The same day that I read Afshan’s post on taking her 7-year-old daughter out of public school in order to homeschool her, my five-year-old daughter came home with her first report card. Although there were no letter grades, she had clearly done outstanding work, particularly in the “Social Skills/Behavioral” area. This doesn’t come as much of a surprise to us. She taught herself to write her own name when she was only three, prompting her new preschool teacher to declare that she would do well in Kindergarten the next year. Except, she was only three. My daughter did the 4-year-old pre-k curriculum at her preschool twice, and was more than ready for Kindergarten this year. We tried to get her placed directly into the first grade (she continually comes home complaining that everyone in her class thinks she’s six) but for now, we’re sticking with, and stuck in, Kindergarten.
This isn’t much of an issue for the moment; unlike Afshan’s daughter, mine still hasn’t mastered reading (although we’re almost there), but she has mastered all of the other literacy skills. Her math skills are advanced, as she has been asking to do workbook activities and math “games” on my phone since she was two. Mostly, though, she enjoys going to school, hanging out with her friends, and being praised continually by the teachers for doing so well and being so bright. She reminds me a little bit of Lisa Simpson when the teachers went on strike, begging her mom to grade her and praise her. She’s not yet bored, nor has she been targeted negatively by her peers for being smart. Occasionally she comes home upset because the kids didn’t like a picture she drew, but generally she seems to be well-liked and has a good group of friends.
More troubling, for me, were the results of her first standardized tests in literacy and math. On the one hand, I think standardized tests are ridiculous at this age and can’t be taken seriously. On the other, she scored in the 99th percentile, an important piece of the puzzle to get her into enriched programs offered by our school district. I, too, live in a rural area, but the private schools are religious in nature, and not attractive to most of the university parents, so we have fairly rigorous and well-integrated enrichment opportunities in the public schools. I’m hoping that these opportunities come sooner, rather than later, before my daughter gets bored and disillusioned with school.
I see how my students view learning and school, and I have previously written about the moment I dread most – the moment when the light behind both my children’s eyes is extinguished and replaced by the dead-eyed stares I am often met with in my Freshman Writing classes. I read their literacy narratives that pinpoint the exact moment that they gave up on school, on reading, on learning. I also know how hard it is to reignite that spark once it has been out for so many years. Can my husband and I intervene in time to keep that from happening? I also worry about my daughter’s “good girl” personality, insofar as it could evolve into a fear of failure and risk-taking that stifles her potential. How can I create a space where she is at once validated and challenged, fearless and full of curiosity?
I know every parent thinks that their child is gifted and special. I now have (some flawed) empirical evidence that my daughter is, in fact, gifted. As a parent and as an educator, I know that this presents a unique set of challenges, challenges that I currently feel wholly unequipped to meet, at least in any sort of productive way. I can do what comes naturally to me (research, read, and then read and research some more), but at the end of the day, I do (as every parent does) need to do what is best for my child and my family. Maybe it’s homeschooling. Maybe it’s advocacy. Maybe it’s a mix of both. I don’t know yet, but, like Afshan, I find myself in strange and uncharted territory.
Lee Elaine Skallerup has a Ph.D. from the University of Alberta in Comparative Literature. She has taught in two Canadian provinces and three States, and is now branching out as an edupreneur. You can visit her blog at College Ready Writing and follow her on Twitter (@readywriting). Lee is also a member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.
This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed