by Stacy McEnnan, Ph.D.
Homeschooling, an approach which is finding great appeal these days, is often rejected by parents of gifted children. While not always the case, I have spoken to many parents who think they are not capable of keeping up with a high achieving student, especially in the high school years. I would like to encourage all parents, especially those of gifted children, to consider the many programs available and choose the one right for their individual child.
What makes a person gifted? The word “gifted” tends to be over-used and diluted in meaning, for do not all of us have gifts of some sort? Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher, said that “Talent hits the target no one else can hit; genius hits the target no one else can see.”
A child can be gifted because of talent or because of genius. Talent is certainly more prevalent. There are students with photographic memories, depth of understanding, and/or unusual abilities in music, art, mathematics, sports or writing to name a few.
For many years, the education of students identified as gifted and talented, and the identification process itself, has been highly controversial. It has been seen variously as elitist, divisive and educationally exclusive, or as economically and socially inequitable. Isn’t it time we considered our own children first and provided them with the best education available regardless of political correctness or state economic appropriation.
There are many types of programs available to homeschooling families. Parents must be careful to match the program to the student. Even within one family, each child needs to be carefully provided with an educational program which best serves that student.
One choice is on-line programs. On-line programs are, for the most part, exclusively computer based. The use of technology is not only useful but also relevant in today’s world. That cannot be denied, and on-line classes are readily available in all subject areas. However, The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that children from 6-18 years should limit the use of technology to 2 hours per day. That includes the use of all screens including cell phones, televisions, computers, video games, etc. A study by Boston University and others has linked early technology use with such problems as cognitive delays, attention deficit, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate.
Another choice is an independent study program through a brick-and-mortar school. The problem here is that students use the same books and curricula used by their in-class peers. The only difference is that they do lessons on their own time. Little qualitative diversity is found.
One of the best potential forms of independent study is homeschooling for appropriate children in appropriate situations as long as a canned curriculum is not utilized. Home-schooled children typically out-perform their public schooled counterparts by 30-37 percentile points across the board on available testing, because their academic time is generally better structured. They have better relationships with family members, in part due to socializing and sharing interests with children of different ages.
When parents are looking for an appropriate program for their homeschooling adventure, I always advise them that personalized learning is the best possible approach. By taking one or two on-line courses combined with some text and lab learning opportunities, students are provided with the best of what this world has to offer. With this approach, students become co-designers and co-producers of curriculum. They gradually become self-organized, working with the support and advice provided by mentors.
I have found this to be the very best approach to the academic experience of gifted and talented students. They have some say over what and how they learn, while mentors contribute by leading them through necessary requirements for college admission, if that is appropriate to the individual student. In this way, students can also be grouped by their rate of learning, rather than by their chronological age. For gifted students, a year or two acceleration may not be enough. The key again, is to personalize an individual’s education, even in preschool.
In economic terms, gifted children are a precious human-capital resource. They are the future creators of modern culture, and leaders in business, health care, law, the professoriate, and the STEAM professions.
There has to be flexibility and creativity in this nation’s approach to this population’s education, and it has to be taken seriously now. This is best accomplished by personalizing each student’s curriculum, using ability as the grouping criterion when grouping is necessary, and allowing for alternative forms of education when it is desirable.