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Probably the best thing I have ever done...

by Samantha Q. Whiggins

Note: Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent!

I guess the thing that impresses people the most when they hear about our son is that he started to college at age ten. Actually it all came about in such a normal way that it really didn't seem unusual at the time.

Joshua worked a 300 piece puzzle before age two. (It belonged to his five year old brother, Gabriel.) By age four Joshua had taught himself to read and write using his own method of drawing letters - a practice he continues today. He taught himself the alphabet, reciting it the way he read. He learned the major bones and organs in the body from a doctor's chart. If he had any kind of access to it, he learned it. So when it was suggested that we have his I.Q. tested we did.

After several hours of testing at a private learning center, we were informed that Joshua was probably not going to be a very good student, but that if he worked really hard he might be able to get into a trade school someday. I was told that Joshua simply did not know what most four-year-old's know.

Joshua went to public school when he was five just like all the other kids in our neighborhood. He liked his kindergarten teacher and they got along well. He wasn't that fond of first grade but really got excited about second grade. They had a reading program whereby if you read 800 books you got to go to Six Flags. Joshua was so enthusiastic about the program that he read 1,643 books that year.

Joshua went to third and fourth grade right on schedule. In fourth grade however, he started to complain. He had asked his math teacher what pi was and she had said he was too young to understand. He came home crying so I told him if it was that important to go look it up. Apparently it was that important, he memorized the first 50 places of pi. (He later learned over 100.)

The next week he wanted an explanation of algebra. I worked a few simple problems for him thinking that would be the end of it. He wanted an algebra book. One week later he told me that he had learned algebra and wanted to know what came next. I didn't really believe my nine year old child had learned algebra in a week but didn't really know enough about the subject to argue with him. I called a childhood friend's father who I knew worked at the university. That was probably the best thing I have ever done for Joshua.

Dr. Grant said he would be interested in meeting Joshua so I took Joshua, his book, and all of his papers. Two hours later, Dr. Grant told me that Joshua actually had taught himself algebra and that he would like to show him how to do trigonometry. Joshua was thrilled. They went through trigonometry, physics, calculus, relativity, German, etc. They also flew kites, fed fish, gardened, played games, and went on trips. Dr. Grant is a PH.D. theoretical nuclear physicist but to Joshua he is his best friend. I don't know if every child needs a mentor but I do know that every child needs a best friend. Dr. Grant was both.

Dr. Grant didn't actually teach Joshua in the formal sense of the word. Joshua studied what he wanted to learn and then Dr. Grant would answer his questions. Dr. Grant also started letting Joshua attend his night university physics lab class at his university. The students just thought Dr. Grant was bringing his son with him since he provided all the transportation. This worked out well because it gave Joshua a chance to get to know what college was like without a lot of questions.

Joshua was never forced to study. If anything, he was forced not to study. One day I told Joshua that he needed to take a break. He was sitting in the middle of the room surrounded by 15 open books, paper and pencils. He responded, "Oh, I'm not studying any more mommy; this is playing."

When Joshua started fifth grade, Dr. Grant, two school counselors, two principals and several other people in the school district got together to decide what to do. We didn't want Joshua to take high school algebra because he would have been in his older brother's class but we also didn't want him spending his fifth grade year learning things he already knew. The conclusion was that Joshua could skip fifth grade math and play in the computer lab during that hour if he would continue working on math with Dr. Grant and if he would take an SAT test.

The school was familiar with the idea of giving the SAT to young students because they had participated in a Talent Search for several years. We were told, however, that Joshua was too young to qualify for the search but that he could take the test on his own.

I think everyone was surprised by the SAT results except maybe Dr. Grant and Joshua. I called the Talent Search and they mailed me some information and explained Joshua's test results.

