Wednesday, March 2, 2016
A bit of a rant for the day: The risks of over acceleration or The ‘Other’ Race to Nowhere
This rant isn't coming from the perspective of a mom of three gifted kids, it is coming from a person that has taught at the collegiate level for seventeen years now. This rant is about a startling trend I see happening in the homeschool community. The trend is radical acceleration based solely on the academic ability of young children. Technically speaking, radical acceleration is when a child is advanced three or more years in educational standing versus age. Statistically speaking, very few twelve to fifteen year olds are ready to be full time college students. Academic ability has very little to do with that assessment. College is fundamentally different from K-12 in a number of ways, but the main difference is what the role of a professor is versus the role of a teacher. My job is content specific - my colleges and universities focus on the rigor of my coursework. There is no penalty if I give a test and 90% of the students fail. Learning the content becomes the responsibility of the student.
Another difference between a professor and a teacher is our relationship with the parent. Mainly - I have no relationship with the parent. It is against the law that I speak with anyone besides the student in regards to how the student is doing in my classroom. No reporting of grades to parents, no parent teacher conferences, no phone calls or text message exchanges between us. You get no look into the academic experience your child is having in my course, you don’t get to walk in and sit in the back of the class, you don’t get to pull out your child’s papers and ask me why they got the grades they did, you don’t get to come in and take photos or videos of their fancy presentation they worked on for days. While there is some exception for discussion if the child has an identified disability that includes accommodations approved by the disability office, for the most part - your child is on their own.
Regardless of how young in the face your child may look, or that their voice hasn’t yet changed - I have no inkling to their age. I will not be impressed that they are ten or twelve or fifteen, that isn’t something I take into consideration. That also means I won’t be changing our topics or focus of lectures or discussion. If someone wants to talk about the rape of Nanking, with graphic photos - it happens. If someone wants to discuss the legalization of marijuana - it happens. There is no ‘kid filter’ or ‘sensitive ears’ alert that comes into play. College is the world of adults, and everyone in my class needs to be fully ready and prepared for adult based conversation.
The goal of higher education is not to simply reinforce the norms, customs, and ideas of your personal household; it is to challenge the thinking of adult students. The goal is to encourage debate that leads to deeper knowledge and understanding. Let me put it a bit more bluntly - the job of a college professor is not to continue the parenting process. While most books written for the K-12 audiences encourages minor aged students to talk with their parents about beliefs, norms, customs, and family traditions and philosophies - that isn’t going to happen in a college classroom. One of the biggest complaints I hear from parents is how so many children, “lose their religion” when they get to college. Consider how strong the foundation is that was laid and whether your child is ready to defend what you have fought so hard to instill. Remember, in a college course you cannot defend a text with that very text. Your child doesn’t get to argue that the Bible is true because the Bible says that it is true. Are they ready to defend the idea that the son of their God is named Jesus when the letter “J” wasn’t invented until the middle 1500’s and wasn’t used consistently until the early 1600’s. Are they ready to not have their faith shaken when they say the Bible changes not, and someone can show them over 100 iterations and fundamental changes in the text from versions like the Bishop’s Bible and the 1611 KJV through the present? And it isn’t just the Christian faith that gets questioned, every norm, custom, belief, and practice is put up for debate. Is your child ready to go to bat for circumcision if that is a sacred belief in your household? Is your thirteen year old ready to have veganism questioned and debated? Are they ready to hold their own against people double, triple, quadruple their age? Are they ready to stand alone in their arguments and leave the room not questioning everything, including their own existence? Are they ready to hear about things ‘you’ didn’t know and didn’t know to teach them, and not feel that ‘you’ can no longer be trusted. See - that is a part of maturity. As adults, we understand that no one knows everything, we know our parents could have been plain wrong on some things - but our own beliefs and ideas are solid enough to push through those instances and chalk it up to ‘the knowledge of their time’. Is your fifteen year old ready for that? Your twelve year old?
As a professor, I see your child no more than three days a week for no more than four hours total per week. I don’t know your child. I can’t see if they are stressed or overwhelmed or showing the danger signs of clinical depression. All college students struggle at some point, but is your younger child ready to take on these struggles alone? How will they fair if those emotions are tied in with the end stages of puberty and all the hormonal imbalance that goes with it? Are they able to reach out for help if they need it? One thing colleges don’t like to talk about, but is a reality, is the number of attempted suicides that take place on campuses annually. Those most at risk are the ones that were very high achievers and this is their first time facing real academic challenge. Has your young child experienced real failure? Do they know how to bounce back? Do they know that grades aren’t everything? Do they know how to navigate to plan B when plan A fails? Please ask yourself - can they truly handle failure?
