Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Good News Is, He's Brilliant

The bad news is, he's lazy. Or something.

(long, rambling and self-indulgent, because it's Saturday and nobody is reading anyway)

Pre-Pubescent One got put on academic probation for getting a C.

I know, I know...that doesn't sound like such a tragedy, and you're wondering why I'm having kittens over an average grade. There are a few reasons for that.

First, because he's not an average student. If I thought that he was putting forth his best effort and getting C's, I would be fine with that.

But he's not. He blows off homework and expects his test grades to keep him afloat. Why? You may ask.

Well, it used to be that he could get straight A's without doing any work because he remembers everything. His retention is amazing. If he hears it or sees it once, it's there. And that worked just fine for him in elementary school because he had an understanding homeroom teacher. She and his Target (gifted and talented) teacher both recognized that sometimes really smart kids just work differently.

Many of them just have a different way of thinking and doing things. They can be flaky and absentminded. They color outside the lines. They defy authority. They break rules. They buck trends.

And some of them have learnging disabilites. There is a strong link between giftedness and disorders like ADD, Dyslexia, and processing disorders. Pre-Pubescent One has ADD, but his symptoms are well managed with Strattera and certain behavior modification strategies.

So his teachers accepted him as an exceedingly bright kid with some intellectual quirks and didn't make too much of the fact that he never turned in his homework. I appreciated that to an extent, but I also think they may have set him up for failure in Middle School, where homework accounts for a large percentage of the overall grade.

So here we are, in 7th grade, and my son is in danger of getting kicked out of the AC (accelerated content) program. One more C, and he's out.

We met with the coordinator of the AC program this week, who is also his AC Social Studies teacher. She expressed to us that she would be very disappointed to see him lose his place in line for the AC magnet program at the high school level. They start evaluating students in 8th grade. She thinks it would be somewhat disastrous for him to be in regular content courses.

She feels that he needs to be around kids with similar intellect to challenge him to think, motivate him to perform, and keep him striving for excellence. It's a sound theory. Normally, he gets straight A's in his AC courses, while his regular content grades suck ass.

And you may be wondering why he doesn't have a full course load of AC classes. I wondered that myself. When he entered Middle School, I assumed that would be the case, since he had been in the gifted program in elementary school, as well as a special accelerated math class in which they were learning introductory geometry, trigonometry and simple calculus (who knew there was such a thing as simple calculus??).

The answer is pretty disheartening. They just don't have the staff or the resources to provide all the AC students with a full AC courseload. They put kids in the AC classes in which test results have indicated the highest aptitude. For some reason his did not include math and he ended up in a regular content math class, where he was relearning stuff he had had down cold since the third grade.

Did I make a stink about that? Oh yes. But you see, he was not getting good grades in regular content math and so, they reasoned, his placement made sense. But the reason he was doing so poorly was that he did not care about doing well. He considers himself somewhat of a math whiz, so he was terribly affronted by being placed in a regular content class. He simply refused to perform.

Anyway...all of that just supports what his teacher said. He needs to be in the accelerated program. He needs to be challenged or he becomes apathetic. And he needs the excitement of competing with other kids with similar abilities. Good grades in a class full of kids he can think circles around gives him no satisfaction.

All this sounds very snooty, doesn't it? La di kids is so smart and everyone else's kids are hopeless dullards. It's weird having smart kids. People assume that having smart kids is great, but let me assure you, it comes with it's own frustrations. And it's hard to discuss those challenges without sounding like a big fat braggart.

But you know what? There are times that I would really rather have a child who is average. There is nothing wrong with average. And I think average is a lot easier for all concerned.

Another part of the problem is that he knows he's smart. You wouldn't think that would be an academic handicap, but believe me, it is.

He doesn't feel like he needs to do the work, and to be quite honest, he doesn't. He participates eagerly in class discussions, and that's really all it takes for him to absorb material and concepts. His teacher said that if she could grade him on articulation and class participation alone his grades would not be an issue.

But that's not the way it works in the real world. There has to be empirical proof of his intelligence and his willingness to put forth some effort in order for him to be eligible for the opportunities available for gifted kids. And if he doesn't straighten up, those opportunities are going to pass him by.

It's all enormously frustrating, especially since I experienced similar issues when I was in school. Some of you may remember my story. It's incredibly hard to watch your kids make all the same mistakes and be powerless to change it.

Oh, we've tried. We've done everything my parents did and we tried some things they didn't. We've tried positive reinforcement. We've tried the hardass approach. We've even resorted to bribery. All to no avail. And I'm stumped. Really and truly stumped.

I try to remember my own thought processes and why I refused to do what everyone expected of me. All I can recall is feeling disgusted and annoyed and thinking that it was all so stupid and pointless. What did any of it matter?

