I was speaking with my sister today, explaining my preschool woes that I am having with my almost 3 year old. Like sisters do, she got a little annoyed at one point in our conversation, and made it evident with a comment. I am trying to get my daughter into the same school her brother goes to – it’s a school for the gifted. At this point I am guessing you are already siding with my sister. Rolling your eyes, “oh brother(which was how her comment started)…a school for the gifted for a 3 year old?”
Or maybe not. This very well may be purely my own hang-up. Whose hang-up it is probably isn’t important – I’ll drag everyone through my train wreck of a thought process to make peace with it all. It’s kind of long – sorry, but this is what happens when I’m hung up about something.
So, my hang-up with other people’s potential hang-up is just that – it’s a school for the gifted. You have to say that by first pinching your nose and then using your most royal voice – probably with a British accent. It just sounds…snobby. Now I am going to tell you that my son is only 5 and that he started at this school when he was 3 and your eyes will roll another twenty degrees. All right, all right, now I have to admit that we named him Maximilian Alexander – like he really is some kind of royalty or something and now we have to send him to a school for the gifted to live up to his name. But seriously, that is his full name. It’s catchy, right? It rolls off the tongue, in a mouthful sort of way. Particularly if you go nasal and use a British accent. But I digress.
My current woes are around a little pre-requisite to get into a school like this one and it’s called testing. This is typically where people are generally so annoyed, they can’t keep their eyes from rolling to the back of their heads, even standing in front of me. They casually try to understand, “so, you are putting your 2 year old (almost 3!) through an IQ test?” they say with same skepticism and concern as if I just reported that I was locking her in closets while I pop out to Starbucks.
And I get it. They picture two high-achieving parents, wringing their hands, standing outside of the testing area, perhaps clutching one another with the hopes that this will be the first of many tests aced, culminating in Ivy League acceptance ~ 15 years down the road. They feel the pressure that two highly achieving parents might put on an almost 3-year old, and it seems abusive. And it seems a lot to expect from an almost 3 year old. On this last point, I might agree. But let me explain the story of the two parents standing outside of that door.
One parent was a gifted child when he was growing up. He wasn’t particularly social – he felt different from most other children. To compound that, his Germany parents moved him to a new country (France) when he was 3, then again (U.S.) when he was 8. So he had lots of reasons to feel like he didn’t fit in. He was smarter than most others, and that is, ultimately, how he coped. That and he hung around adults. He didn’t have many friends. He was lonely – his behavior and grades reflected the boredom and lack of social connections at school. He doesn’t have fond memories of childhood. Like we all do, he overcame all of his childhood woes to turn into an upstanding, not to mention brilliant, guy with a hot wife (eh-hem), and adorable children. Now, what does he want for his children? A chance at camaraderie and joyful learning from the youngest of ages. (Fact: Giften children are often UNDER-performers in school because they are bored to tears.)
