I would have thought, with an Honours degree under my belt, and having started a PhD, that there would be nothing for me to learn from kindergarten.
My eldest daughter started school this year, you see. Surely, with all that education, kindergarten in Canberra could offer me nothing more.
Well, it turns out not to be strictly the case. Sure, the reading, writing and arithmetic I’ve pretty much got in the bag, and the art and craft I can probably manage. It’s the philosophy I’m struggling with.
I would have thought that equality would be fairly high on the “values” agenda. The school certainly teaches a policy of a “fair go”, but it doesn’t seem to practice it’s preachings. Let me elucidate.
My daughter is gifted. She’s not the next Einstein and probably won’t cure cancer. She is, however, extremely bright. I’m astonished that the modern education system is at a loss as to how to deal with gifted kids.
Schools have come a long way with regard to learning support. Kids who are struggling, whether with disabilities or for other reasons have a swag of services at their disposal to help them get up to scratch. Parents have been the driver of this, of course, demanding services where once there were none.
However, although it’s taken as read that a child with an IQ two standard deviations below the mean needs special education, there’s absolutely no recognition whatsoever that the same might apply to a child with an IQ two standard deviations above. I find this grossly unfair.
Surely all children should have access to an education that is interesting, informative, engaging and appropriate? Average kids slot straight in. Below average have help. Why should the above-average be left out? This is hardly a “fair go”.
There is no real gifted program. They started an extension program in Term 2. It was 40 minutes twice a week. I thought that was pretty minimal, given that my daughter was bored in class for six hours a day five days a week. But after one term it dropped back to one day, as the teacher was ‘busy with other duties’.
I don’t know if it’s even happening this term. Imagine the furore if this was a learning support unit! Why should the gifted kids be getting this raw deal?
I think there are a few reasons. Firstly is that some people are unwilling to even admit gifted people exist. This is patently ridiculous. Intelligence, however you measure it, falls on a standard normal curve. The overwhelming majority within a certain band, with small numbers above and below. Those above are the gifted and the challenged. To deny it is just plain silly. I don’t think anyone would deny the existence of those with a developmental disability.
I suspect another reason is the ranking of schools. They may be highly motivated to get the underperforming students up to par, but those high-achievers? They are already cruising.
But I think the big one is our celebration of the academic mediocre. We’ve always had this tall poppy thing going on, but it’s getting out of hand. My daughter, and others like her, have never received any recognition of their outstanding academic achievements. The school simply ignores it. However, those who achieve at sport, chess or any non-academic activity are publicly lauded. They have swags of certificates every fortnight handed out to children (including my own) for things like “displaying caring”, or “recycling”. But as far as I know, none has ever received a certificate for academic excellence.
While I think sport, chess, caring and recycling are important, so is learning. In case we’ve forgotten, that’s what schools are actually for.
Celebrating a range of achievement is important. Supporting those with a disability is important. Recognising that we’re not all good at the same things is important. But also, recognising that some people achieve academically is important. Are we really so scared to recognise academic excellence that we risk stamping it out?
So this is what I have learned from kindergarten, 2010: achieve only where it’s popular to do so.