All Children Can Learn and “All Children Should Be Learning,” Joan Smutny

As I wrote in an article for IAGC (Illinois Association for Gifted Children) in 2006, my mother went to a one-room schoolhouse in Red Oak, IA in the 1920s. Because of the size of the class, she benefitted from a teacher who kept her challenged, and she graduated from high school at the age of sixteen, only six months after her mother died. Unfortunately, the nursing school she wanted to attend in Chicago wouldn’t take her for two more years.
Probably because of that, she started me in Chicago at the age of five, which was February of 1953. The following year, we moved to Palatine and I was placed in first grade. Within a month, she knew I needed more challenge. I was, after all, already reading. She insisted I be placed in second grade and persisted until I was “skipped.” I was in second grade at the end of the year. The only casualty was my handwriting, which was illegible until my fourth grade teacher retaught the whole class cursive. I still learned to count holes in the ceiling to survive a few classes. One minor difference for me was that I didn’t date as early as my classmates, but that was partially because I preferred to read. I graduated in the top ten percent of my graduating class of 710 students.
My eldest son was diagnosed in second grade, after a weak test score. His teacher retested him with an IQ test and he qualified for the non-existent gifted program. After the formation of a parent group, a teacher was hired for the gifted students in fifth grade. He was allowed to work at his rate up to fifth grade, as long as he didn’t bother the teacher. He remained with his classmates until middle school. At that point, he qualified for a super-accelerated math program. He attended math at the high school at the end of his day. (I had to speak to the Assistant Superintendent to get him a bus home.)This worked well until his senior year, when the school district refused to pay for his coursework at the local community college, insisted he take the course on his own time, after a full day of school and athletics.
My second son was also identified in second grade and received instruction in fifth. He qualified for the special math program in middle school as well, but he had a teacher that resented his leaving in the middle of class to go to the high school. He decided to show everyone what a bad teacher she was by flunking her class. I’m afraid I used some very unpleasant persuasion to get him to write his final paper, which fell on the week his grandfather died. Wish I could do that over!
In short, acceleration is not about pushing kids, it is about allowing them to learn. I often use the example of an adult going to a job that requires him to do the same thing day after day. The adult has the ability to leave that job, a student does not. Caring teachers can provide appropriate instruction in two ways: allowing them to keep moving ahead or allowing them to learn in more depth about a topic. Ignoring their needs is a waste of valuable time.

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