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The Least-Worst Educational Option

by Carolyn K., director, Hoagies' Gifted Education Page

As parents, we are faced with many choices regarding our children.  It starts before they are born, and continues throughout their childhoods.  What's the best choice?  Sometimes it is easy - one choice is clearly "better" than another.  But many times, the choice is not so obvious.  The factors in each decision are all important, and there's no choice available that includes only the "best" possibilities.  And that's where many of the educational decisions for our gifted children land: the "best choice" never-land.

Long ago, a wise friend suggested that I was agonizing too much over the educational decisions before me, concerning my gifted child.  In my usual way, I collected tons of information (visit Hoagies' Gifted Education Page!), on every aspect of every decision.  I weighed the pros and cons, listened to every potential expert, every experienced parent... and the inevitable result was... Terror!  

That's when I came up with the idea of the "least-worst" choice. 

We had already concluded that there was no "perfect" educational situation available for our children **.  The private schools didn't offer the perfect place, homeschooling wasn't the right environment for my eldest, and public school was a disaster.  We moved to another public school district, but still, there was no perfect choice.  We could come up with "cons" for each possibility, and we didn't want to put our first and eldest child into a school environment that was characterized by its "cons."

How did we find the "least-worst" choice?  We started with an idea from all that "productivity" training from my employer: Brainstorming.  We put a poster-sized sheet of white paper up on the basement door, and wrote down, without comment, the "pros" and "cons" of each situation we were considering - one piece of paper per situation, with a line down the middle. Everyone helped: my husband, me, even my (then) young daughter - she had concerns, too.  We wrote down funny things and real concerns; and we didn't laugh at anyone else's comments, "pro" or "con."

After about a week of brainstorming, we sat down to consider out list.  When we all agreed that something really wasn't important, we crossed it off.  If there was a "work-around" to a concern, we made a note of that, too - like my daughter's concern about missing her first-grade friends if she skipped to second grade.  The work-around was to invite her friends over for play-dates in the evenings or weekends.  No problem.  She thought this was even better than just playing with them at recess. 

Obviously, our daughter wasn't involved in some of the discussions.  My husband and I weighed the "pros" of appropriate academics and the "cons" of social interaction with kids older than her, who might know more about ... well, you know, matters of the world.^^

By the time we'd narrowed down our brainstorming lists to the really big pros and cons, the right choice for our educational decision was obvious.  But sometimes it is not that simple.  That's where the "least-worst" theory comes into play.  Look at the "pros" and "cons" that remain, now in priority order, in both the short and long term.  Then ask: How does this option work for this year?  What might it lead to in the future?  Short-term, an option needs to work, or the long-term effects may never happen.  Consider all the perspectives: academic, social emotional, physical, family, even logistical, such as cost or commuting time.  If you are considering a full grade acceleration, you might want to borrow or purchase a copy of the Iowa Acceleration Scale Manual; A Guide for Whole-Grade Acceleration Recommended by Susan G. Assouline, Nicholas Colangelo, Ann Lupkowski-Shoplik, Jonathan Lipscomb, Leslie Forstadt .  This manual can turn an emotional decision into a logical choice, with comprehensive consideration.

None of these perspectives can be considered in a void; they all affect your child together.  If your son doesn't learn how to struggle to learn in the classroom in elementary school, for example, he may have difficulty learning those lessons when he encounters them in high school or early college.  Read Struggle, Challenge and Meaning, by Valerie Bock.  If your daughter doesn't have interests in common with other children in her classroom, how will that affect her social development?  Yes, even high school or college sports should be considered, if they are important to your family.

By now, you have four lists: the "pros" and "cons" of staying with the status quo, and the "pros" and "cons" of moving to a new situation.

Note that it is very important to consider the status quo situation with as much concern as any other educational option.  Staying is always at least as serious a consideration as moving, because there is a known problem with the status quo; otherwise, you wouldn't be considering the move in the first place.  Staying in place is NOT inherently the least-worst option.

The last step is to consider the absolute best and absolute worst that could result from each of the options, both short and long term.  The absolute worst that could happen over the long term from a child never being challenged in school, for example, could be that the child gives up and drops out of high school, or that that child "hits the wall" and is kicked out when finally faced with a challenge in college.  The absolute best in the short term might be that the child keeps her current friends, or gets to have a "known good" teacher next year. 

Once you've examined the "pros" and "cons," and the absolute best and absolute worst outcome of each educational option, you should find that one option is clearly a better choice for your child, in your family, in your school situation, at this time.  And if not?  You could always flip a coin...

**I do believe that there can be a perfect educational situation, though what that ideal situation is varies by child.  For my kids, it would be a classroom with a collection of children who were about the same age, and at about the same level in their academic subjects, who all learned at about the same pace.  The teacher would be passionate about all of his subjects, and confident enough in his ability to admit when the kids know more than he does.  And the class day would be arranged so that the kids could pursue each subject passionately and at length, before moving on to another subject; perhaps in a day, or a week, or a month.  There would be places for the kids to learn "actively" including standing, rocking, and other unusual options.  And much of  the learning would be "hands-on" with lab sciences, and math manipulatives through at least Algebra.  Field trips would be a regular part of the class experience.

^^It turned out, the next year in 3rd grade, our daughter did encounter the dreaded "matters of the world" discussion with the older girls on the playground.  She came home that night, and accused us of lying to her!  Seems her friends insisted that pregnancy was not caused by sex, and we had told her otherwise when she asked a few years earlier. Which brought us to our next "difficult" discussion: why she shouldn't try to teach the girls on the playground the truth about sex...

2004-2005 by Carolyn K., director of Hoagies' Gifted Education Page
May not be republished without permission.

Last updated December 01, 2020

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