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.