Of course, I didn't have the maturity to see that it would matter a lot later on in life, and I refused to be told, as does my son.

I was discussing this with several friends recently. One of those friends has a similarly gifted child, the other has a child with Autism. The third friend is a Middle School teacher. As you can imagine, they are a great group of gals with which to discuss these kinds of issues.

The one friend is wondering how to handle the problems her child is facing with homework. He is a perfectionist (as many gifted children are) but instead of being an asset, this can somtimes be a huge liability. His perfectionsim often results in homework not getting turned in, because it's just not good enough. Like my son, his grades and his performance are often not a reliable indicator of his true ability.

The mother of the autistic child, who has a lot of insight into differenly abled individuals had this to say:

"What I think some educators don't understand is that there is a trade-off in very smart kids... they excel in certain areas and have major deficits in others. Its really that simple. Well, simple when you find out where their roadblocks are and then implement a program that uses their strengths to help w/their weaknesses."

She's absolutely right, as any Mom with a gifted child knows. Many teachers recognize it as well. But unfortunately, people in the real world are not as informed or understanding. We cannot realistically expect them to make concessions for our brilliant but unconventional children.

Employers won't be so indulgent if they "forget" to show up for work, misplace an important document, or alienate a client. Banks, creditors and utility companies won't be so forgving ing if they "forget" to pay a bill.

We've got to find a way to help these kids navigate the real world, or they will end up lost. From my perspective as the mother of a gifted child, that would be a terribly tragedy.

Unrealized potential always is.

So yes, I think we absolutely have to recognize that they think differently, act differently, live differently. But I don't think that should be an excuse to coast through life. I don't think we should enable them in using that as an excuse to be less than they can be.

And right now, that is where all my frustration lies.

For the last part of the conference, we brought Pre-Pubescent One in. As we talked to him, he nodded obediently, but I could see him tuning us out. Just as I did when my parents and teachers gave me the same speech.

Still, I can't not give it. It's my job. And someday, when he's flipping hamburgers at McDonald's, I will know that I tried.

Will that keep the guilt at bay? SIGH. Probably not. Moms should get emotional hazard pay.


  • At 12:48 PM, Blogger flutter said…

    The truth of it is, at his age you can only dole out consequences, which sucks.

    Hopefully when that brain kicks in and the realization that that brain is a gift, he will use it as such.

  • At 1:12 PM, Blogger Sharon L. Holland said…

    I coasted through school on my brain until I entered an accelerated boarding school. Suddenly everyone else was as smart as I was, and the work was a lot harder. Without study skills, my grades tanked.

    So I feel for you. (And I still turned out okay.) He may just take longer to master certain habits. There were lots of things I didn't learn to do until I was on my own.

  • At 2:02 PM, Blogger Alison said…

    I hope what Veronica said gives you hope. I don't have any personal examples (I coasted through high school except for math, and was terrified by college--but I always did the work, being a perfectionist pleaser who was afraid the sky would fall if I got a B) but I do think you are doing the best you can do, and it DOES suck that you can't stop your kids from making mistakes, especially ones you've already made.

    This parenting gig is HARD. Hang in there. Someday I bet he'll be grateful you tried.

  • At 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Don't give up -- I think you're right to be proud - and frustrated - to stay on him - and let out the line a bit as well. Right now he doesn't believe that anything will really happen (like no more AC classes). I hope he's right!!!

    Have you tried old-fashioned bribery? I mean...really?

  • At 4:28 PM, Blogger said…

    I hear ya. I have an exceptionally gifted child and a typically average learning child and the difference is amazing. It is EASY for my oldest to attain good grades now, in 3rd grade. I worry that when the work actually requires a bit of concentration, we will have issues (as I did, growing up). But my second child? I can honestly say that it is easier for him in kindergarten as he actually is LEARNING things there. (my oldest could read at age 4 and my second knew SOME of his letters going into kinder...)

  • At 5:08 PM, Blogger Mary Alice said…

    I have gone through the same thing with my own son. Just keep explaining. Usually it is a phase and a power play...the only power they hold over their own destiny is the power to do well or not to do well....sometimes they choose not to well just to hold some power in the palm of their hand. The good news is usually it works itself out. Try shaking up the routine and adding another interest..

  • At 7:50 PM, Blogger painted maypole said…

    really well written, and a great examination of hte perils of being gifted and htinking outside the box.

  • At 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I disagree with one thing that you've written. We can, and should, reasonably expect everyone to make concessions for "brilliant and unconventional children". They are one of many types of children whose needs are often not met by the education system, whose potential is often not supported, and in fact, is too often squashed.

