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A TAG Parable

by Laurie McVicar

Ever been irritated by those stereotypes about gifted kids? Here's the same story, with a new twist. Maybe it will open some eyes. You may pass this on if you think it will help. Just leave in my name.

Once there was a peculiar school that had almost all five-year-old students, plus a handful that were eight years old. The students were divided into equal classrooms; each class room had 25 of the five-year-olds, plus one eight-year-old. The curriculum was standard kindergarten. Soon each of the teachers noticed that their eight-year-olds were moody, irritable, acting out, bored, daydreaming, uncooperative, having trouble interacting, and shunned by the other students.

One parent of an eight-year-old came in to complain. She pointed out that her child, Chris, was academically more gifted than the others, and needed more advanced curriculum.

"Nonsense," Chris's teacher replied. "All of my kids are gifted. One sings like a bird, another is an excellent runner. A third had much better penmanship than Chris, and a fourth is very dramatic. So there is no point, not to mention no practical way, to tailor the standard curriculum to suit everyone. Besides, Chris's spelling is not very good, Chris is always disturbing the classroom, and is not attentive to the subject at hand. What Chris needs is more discipline, and maybe some Ritalin."

A second parent of an eight-year-old came in to complain. He pointed out that his child, Pat, was constantly put in the position of tutor and group leader, unwillingly.

Pat's teacher was adamant: "We need Pat in our class. The other kids benefit so much from your child's special insight in class discussions (when I can get the darn kid to pay attention and cooperate.) Pat should be glad to be here. It's always better to be a big fish in a small pond, than a small fish in a big pond. Right?" (Pat feels like a big fish choking in a puddle.)

A third parent of an eight-year-old came in to complain. She pointed out that her child, Sammy, was lonely, unhappy, and frustrated. Sammy had tried so hard to make friends and be cooperative, but the other kids didn't understand her child's puns, they gave blank looks to any new and exciting words Sammy had just learned, and their interests were so different. She thought maybe her child should be put in with other eight-year-olds.

The teacher sighed, "I've heard the same story from all the other teachers. Eight-year-olds are so socially inept. None of them seemed to be able to interact well with their classmates. Put several misfits together? Then who would they learn socialization from? No, they need to be in a regular classroom to learn what ever small amount of social grace they can. In fact, because of the social ineptitude, I'm thinking of holding Sammy back next year."

A fourth parent of an eight-year-old saw the pain her child was enduring, and quietly switched to a private school. For a fifth parent, homeschooling was the only way out. Several parents seemed not to notice their eight-year-olds' problems, while others noticed, but could see no way to change the situation.

Finally, the parent of eight-year-old Dana, came in to complain. But this teacher listened. She asked Chris's, Pat's, and Sammy's teachers if she could "borrow" their eight-year-olds for a few afternoons a week. They reluctantly agreed. She put the special students together in one corner and introduced them to the wonders of multiplication and the delights of fairy tales they could read themselves. They picked it up so quickly, as they were more than ready. In fact, some had already picked up reading and figuring on their own, before even entering kindergarten. The teacher enjoyed watching them put their heads together and share private jokes and special moments. Friendships blossomed. Enthusiastic competitions developed.

Their homeroom teachers noticed they were better behaved and tolerant. (Dana said it was because there was finally something to look forward to in school.) While the eight-year-olds were gone, other kids spoke up who had never been able to before. Suddenly, what they had to say was significant, not overshadowed. The five-year-olds' self esteem rose, because they could compare themselves more realistically with each other. The eight-year-olds' self esteem rose, because they were being praised for real, hard-earned work. It was not a complete solution to the problem, by any means, but it was a start.  

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