“It’s like they don’t care about us.” My normally even-tempered, people-pleasing middle schooler was in tears. He had his laptop in front of him, logged into all the various websites and hangouts he needed to be a part of that day in order to get his pandemic schooling completed, and he was in tears. Defeated. Normally nearing 6 feet tall, his shoulders were so slumped that his head wasn’t even above the screen of the computer in his lap. He looked like he was melting into himself.
He was staring at the days’ assignments, the work that had been assigned to every 7th grader in our district for that day, what had to be completed in order for him to advance to the 8th grade in the fall. He knows that this isn’t school as normal. He knows that his teachers didn’t get a say in what was assigned. He knows that the grades he makes on these assignments probably won’t even matter all that much. But he also knows that the website he’s being sent to – that all 7th graders are being sent to – describes itself as a learning tool for struggling readers, promising to bring students back up to grade level within three months. But my son isn’t a struggling reader. He’s not even an on-level reader. My son is one of the many gifted students being directed to this website who reads many, many levels ahead of his actual grade. He’s part of an exclusive, invitation-only accelerated program that has my 7th grader already earning most of his high school math and science credits. He reads and comprehends at a college level, performs complex math equations for fun, engages in rich philosophical discussions, and almost always beats me at Jeopardy. He is profoundly gifted, and he is becoming a casualty of pandemic schooling.
I’ll get through a few disclaimers first, lest assumptions about my positions make it impossible to read further. I have three children, all of them gifted. All of them attended public schools for at least a while, but currently one is homeschooled full time and two are enrolled in our local public schools. Our school district is award-winning, coveted, on the cutting edge of all things educational. We have wonderful teachers in our wonderful schools, and in a normal situation those teachers are communicating frequently with me about how to differentiate and challenge my kids who just need more.
I love teachers. I know that they’ve been tossed into a medium they’ve never had to utilize before with a curriculum that was thrown together by someone else, hoping to cover some bases and keep in contact with their class kiddos. I know that many of them have their own children at home, their own partners who may be out of work, or working a dangerous essential job. I know they are being asked to juggle the logins and names of 30 different educational apps and websites just as we are. Let me be clear – I do not blame the teachers. My son does not blame his teachers.
But someone is to blame.
Someone is to blame for the idea that education is so one-size-fits-all that it can be scraped together and tossed out among thousands of students with varying needs.
Someone is to blame for the pressure placed on the teachers to provide constant contact while they are in the midst of the same panic as the rest of us.
Someone is to blame for the expectations being placed upon young children to turn in something, anything, to prove that they’re still doing school.
My 8-year-old reads at a middle school level and has been doing multi-digit multiplication for fun lately, but her big assignment this week was to draw a gumball machine. Last week her only science assignment for the entire week was to listen to a song once about the three states of matter – she cried because they didn’t even mention plasma.
I know that not everyone is having similar experiences, and I also know that statistically, there are going to be fewer gifted kids in this situation. I know that many parents are witnessing their children melt down over the use of so much unfamiliar technology, or the work they don’t understand without having a teacher present the material to them. I know it’s really, really hard for a lot of people.
But just because the work is easy doesn’t make the experience less difficult for us.
Gifted children have academic needs, in some states guaranteed under the umbrella of special education. Their brains are wired differently and therefore have needs that a neurotypical student does not. They need more, lots more, and quickly. Review to a gifted student is akin to locking a prisoner in a brightly-lit room and blasting music without end. Review is torture to gifted children, and much of what is being sent to students during pandemic schooling is, well, review. What’s not review is filler. And what’s not filler is coming from our own bookshelves.
In the middle of a global pandemic, is it really necessary to push students forward? Do we really need to be adding one more thing to their plates, one more thing for them to stress over? When so many are focused on just survival and it’s hard enough to balance this new normal we’ve all been thrust into, is it really that big of a deal to provide more challenging work to a kid who is already living in the middle of a history book chapter? If that’s what they need, yes. If we’re going to go through the motions of schooling, yes. If we want our children to learn and see school as an opportunity, not a requirement, yes.
If school is about education – not checking boxes – then yes.
If learning is a right – not a motion to go through – then yes.
If gifted students are a special population – and they are – then they are still entitled to challenging work designed to meet their unique needs. Yes, work that’s too easy really is that big of a deal. Yes, busy work really is that detrimental. Yes, those children who are statistically more intense really are having that horrible of a time with the current educational situation. Education is not one-size-fits all, is not as simple as tossing together some worksheets and websites. If we want these minds to reach their full potential, if we want to see the world changed someday, we cannot lump education into a packet distributed to everyone and call it equal. Passions will fizzle and frustrations will boil. Learning will be come a thing of the past as these children are left to languish among review worksheets. School becomes a chore to complete, not an opportunity to embrace.
Pandemic schooling, for gifted students, is not school at all. It’s stagnant. It’s lacking. It’s torture.
Fortunately, as many parents of gifted kids know, there’s a lot that can be done beyond the basic demands of a school district. Many families have been afterschooling for years, finding ways to enrich and challenge their children when their needs just weren’t being met.
Libraries may be closed, but there are numerous online book sources. Gifted classes may be closed, but there are workbooks that can be ordered, online classes to participate in, or documentaries to gobble up.
Try emailing the gifted teachers or coordinators in your school district to ask for some direction. Ask around in groups for parenting gifted kids. Spend some time on this site finding plenty of ways to keep your gifted kiddo learning! Ask your child what they want to learn, then go all-in, head-first, down the rabbit hole. You don’t need a teaching certificate or a formal syllabus all typed up for your child to learn at home. Ask him what he’s interested in, what questions he’s always wanted answered, and let him loose. Let your children see that learning doesn’t have to happen within a classroom and that curricula are not stifling, they’re starting points.
Don’t let your child’s incredible mind become a casualty of this pandemic. Don’t let them feel unseen, uncared for, unchallenged. Don’t let a lack of consideration for the gifted kids at home stop them from getting what they need. Don’t let their very real needs be dismissed in the midst of a crisis or minimized in the face of other struggles. Our gifted children deserve to learn just like any other child would, we just have to remember not to treat their learning like any other child’s.