I have watched Bring on the Revolution by Sir Ken Robinson before, but like any other movie or video, I was captured by different ideas. I have had conversations again and again with colleagues about the GT or gifted and talented program. Many of these students qualify for this program in kindergarten and remain eligible for the GT program throughout their high school years. What? Why is it ok for a 5-year-old to qualify for a program and remain in this program for another 12 years? And this brings me to Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. If you read the whole book, not just an excerpt you will start to understand the total picture of how some exceptional standouts get to where they are. And one of the components is their age, especially with athletes. If you begin a sport at age 6 when most of the other children are 5, you have a major size advantage. Then you may end up excelling, which pushes you into the best teams with the best training and so forth. This does not ring true in education. You may be labeled the “smartest” student at age 6 when others in the class are 5, but brain development and maturity may differ in later years. Why are we labeling kids for eternity? When I used to teach Algebra to 8th graders, you had to be a GT student or you were ineligible for the program. These are fundamental skills that will continue through many other math subjects. Having a student take Algebra a year before required, when the student is not ready, then sets them up to struggle in Algebra 2, pre-calculus and so forth. But some parents are adamant that their student remains in the GT program. Their mindset of their son or daughter being labeled gifted and talented is more important than them struggling and flailing in the program.
This further brings me to Sir Ken Robinson’s point of our pressure on 18-year old’s to attend college. Some may not be ready, and some of those students fail and then consider themselves failures, or never need to attend college in the first place. We can be so focused on students attending a college that we lack the bigger picture. Looking back, I don’t know that I was particularly ready for college. I had made the decision at 13 that I wanted to be an Engineer so I made sure to take all the important level of math’s and sciences needed. Then I discovered in my first semester of college how much I hated Engineering, but by my junior year, I was stuck. I wanted to switch majors but was told that Engineering does not align with any other major so to make the switch I would lose almost all the credits. I pushed through and chose a path that I had no interest in pursuing. Only to go back to school when I realized in my twenties that what I had always wanted to do was teach.
I do appreciate that the state has attempted to assist with this decision making through career pathways. The electives available to students currently in my district is incredible. Students have opportunities to work in their field of interest through internships and co-ops. Teachers are teaching the field they worked in previously. If I would have had an opportunity to take Engineering classes with teachers that were Engineers, I would have realized much sooner that I didn't enjoy it. And I might not have figured out what I was passionate about, but I would have at least been able to eliminate some options. We have a long way to go with personalization in the curriculum, but at least having options available where students aren't reading about the career but living it, is working towards a better future.