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Part Time High School

by Jill

It was the typical scenario: Five-year-old M was doing high school level math, reading books like Hawking's "Brief History of Time" but the school, in its blind devotion to Gesell developmental theories, pronounced M to be "too immature" to be promoted from pre-kindergarten to kindergarten.

Last year, when M was eight, he entered high school. Because he had been so emotionally fragile in elementary school and due to his age, I would not allow the school to dictate his class schedule, nor would I allow M to take as many classes as the average high school student.

I chose classes for two reasons. First, they had to be subjects M loved in order to help him remember why he once thought school was so wonderful. Second, they had to be subjects in which he excelled so that I could get him placed in upper-level "honors" classes. My reasoning was that older students in classes carrying academic honors would be far more understanding/accepting of a socially awkward eight-year-old than the average 14-year-old freshman in a huge (1600+) public high school. I chose pre-calculus and honors senior computer science. To fill the period in- between, I chose an art class, just to have something simple and less academic. After a couple of weeks, M was so happy and excited at the school that he sought & obtained permission to audit a chemistry class. When he was no longer welcome there (because he knew WAY too much!) we worked out his admission to an honors chemistry class.

This year I gave M a lot more control. I had chosen for him the first year, explaining my choices to him, because he was not in a good state emotionally and because he had no idea how to go about choosing. This year his teachers recommended him for 3 Advanced Placement classes (calculus, computer science, and physics) and he added honors chorus and a freshman Spanish class. The last has been an eye-opener for him; it is his first basic-level freshman class. Once, telling me how easy the work in Spanish was, he said, "Mom, do you know that some of the kids just don't get it?" He was blown away by the inability of some classmates to pick it up as easily as he did.

He did drop the AP Physics class after a couple of months, with the teacher's blessing & understanding. The reason is a fascinating study in how our kids' brains work. The teacher is required to teach the AP course to meet the challenges of the AP exam. That means that when a question is posed, say, in vectors, the student is supposed to write out all the steps involved (for the average person) to reach the conclusion; in fact, the steps are more important than the answer. M had no idea whatsoever what intermediate steps were expected, because his brain went straight from the question to the answer. The teacher admitted readily that M knows as much or more than any student she's ever had, but she also agreed that the structure of the AP Physics class was total frustration for M because she couldn't give him even passing grades for knowing all the answers! So either we wait a few years to see whether M can slow his brain down enough to deal with the limitations of this class, or we just accept that there is no reason why M should have to slow down his brain to think like the "average smart person."

How will we determine when he's "done?" Well, we know that many of M's abilities are college-level, but we also know that we are in no hurry to get M to college. The whole idea of high school is to let him grow up a bit first! So we start him in the upper-level classes, and than as he grows up a bit we move him slowly into areas where his expertise is not so strong. We let him take every interesting course the high school offers, maybe 4 per year. Julian Stanley made the comment that with this plan, M has the opportunity to become the most widely educated person in the world! However, we have to accept that we can't plan more than a year ahead. M may stay in high school 2 years or 8 years or anywhere in between. As long as they have interesting classes for him to take, we expect to let him remain in this program.

Next fall he would like to take a journalism class, and I assume he will continue with Spanish. He thinks he might like to add Latin, and I believe there is a math class he could take. We'll get more specific when we're closer to the fall.


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