The other parent, while bright and at the top of her class, was not “gifted” growing up. She relished in social connections and friendship. That’s what school really was for her. She overcame other childhood woes (we all have them) to turn into an upstanding adult with a hot and brilliant husband and 2 adorable children. And then her first child started pre-school, age 2 ½ (sister on the way). It was a Montessori, which espouses the values of independence, love and respect. It was a tough transition for a very shy and sensitive child, (hate to label, but sorry, he really was) but for ~ 6 months, it went pretty well. And then he transitioned into the 3-4 year old room (I know, most Montessoris are 3-6, but this one was not….I know, not really Montessori but too long to post about). There were 25 other 3-4 year olds in the classroom and he could not tell his mama the name of a one. He started hating school and he screamed and cried every single day. “It’s so boring!” he would cry. Mama had to admit, when she looked around the classroom, it seemed like stuff he had outgrown a year ago. But look at all of these other 3-4 year olds – THEY like it! She said to herself and, sometimes, in exasperation, to him. It ripped her heart out every single day to drop him off at a place he did not seem thrilled to go. She spoke with his teacher about it – “he does well” she said, “there are 3-4 students who get a little overwhelmed from the classroom and they hang out with one another. It’s normal”. The magic word – normal. It must be ok, then, she thought. But the crying and upset at drop-off grew worse every day. At the 3-year old check-up at the pediatrician’s office (which didn’t happen until 3 1/2 – oops), she asked him if he had any friends. “no” was his own reply. The pediatrician looked to mama to see if this was true. She raised her eye-brows and shrugged, portraying that she needed to know, “is this normal?” “If he doesn’t have friends by the time he’s 4, we need to talk.” Ok. We have until 4. By then things had been put in motion for Max to attend a new school – the aforementioned “school for the gifted.” They were starting a new 3-year-old program and he had miraculously passed the test (the miraculous part was that he interacted with a relatively strange woman, on his own, for nearly an hour. The test is just a sequence of games – he loved it.) When school started that fall, the companion-less child came home within his first couple of weeks, talking about “all of his friends” at school. His teachers spoke about how social he was and that he loved to play with all of the children, although he also had his favorites. This mama wasn’t looking for him to fit into a school for the gifted, she was just looking for a school that fit him. She just wanted a son who was at peace. Who had friends. Who could jump down from her arms when they walked into the classroom, eager to spend time there. He’s still shy with new people and adults, but he has friends. Friends! (Fact: gifted children struggle socially b/c they don’t connect with their peers)
So now this mama wants the same thing for her daughter. I don’t care if she goes to this school – even if it would be terribly convenient to have my children at the same location. But what I do know is that I see similar patterns. We’ve had trouble with drop-off at her Montessori school (a different one from her brothers) since she started. She doesn’t talk about the other children in her classroom. If you ask her who her friends are, she is more likely to answer the names of her brother’s friends – the ones she hangs out with and plays with at home and on the weekends – ones that are 2 ½ or more years older than her. My particular tribulation that I was explaining to my sister is around the fact that she won’t speak to the tester (we have made two attempts).
This is where, I believe, it gets the most prickly: The testing. I get it. It seems strange to be able to tell anything about a person’s IQ at such a young age. I can’t explain it, but I leave it to the experts in the field and trust that their decades of IQ testing and research have led them to a place where they are certainly not harming anyone and that they have scientifically backed data proving that the testing is effective. Fine. Then there’s the perceived pressure for the kid. “Testing” is a hard word to use with a young child. I think people imagine them being drilled with flashcards with said evil tester sitting by checking and marking after every answer, chuckling at wrong answers. The “test” is actually a series of games – blocks and such – that a kind woman (who loves children) administers. Oh, and there are those parents outside the door, wringing their hands. You already heard about those damn achievement-pushers. The last prickly part of testing, I think, might be that there IS a test. It wreaks of elitism, or at least exclusion. It’s certainly not the first school to have an admissions test, but particularly at this age, this just doesn’t sound inclusive, or then, friendly. We don’t like exclusion in our culture. Thus, my hang-up, or your hang up, or…you know what I’m trying to say. But their mission is to support and nurture gifted children. How do you know when a child is gifted? Testing. Refer above. It’s actually that simple.
So my daughter won’t talk. She’s strong-willed. She’s a little shy. Maybe she just doesn’t click with the tester. Maybe she does feel pressure. Despite all of the conversations about it, I don’t know. She’s just refusing to talk, and even I can see the humor in it. There are plenty of children her age who DO participate in the test (including her older brother who was probably more shy than she is), so it’s not really a flaw in the process. Whatever the reason, it has left me wringing my hands a little. We can go to a different school – if this wasn’t Austin and you didn’t need to be on a wait-list for 2 years to get into every school that I’ve found that I truly like. So, it’s a little stressful. I’m not tied to her going to a (use the voice) ‘school for the gifted’, but I am tied to her having a happy preschool experience. We are on the wait list for a couple other schools, so I am sure it’s all going to work out in the end – it always does. Deep breath.
My sister ended up apologizing for her annoyed comment. It’s OK, I said – it’s hard for people to understand. I guess I’m hoping that maybe now, a few more people will.