As Charlotte prepares to enter the realm of public school in the fall (hopefully here, but who knows?) I find myself being faced with a whole new barrage of educational dilemmas. Namely everyone seems super hyped about getting their kids classified in some way. Apparently you must be immediately tracked with an IEP and/or a "gifted" classification. Long gone are the days when you just went to school, found your strengths, worked on your weaknesses and let things shake out. I do understand that thanks to early screenings and improved pediatric care we can more readily identify what kids need and help them to overcome learning issues or flourish in their unique skill sets, but I have to ask: Can you force this issue? Or perhaps the real question is: should you force this issue? Excluding, for the sake of discussion, kids on the "extreme" ends of the curve, what is an appropriate amount of enrichment and parental involvement for "normal" (ugh, I hate that word) or average (now a four letter word) kids?
This line of thought was inspired by a very good review on Geek Mom about Aristotle Circle's Stanford-Binet Test Prep and Enrichment Kit. While the reviewer points out her own feelings about gifted-ness being more intuitive and the company markets this as an educational tool and not a test "cheat," I find myself wondering why this kit even exists. Clearly there is a market for people who, lets face up to the real reason this thing sells, think they can train their kid into being gifted. Is this realistic? Is this a bad thing? Is it a good thing? I am not sure.
I do think that in our educational system being tracked into the gifted program does open up certain educational opportunities that can be very rewarding. On this track you get filtered into more dynamic extra curricular activities, into advanced and honors classes and down paths that look great on college applications. When the only end goal of education is getting that college degree, this seems like a no brainer. Teach your kid to ace the screening, get in the program and you are off. It also helps reinforce for kids the idea that hard work will often get you where you want to go. Many kids in gifted programs are not actually gifted, or of higher intelligence, they are just damn hard workers. Honestly we should reward that. We can't all be Babara McClintock, but we can get very far by putting in the time.
From this perspective, teaching your kid to the test seems like a great idea. But, and there is always that BUT in parenting, at what point can you no longer compensate by teaching to the evaluation. Will there come a point in time when you can no longer push a kid to a certain level if that level is not appropriate for them? With so many other aspects of parenting we just accept that kids are ready when they are ready (weaning, potty training etc.) so why are we so determined to force our kids into education standards no matter what? Is it good for kids to be placed on a track where they must always put in the extra time to make the grades, or are kids better left to work out where they should advance on their own?
My honest, and probably critical/mean perspective is that if your kids can't ace the gifted screening without test-specific prep, then they don't need to be in the program. If the only way Charlotte or Elizabeth can get into the advanced reading group is by doing three extra hours of test-specific tutoring a week, then you know what? Advanced reading just isn't going to be their bag at this point in time. You certainly don't want to "not bother" with a kid in areas where they are not naturally inclined to excel, but I think the important perspective of tailoring education to the unique way each kid grows and advances is somewhat lost in our modern view that everyone must get straight As in everything and be a varsity athlete and master the oboe at 12 and volunteer at the animal shelter and ...well, you get the idea.
<sidenote> I will also point out that if you feel you need a kit to do these activities with your kids, then that deserves a look too. Nothing in here can't be done with toys we all likely have floating around the playroom. Maybe the issue at hand is less why do we need to teach to the test, but why as a culture are we no longer allowing our kids the kinds of playtime that let them learn these things on their own. Sorting LEGO teaches far more critical thinking skills than a LeapPad or addition flash cards, just saying.</sidenote>
With all that said, this kit (or the activities in the kit done at home with your own stuff) still looks awesome. My kids would have a blast doing these things and it would be a nice way to looks at where kids are, or are not, progressing so you can tailor how you help your kid get what they need out of the educational system you have chosen. Also, if these are skills that indicate educational readiness, then they are probably good skills to have anyway, so where is the harm? However, I would apply the caveat that all the test prep kits in the world won't make your kid gifted. More importantly, it is OK to not be gifted. I recommend Hot House Kids by Alissa Quart as a great look into how we test for giftedness, what being gifted may/may not really mean and if being gifted/forced to be gifted is really good for kids.
What is a parent to do?
These are some very murky waters...sadly waters in which I must SCUBA dive with confidence over the next 20+ years.