    Has any one else noticed, as I have, that "gifted" (what a terrible word that is) children often have more affinity, and form deep friendships, with children who have little natural aptitude for school than they do with those who are "average" (another terrible word)? Unlike adults, they do not see their intelligence as a measure of their worth, or a way of comparing that sets them above others. Instead, they experience it as something that sets them apart from others.

    And that is everybody's fault.

    Like any other child with learning differences, intelligent children deserve whatever extra support they need; emotionally, socially and educationally.

    As in the adult world, nobody else's skills are an insult to our own. And no child who receives extra attention in class because they require it is an insult to anybody else's child, or even the other children in the family.

    I have seen too many kids held back because of the fear that their aptitudes will make others feel bad. I have seen teachers juggling the needs of other parents' egos with the needs of the child. I have seen children ignored because it seems like they are intelligent enough to take care of their education themselves.

    It sounds like you have a pretty good situation and access to support for Diminutive One. Sadly, this is not the case for too many children.

    People are born with different IQs. There is no getting around that. What we should reasonably expect from adults is for them to realise this has nothing to do with inferiority or superiority - that every parent has a child they can be overwhelmingly proud of - and any egos involved should simply get over it...

    So that everyone's children can be given the best education for them, according to their own aptitudes, their own weaknesses, and their own temperaments. Because even the "average" ones, you know, are "differently abled".

  • At 9:15 PM, Blogger Liv said…

    That feels like me. I never studied, made all A's, and then one day realized that I couldn't do it anymore. So, there was this period of regrouping, figuring it out, and sucking it up and studying. I hope things start looking up soon.

  • At 9:48 PM, Blogger Tania said…

    I knew a kid in university who was beyond brilliant. All through high school, he scored fairly average grades, but did well enough to get into university. Once he was in university, he felt the challenge that he needed. He stepped up his performance so much that the university ended up giving him a scholarship, and actually apologized for not giving it to him sooner.

  • At 10:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said…

    As you know, we're in exactly the same boat. Only my Profoundly Gifted boy is a junior in high school and was asked to LEAVE SCHOOL on Friday. Yes, he cannot come back to school until he completes some of the stuff he's screwed up on. This child, who learned to read at 3.5 FAILED English this term. His JUNIOR YEAR. Not that it counts or anything.... OMG!

    I can't get through to him. The school can't. His friends can't. His therapist can't. Nobody can. He just doesn't get that he has to do the work. When he was little, his pretty face got him excused for everything. But that ended this year and he can't handle it at all.

    I don't know what the hell I'm going to do. I can't motivate him either, the talking until you're blue in the face doesn't work. Nothing seems to. Our schools don't even have a TAG program because "all kids in MA are gifted" (really, I'm NOT making this's on the Dept of Ed web site!) so the teachers work so extra hard to accomodate him. But so far, and remember, it's ONLY November, he's flunked out of Latin and English. He gets A's on the tests but refuses to do ANY homework or most classwork.

    We have a similar math situation to yours. Perfectionist, will not show work, does it in his head, has been placed in lower math levels because he won't cooperate with homework requirements. He doesn't get it.

    And NOBODY is more frustrated than I am.

    All I can tell you is, get it taken care of BEFORE his junior year. Watching my kid KILL his chances of attending college is just breaking my heart.

  • At 10:22 PM, Blogger said…

    I'm in a bad place with a "gifted" (and yes I dislike the term but it is what it is) kid because in PA the schools get no money for gifted students, so they try ot shove them off to a corner in pull-out programs or, what's happening in our shcools, not identifying gifted kids at all.

    And I know the landmines you walk through as a parent trying to advocate for your child, but trying not to sound like "one of those parents."

    When kids aren't challeged at their learning level - any kids, not only gifted - then they coast. And coasting is the opposite of working. There's study which compared kids (random sample) who were told that they worked hard versus kids who were told that they were smart; the kids who were told that they did a good job working hard were the kids who continued to work hard and who took on more challenges.

    If a child - any child - does not have a good work ethic (as necessitated through being given challenging material from the get go and not being allowed to simply coast through) then that child is going to falter when it's time to really buckle down.

    I don't know what the answer is, but I do empathize regarding the problem.

  • At 10:24 PM, Blogger said…

    BTW, look into John Holt's learning theories and the Sudbury School learning philsophy, as well as unschooling philosophies. Lots of good stuff there.

  • At 10:41 PM, Blogger Girlplustwo said…

    he's lucky to have you.

    brilliance probably terrifies some people.

  • At 12:29 AM, Blogger Creative-Type Dad said…

    Yup, it is our job to keep pushing our kids. Nobody else will do it for us.

  • At 2:31 AM, Blogger Lisa said…

    Gosh this all sounds so much like my husband. And even now. His workplaces have always put up with stuff like his tardiness and messy office because he is super smart and very, very good at his job.

