"The system has failed me"

twice exceptional students, age segregation, ability grouping

This commentary was published in Education Week, entitled "I Am a Twice-Exceptional Student" by Andrew Edward Collins.

It can be read in it entirety in the 2e (Twice-Exceptional) Newsletter. For many, this is a real eye-opener:

"I have come to realize that some of the students most at risk in our country aren't just the ones from poor family backgrounds or those who have mental weakness. The twice-exceptional student is also at a tremendous risk. He is at risk of developing low self-esteem, a poor work ethic, depression, and frustration toward school. A twice-exceptional student is a student who is both gifted and disabled, possessing the mental ability or skill at, or above, the 98th percentile in some areas, but remaining significantly deficient in others."

This is not a "isn't public school awful and aren't you glad you homeschool" post, although I'd be lying if I didn't say that when I read articles like this, I do feel a renewed sense of purpose. The point is--here we have the testimony of a student who is exceptional in a particular area, but was severely affected by labels applied to him at a young age and constantly perpetuated throughout his schooling.

Falling through the cracks

The author was advanced in reading and literature, but struggling in math and science. Our system is not set up to deal with the literary genius who struggles to divide fractions. We demand that all children be at least average in every single subject, and if they have problems in one area, it affects all others on their permanent record. Their GPA makes it look as if they are barely passing, when in fact they are amazingly talented.

Age-segregated classrooms make it worse

One aspect of traditional schooling that contributes to this is age segregation. Even though we recognize that children develop at different rates, we still insist on categorizing and measuring them by the date of their birth. What's more, we talk as if all the kids in 6th grade are 12 years old, but think about it--the age range in that classroom is likely to extend from 11 years to 13. A third of the class is playing with Barbies and G. I. Joes, the rest are already experiencing puberty and mooning over Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.

A solution would be to cease corralling children by the date of their birth, and organize classes based on developmental readiness, abilities, and interests. Providing expression for a child's strengths builds their confidence, but this does not mean that we do not address subject areas where they are experiencing difficulty.

A lesson for homeschool parents

The homeschool parent can take a lesson from this as well. We may feel as if we must 'measure up' to federal educational standards, or the expectations of other parents, or the academic achievements of our children's peers. "I worry about my child being behind" is a common concern expressed by homeschoolers. But ask yourself, "Behind what? Behind whom?"

The right question is, "Is my child learning to the best of his/her ability?" Your child is an individual, and it is OK for them to have a talent, a particular interest, a specialty. If they want to write a novel but have trouble with long division, obviously their math skills need reinforcement--but they do not need to be penalized in all academic areas because of their struggles in one subject.

There is a real temptation to replicate the traditional classroom in our homeschool, in spite the fact that many parents remove their kids from school because they aren't learning, and evidence that the classroom is often not the most effective or efficient way for children to learn. 

Before you label your child as 'failing' or 'behind' because their progress is inconsistent or doesn't meet your expectations, think about what you are doing, and reconsider how you proceed. Instead of thinking of kids as objects to measure against each other.

Do you have questions about helping your twice-exceptional student?
Share them in the comments below-