Joshua didn't need an explanation. He wanted to go to college. To him High School was never really an option. Joshua was shy and he was afraid the older high school students would make fun of him. I told him that college students were even older than high school students but he replied, "Yes, but they're adults." Joshua felt safe at the university. He had enjoyed the lab class with Dr. Grant and thought all college classes would be the same.

Dr. Grant arranged for Joshua to take a summer college algebra class. His first day he was asked countless questions; "Do you like dirt? Will you do my homework for me? How old are you? Do you have a dog?" but they accepted him. They brought him apples the second day. The following week Joshua had students leaning out the third story window dropping pencils so that he could calculate the distance to the ground. At the age of 10 Joshua scored the highest numerical "A" in the class. He took trigonometry the second summer term and again scored the highest "A".

Joshua wanted to take calculus and physics next but he was supposed to be going into the sixth grade. The public school suggested that he go to sixth grade in the morning for English, history and violin and college in the afternoon. This worked out well until December. Unfortunately the university and public school did not end at the same time. Since there wasn't a university class that Joshua could take he filled in the time with an upper division-directed study class on matrix theory taught by Dr. Grant. Joshua scored 100 on the final. He then went back to the university for calculus II and physics II.

About this time Joshua announced that he and Jethro Bodin of the "Beverly Hillbillies" both had a sixth grade education and that was all he needed. He wanted full time college. The public school and university also thought this was a good idea. We agreed to let him if he could pass the university's English entrance exam. Joshua only missed one question.

The university gave him a full scholarship and the public school said he could continue taking violin if he wanted to in the public school since it was not offered at the university (which he did).

We had the usual problems with the press but other than that things just went along like normal. The only difference was that instead of taking Joshua to sixth grade we drove him to the university. Joshua had a wonderful time. He joined the math club and got to play the dead body in the window seat in the university's production of "Arsenic and Old Lace". (The body had to be lifted in and out of the window seat and Joshua was the lightest weight body on campus.) He also discovered a love for history, classical music and foreign languages. Joshua was shy but friendly. The girls mothered him and the boys protected him. Because he stood out on campus everyone knew him and looked out for him.

Joshua graduated at the age of 14 with a Bachelor of Science degree, 4.0 GPA. His major was mathematical science and minor was computer science with an equivalent minor in physics. When his name was called out to receive his diploma all of the students stood up and gave him a standing ovation.

Joshua wanted to get his doctorate at a distant university, but we felt he was too young to go off on his own. Our older son had left a year earlier. He was living with his Aunt and Uncle and attending another university. Gabriel loved sports and socializing and had never expressed a desire for any kind of advancement, however, most of his friends were a year older than him and when they went to college he wanted to as well. He passed the entrance exams with no problem and skipped his senior year of high school. Now it was just the three of us.

Since my husband had a job where he could be transferred we decided that the best thing would be for the whole family to move closer to the university Joshua selected.

Joshua wanted a doctorate in theoretical physics but since his major was mathematical science we were afraid this would pose a problem. We spoke with the math department at the university and they advised us to go ahead and try the physics department. The professors there were more than open to the idea of having Joshua join their doctoral program and offered him a full fellowship.

We visited the university several times during Joshua's senior year and let him sit in on some of the classes. This gave Joshua a chance to see what the university was like and gave the people a chance to get to know him before we actually moved.

We moved two weeks after Joshua's graduation. This gave us the summer to get adjusted before school began that fall.

Joshua is now in his second year of the doctoral program. Still making all "A's". He has two office mates whom he likes very much and they seem to really like him. He will receive his Masters Degree next month at age 16 and then will continue his dissertation work toward his doctorate. We are all looking forward to Dr. Grant coming for graduation.

More than anything else I wanted Joshua to grow up happy and enjoying life. I don't think he would have if we had not let him go to college early. I can't even imagine what life would be like for Joshua if he were sitting in a tenth or eleventh grade class room right now. People used to ask if we were making a mistake. They don't even ask anymore. Joshua's life, accomplishments, and joy speak for themselves.

 


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