Friday, December 04, 2009

Raising Gifted Children: Dropping Out of School

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Maybe we parents of gifted children should not be so surprised when our high ability children drop out of school. After all, many of us have memories of their earliest days of formal education, those days when we packed our bright, eager learners off to school only to have them return unhappy at best, miserable and depressed at worst.

I remember passing off my copy of Genius Denied, a book that rocked my world back in the day, to another preschool mom. She returned in to me in a daze a week later, "Incredible. How did you think to give this to me?" She asked. My son never played with the girls in class, so I didn't have much insight on her child; I did have a hunch though.

It was only after the mom returned the book that I learned of her daughter's morning stomachaches, how the girl dreaded preschool and complained each day on the way to class. (The girl always seemed happy enough when I saw her in class, but that's how many gifted girls roll. Little pleasers.)

Around that time, I heard a lecture by Joan Franklin Smutny, author of several books on gifted education. She mentioned that many highly gifted children drop out of college their freshman year disillusioned by rote classes that seem like an extension of high school rather than the pursuit of knowledge.

As a senior in high school, I recall practically drooling over the college course catalog. So many interesting classes; I couldn't wait to take them. Except as a zoology major, my schedule was largely predetermined and I couldn't fit them into my plan. Ultimately, I switched my major rather than drop out of school, but there was a guy a year or two ahead of me who decided to drop out of UT. Maybe you've heard of him? Michael Dell. Yes, that Dell. He seems to have done okay for himself.

Nobody's dropping out of anything right now at Chez Moldofsky, but when a blog sistah posted about her son not going to college, it got some other friends talking, including mom I adore, Darryle, who told me in a much earlier conversation about her supersmart daughter who took a nontraditional route. (Summary here, but click on her links for the back story). All this chatter reminded me of other stories of budding geniuses who also passed on the expected, traditional route.

It's nice to know mothers with older children who forged their own path and seem to have found their way. I should mention that the sense that those children (now adults) have found their own way typically came after many years of hand wringing and, I'm certain, a pool of tears (on behalf of the mothers, at least).

Along these lines, I'm declaring Secrets of Buccaneer-Scholar the best book of 2009. Well, I should call it the best book I haven't read in 2009; I'm not finished yet. But I love the premise, which is found in the subtitle: How Self-Education and the Pursuit of Passion Can Lead to a Lifetime of Success.

Self-made man, author James Marcus Bach (son of Richard Bach) offers his philosophy on the dust jacket."A Buccaneer-Scholar is anyone whose love of learning is not muzzles or shackled by any institution or authority; whose mind is driven to find is own place in the world." (Yes, I've made it a bit beyond the dust jacket. And yes, Bach's kids are homeschooled.)

It will be easy (albeit expensive) for my boys to take the traditional path. But it's reassuring (falsely so, I hear my cynically husband saying) to know that as long as they love to learn and have the capacity to do so, they will wind up where they are supposed to be.

More musings on parenting gifted children.


The Crazy Suburban Mom said...

Wow, so surprised! That story really seemed to grab people. alot more than I thought.

And it's very interesting how much I hear similar things when I talk to the parents of kids in college. Some doing well, and thriving and some not so much. And many 23,24,25 year olds that are really floundering at this point. Graduated with degrees who are unsure what to do and can not get a job or are employed part time in a job unrelated to what they thought they would be doing. Or continuing in school simply because there is nothing else for them to do.

I don't know what education really even is anymore. I had to really take a stand at a point. And I think the point was the SAT focus. When I was solicited nightly on the phone for my son to take classes... And test preps and all of that. I think that was the point I said....enough. Just enough...

WkSocMom said...

Have you read "Weapons of Mass Instruction?" Think the same author of Dumbing down america, but that is our family's favorite book of the year. Tons of examples of the non-traditional route, like the woman who won and oscar for Juno, the first female nascar winner, and a guy making millions converting high end cars to electric.

I don't really consider my kids "gifted" (shhh, don't tell dad) just pretty smart, but I really want to keep a close eye to make sure they don't just end up pleasing everyone without really learning anything or finding their passion, which is kind of what I feel happened to me.

And thanks for the starbucks card...too too sweet of you. Happy early Hannukah, we just got some cookie cutters :)

Cavewoman said...

IF my husband of Andover, KS hadn't been "passed through" because of his involvement in sports. He would have been dropped out nowadays. He graduated in the late 70's only to build a the first golf course in Houston TX in 25 years, to ignite a slew of followers... and also regenerate the failed pursuit of Roe Messner's "Terradyne Resort Hotel & Country Club" in Andover, KS as well as a great number of other winning endeavors, including me.

RL Julia said...

There are many roads to happiness and many ways to hear and answer a heart's calling that can be but are not necessarily found at any school. While I think it is increasingly more difficult to enter into the world of work without a high school or college degree (and sustain oneself), it can be done.

Going to school is not like life. A person can do well in school but really not be able to handle life at all - and vice versa. The trick is knowing a few things you are passionate about(or at least interested in)a few things that bore you to tears and realize that at some point you have to jump into the water and figure it out. Sometimes you jump because you want to get it, sometimes you jump because you are pushed and sometimes there doesn't seem to be another choice at all.

Shari said...

Unless you are really talented in one area, you still need a college degree. I went to Illinois, where the creators of computer mainstays like Netscape, PayPal, YouTube, Lotus, Oracle and Siebel also attended. Note the attended. I don't think any of them graduated, but then again they had an idea and were driven. Today you don't do anything on the computer that our school didn't have a hand in creating. The problem is not enough students are driven enough to dropout and then make their millions. They need a degree to open doors.

Kim Moldofsky said...

Shari- that's such an interesting way of putting it. That's part of the author's premise--many are too lazy or simply lack the passion (or chutzpah) to take their learning into their own hands. I'm not sure amking millions is always the goal, but then again, I'm naive like that.

Crazy Suburban Mom- it does seem like learning to succeed on standardized tests is passing for education.

WkSocMom- I haven't read the book, but I recommended it to a friend based on your suggestion. It's on my list.

Cavewoman- love that you include yourself in his winning endeavors.

IRL Julia- It's not that I'm against college, but as Shari's comment points out, certainly some local boys (are they all men? *sigh*) have certainly managed to do okay for themselves.

2KoP said...

So, my g-ted son (I can't use the word, sorry), has done fine all along until now (7th grade). I have been a bit concerned by his unwillingness to push himself, but he's been happy, has a great group of friends and his teachers love him.

Just yesterday, he engaged me in a 45-minute conversation about why the pubic school system isn't the best learning environment. I was blown away by his insights and thought process. For the first time, he is visibly struggling with the limitations he is facing. For some time now, he has been pushing any "illness" to the limit, squeezing every day off of school that he can — still getting straight As, still maxing out on the standardized tests.

So, now what? We are in no position to do any kind of private schooling. I told him, and I believed it at the time, that middle school is no bed of roses for anyone, and that things will get better and he will have more say over his education in high school and college, but he's got to put in the time. He told me a year and a half was an awfully long time to waste.

RL Julia said...

Kim, Shari,
I didn't mean to sound un-college -I am not against going to college at all- certainly a college degree makes things easier in general however, if a person is miserable, stifled and has a better idea of how to spend their time (that provides them with a living wage)I am all ears as well.

I am with Crazy Suburban Mom however, I know far too many people who were great at school but not so equipped to handle life afterward. The most valuable thing I think I learned at college was how to navigate a bureacratic system that seems (at least at the time) hell bent from letting me graduate in four years. It was like I double majored in medieval history and standing in line. Both have served me well.