    Like you said, if he's not challenged and engaged, he doesn't care... (Like my hubby and like so many others have said.)

    I wish I had advice for you... I don't. For the record, you don't sound like a braggart. You sound like a good mom who's worried about her child. :-)

  • At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Well...I'm not gifted - but as a Grandma I have a different perspective. Take him to the park, do something silly, enjoy him, it will all work will all work out and if he doesn't stay in the gifted programs, so what? So the flip what? Has he learned to laugh, is he kind, does he understand compassion, does he know how to stand on his head, can he catch polliwogs, all the other things will be there when he needs them. Believe will all work out.
    I enjoy your blog. YOU ARE a writer but more importantly as a Mom. You will know just the right thing to do. Take a deep breath. Go to the park, do something silly.

  • At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think you're right to look at all of these components - I was shocked when I went to college and wasn't "known" and had to do the work. The kind of work that I was perfectly capable of doing, but hadn't practiced the motivation needed before. It was a challenge for me to perform, even when I was smart enough.

  • At 1:08 PM, Blogger Jen said…

    I second the emotional hazard pay. I love the phrase "having kittens" by the way...I haven't heard it used like that before - too funny.

    It's so hard, watching our kids, trying not to personalize their mistakes and victories too much.

    Yeah, hazard pay is a great idea.

  • At 1:25 PM, Blogger Angela said…

    Good luck.
    The real world just isn't nice is it.

  • At 1:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I so empathize with your plight. I have a child who's probably not gifted -- he's in private school and that distinction is not made -- and even dealing with his perfectionism and belief that if a thing doesn't come easily, it means you're dumb -- is challenging.

    I work in a school district (special ed), and I so hear you about middle school resources, as well as resources for gifted students. Unfortunately the laws do not support the school districts helping gifted kids in the same way as those who have trouble learning. And that is unfair, and a waste of potential. Helping them through their homework resistance should not be solely a parent's job, just as repetition of basic concepts for mentally retarded children is not just up to mom and dad.

    I don't have any solutions for you, but I do hear you. It is so hard to watch our kids make mistakes in their thinking, especially the ones they got from us. I love how thoughtful you are about all of this.

  • At 4:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great blog, BA. I so understand all you had to say, and I'm really enjoying reading all of the comments.

    Gifted does not mean easy. But somehow, it's good to know that I'm not alone in all of the challenges.



  • At 5:34 PM, Blogger merinz said…

    Yes it can be a minefield guiding a gifted child through the system. And I am sure that your system will be similar to ours (New Zealand).

    It is a big plus that these days they even HAVE an accelerated learning class! That was not always the case here.

    I have no answers but I can identify with the ups and downs and frustrations.

    One of our sons was throwing paper darts around in his fourth form maths class. I was able to persuade the teachers to consider and implement some extension classes and his behaviour changed overnight.

  • At 12:01 PM, Blogger email said…

    I'm having the same problem with my oldest, who is in the 8th grade. The next two in line are just as bright, if not more so, but my second one is very responsible, so I don't foresee too many issues with her. My third, however, is 4, already can do third grade level math and reading, and is trouble with a capital T. I'm dreading the middle school years with her. When I was pregnant with #4, I said to my husband, "Maybe we could get a not so bright one this time. Normal would be nice." That one just turned one, so the intelligence level remains to be seen.

    There's an interesting book called "The Edison Trait," that is all about the way gifted kids think. I don't know if it's still in print; I stumbled across it on a bargain table several years ago.

  • At 3:34 PM, Blogger Cathy, Amy and Kristina said…

    Amen to the hazard pay.

    Also, I agree that he's so very lucky to have you.

  • At 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Margalit's comment - and pain - really struck me. I have a niece/ex-foster daughter who is really extremely smart, and never ever could "do" school. She was reasonably successful in the Montessori school she attended up through 5th grade, but after that, went from one school to another to another - and finally dropped out at 16 when the high school was going to make her repeat 9th grade, not for failing, but simply for missing too many days of school (by about 3 or 4) - this was also in MA, btw.

    A very very high-energy, high metabolism kid, she went to work as a waitress and started saving her money. After several months she took the test for her GED (without studying!) and passed with flying colors, then entered community college where she's doing fine.

    What she needed was school on HER terms - she has to take responsibility to show up, do the work, turn it in - no one else is pushing her, no one cares if she does or she doesn't, so if she wants to make it, she does it on her own. She's getting ready to transfer to a 4-year school and I have every confidence she'll do great.

    All this to say, perhaps your son, margalit, is not a hopeless case for college - when he has a chance to take responsibility for himself, perhaps he will do so. I hope so for you and for him!

    And, oh, BA - thanks for a great post, and my hopes and thoughts are with you and your son for his success as well.


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