How are they with navigating people? Do they understand things like micro aggression? Do they know how to handle sexual harassment? Do they know how to identify a narcissist or sexual predator? Do they know how to watch their drink (yes, even a Coke) and do they know how to implement the Buddy System? Do they know what to do if they think their drink has been spiked? Do they know how to deal with emotional manipulation and can they spot if someone is trying to groom them for sexual or other exploitation? Have they learned how to recover from a broken heart?Do they know how to self advocate? Do they know their human rights? Do they know all the local laws and rules and do they know what to do if they are ever arrested or accused of a crime? Does your daughter or son know what to do if they have been lured away from campus on the grounds of ‘studying’ or ‘tutoring’ only to find out the person was trying to have sex with them? Do they know what to do if they are dropped off on the side of the road ten miles from campus because they said “no”? How are they with working in groups? Do they know how to navigate the different personalities? Do they know how to handle group projects where some people blow the project off or procrastinate or plagiarize?
Finally, think about where you are racing your child to and why. Again, I know many children that radically accelerated. The youngest full time college student that I know started at nine years old. He was ready. He was also actively pursued by the university he attended. There was work and research waiting for him. He was also going into a field where age was a relatively mute point, most people entered the field relatively young anyway. Make sure your child knows the reality of the situation that comes with finishing college very young. Age discrimination is only protected at the far end. This means while it is not legal for me to deny someone a job simply because they are 50, I CAN deny someone a job simply because they are 20. Think about it, would you want your direct supervisor to be 19 years old? You want to sit down and seek approval to take a vacation with your family from a 21 year old? Take a stroll through some companies that employ people in the field your child wants to go in to. How many people did they hire in at 18 years old for a degree positive position? I finished my PhD at 26 years old, and even then there were times that I had to fight for respect from my peers. This isn’t about discouraging you or your child, this is about preparing them for reality. When people are deciding whom to give an internship or other research based grant - roughly half of all the people that apply are qualified. After that, it is just a matter of whom you want to work with. Companies that are dealing with sensitive data, government projects, and/or high priced equipment aren’t concerned about any perceived prestige that might come from having a 17 year old genius on the team. They are wondering how having a minor in the room might affect their insurance or their standing with things like child labor laws (because interns generally work long, late hours). Yeah, that’s right folks - even if your child is in college, if they are a minor they are subject to child labor laws. Do you really think some organization is going to want to deal with the burden of the extra paperwork and requirements when they can just select a 20 year old with the exact same credentials as your child? Being young might get you in the door of a university and maybe a couple pictures in the local paper, but that doesn’t translate to getting you hired and working in your field of choice.
I am not saying don’t accelerate, all of my kids are slated to graduate high school before the age of 18. However, we as a family have fully counted the cost. We did our research and put everything in perspective. That is why we made the choice to not radically accelerate our children. The choice had absolutely zero to do with academic ability. My ten year old would do fine in some college classes right now. My eight year olds have both passed “college level” Coursera courses. Guess what? They aren’t ready for college, even though they could probably handle the work, especially by the age of 12 or 13. Here is the thing I think many people haven’t considered - it is fundamentally impossible to run out of high school courses, especially as homeschoolers. I know a public high school that is only 3 years (starts at 10th grade) that has 16 math courses available for students to take, and the lowest course is Algebra 1. There are ten different choices for history. There are over 20 different science classes available. There is no need to rush to college. Dual enrollment is also an option if a child needs additional rigor in some areas. Just remember that past a certain amount of credits, the child may no longer be considered an incoming Freshman - this might limit extensively their opportunities for scholarships. Also remember that some scholarships have age requirements, with students needing to be at least 17 years old to apply - but they also have to be an incoming Freshman.
Take it from a college professor - college is NOT all there is to life. College is a tool that helps you get to where you ultimately want to be in life, college is not the goal of life. While academics are a large part of the college experience, they aren’t the only part of the college experience, and for many - they aren’t the most important part. Remember, education, just like life, is not a race. Radical acceleration is an important tool that is vital to the appropriate development of many children, but that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s should be statistically rare. Being ready for college level work doesn’t automatically mean young children (again, this means those three or more years younger than the typical starting age of 18 for a full time college Freshman) are ready for college.
I know this isn’t an easy conversation to have. We all, as homeschool parents, are trying to do what is best for our children. Homeschooling gifted children is tough, we have to make so many more choices, often times much earlier, than most homeschool families will experience. But, we must go into those choices with our eyes wide open.