emphasis on critical and creative thinking and lots of independence and trust.
Regardless of her designation, I hope I can find a school that will offer those things to Bee.

bubandpie said...

Here I am, all set to make the opposite comment to kgirl's. I went to a village school with no "gifted" program (with you on the scare-quotes - a new term to me: I like it!). I'm very glad. I led my own gifted program, reading voraciously, writing stories, doing overly elaborate projects at every opportunity (I wrote and recorded a song for my grade 8 history project). I don't see the value of pulling a select few kids out of class in order to draw some kind of line in the sand between the "smart" and "normal" kids.

One of my other grade 8 projects, a speech, was on learning disabilities, and in my reading for that speech I came across the definition that "giftedness" refers to children who are underperforming because they are unchallenged. Those kids need and deserve intervention, but those who are doing well should just be left alone to thrive.

(All that, of course, is based on the kind of gifted program you described - being pulled out of class for "enrichment" activities. I have a much higher opinion of gifted classes - I was in enriched classes for English and math in high school and they were great.)

crazymumma said...

I love that you wreaked a little havoc however smug it was. You probably deserved it, as did the school...

Vonnegut makes me remember getting really stoned at school and talking abpout his ideas out in the field. Thankfully I was older than 10, but not by much. sigh.

thanks for your beautiful comment over my way. I am truly flattered.

cinnamon gurl said...

I was labelled gifted but then we moved and the new school district didn't have a gifted program or a system of testing all kids at a certain age. They didn't know what to do with me. So they tried to give me extra stuff but it just singled me out and alienated me from the other kids. Not only was I the new kid I was the only "gifted" one in the school.

But that smugness, that smart ass attitude. I cultivated that throughout senior public and high school, and I never respected a teacher if I thought I was smarter than them. There were a few who I think knew that I knew I was smarter than them and it bugged the shit out of them. Then I enjoyed a whole year or semester of pissing them off.

Lisa b said...

I had pretty much the same experience in terms of how disorganised I found the "gifted" programs and how I tried to manipulate that to my advantage. Why wouldn't anyone?
Gifted or not the teachers should be smart enough not to agree to wildly differing IEPs that can never be implemented in one classroom. Once something is in your IEP they are legally obligated to implement it, well here in Canada at least.
Such a can of worms here. So many people with the best of intentions.
Good for you for standing up for yourself. I hope my comment yesterday didn't come across as criticising you. I think it is good you got the experience you wanted.
If the program were better organised - the IEPs were properly integrated into your curriculum for example - you would not have had that stress of having to fight to get what you wanted. You can't promise a child something, or worse make them come up with things they want to do, and then not deliver.
I could go on and on and on but I will spare you

Mouse said...

It's interesting to see that others had similar experiences in the system, on both sides of the border. I think things would have been very different for me if it had been a full program instead of the pull-out style. In fact, I realized that I should write about some of my regular classroom teachers who did a lot more to meet my interests and keep me challenged than the gifted program ever did. I am probably more critical of my gifted consultants because I had such excellent examples of how learning could be enriched from within the classroom--and they were good at doing it with drawing much less attention to me than the gifted program did (ouch, I hear you on that, Cin!).

Sandra said...

I went to a very small town school and kids that were labeled gifted occasionaly were able to participate in enrichment activities but nothing structured or formalized. I was a very smug and head strong kid so I am certain I'd have rebelled in your situation. I loved the enrichment activities because they were usually for the things you were most interested/gifted at. I got to do all sorts of drama and writing and public speaking and math ... but no thanks for the science.

TDSB doesn't have a gifted program until grade 3 which is my struggle now for my son who reads at a grade 7 level, does grade 5 math and is writing in cursive and thirsty for learning all at SK. I am keeping him in an alternative school until grade 3 if I can afford it. He's "normal" there. And we both like that.