6 Reasons to Tell Your Straight-A Kid
to Drop Out of School
BY SUKI WESSLING
It was the 1980’s in a small town in in the Midwest. Educationally speaking, you had two options: the good public schools or the pretty awful Catholic school. My parents gave my sister one year with the nuns before they chose public school for her and the four siblings that followed her.
In most cases, that would be the end of the story.
We had a “good” public school system. We had art, music, band, orchestra, and every sport (as long as you weren’t a girl wanting to play football). We had a fully outfitted chemistry lab, an indoor track and pool, and cheap driver’s education in the summers.
So why did my parents allow me, a straight-A student, to drop out of high school?
For years, I didn’t question their decision. But once I became a homeschooler, I really started to understand what my parents had done in allowing me to drop out of school. It wasn’t just a leap of faith that I’d do OK—it was knowledge that they had that high school simply wasn’t the right place for me, their straight-A daughter.
Now homeschooling my own kids, I have to come to a series of realizations why homeschooling is a better choice for academic achievers even when school seems to be going just fine. In no particular order, here are some of the reasons that might resonate with other families who still think their gifted learners are better off in school.
6 Reasons to Tell Your Straight-A Kid to
Drop Out of School
1) Just like school works hard to pull the lowest-scoring students into the norm, it also functions to normalize the highest-scoring students
There’s a lot of press out there about No Child Left Behind and its effect on schools. Even if you haven’t been following it carefully, you probably know that most of the concern is whether the lowest scoring students are achieving better reading and math scores. But a lesser known effect of NCLB has been the depression of scores on the upper end. Higher scoring students, who usually enter school reading and with basic math up to second grade already intact, are scoring lower on standardized tests than they did ten years ago.
We all know that test scores don’t mean that much, but this is one change that is worth considering: Our schools have removed almost everything that made getting out of bed worth it for academically gifted students. If a day of test prep is horrible for a student who is working hard, imagine what it’s like for a student who achieved the objectives of the test a year or more earlier.
If you think that private school is the solution, listen to all the parents of gifted children who gave up on that, as well. All schools have to teach to some target group. Even a school that aims to teach gifted students will not necessarily have the right approach for your student. The further from the norm any student is—academically, socially, or emotionally—the harder it is to find a school that won’t attempt to squeeze your square peg into a round hole.
2) One of the reasons that academically gifted students do well is that many are already self-motivated
Homeschooled students excel in a lot of areas because homeschooling allows to them to develop self-motivation, which is so important to success in any area of life. But most academically gifted students started their academic lives self-motivated—this is part of why they’re successful. Now, reasonable people disagree about the source of this self-motivation: is it something genetic that kids are born with that drives them? Or is it something they learn because of their family and their society? But no matter what the reason, it’s clear that if you take a child who is already self-motivated in academic areas and allow her to follow her passions, she will probably quickly blow past what she’d be doing in school where she wasn’t allowed to determine her own areas of study.
Lots of parents of students who are excelling in school because they are driven to work hard think that homeschooling them makes no sense—they are already excelling in school. But the fact is that allowing an already self-motivated student the freedom to choose and explore before the age of 18 can be life-changing. Homeschooling isn’t lost on these kids; on the contrary, they are freed by homeschooling.
3) Not all academically gifted kids are self-motivated, and being in school teaches them to learn in order to please rather than to learn for the sake of learning
I’ve heard it more than a few times: “I can’t take my child out of school. He’d never do anything without the threat of grades and a teacher’s disapproval.”
There are certainly academically gifted kids who do well because of social pressure and only because of that. The question is, do you as a parent want to encourage that aspect of your child’s personality by saying that it’s OK that they are studying simply to please others? What about once they graduate? How will they learn self-motivation?
One of the great things about homeschooling is that it offers students a continuum. Instead of “school first, then real life,” students get to learn within their real life. Students who are not self-motivated are great candidates for homeschooling simply because this is an essential life skill that they won’t learn in school. If they fail at first, it is better for them to learn through failure now, when they are young and failure is so much less important than it will be when they are supporting a family or working to develop a career.
4) School teaches academically gifted kids that they will be rewarded when things are easy for them
The average gifted kid arrives at school years ahead of other kids in major areas of study: already reading, already understanding math concepts, already thinking analytically. There’s no wonder in this: Typical children spend their preschool years developing socially, whereas gifted kids tend to delay social and emotional development while focusing on academic and analytical skills their peers will learn later.
The result of this difference in development, therefore, is that academically gifted kids spend a few years of school, at least, thinking that learning is “easy.”
A lot of the parents of academically gifted learners are very proud of their kids at this point, thinking, Wow, my kid is so smart. The problem is, at some point in their academic life all children will have to start working hard in order to achieve higher goals. Most children learn the value of hard work early, when they’re learning to read and do basic math. But gifted kids sail right through, and the lesson on hard work is delayed until middle school or even high school or college.
Why is this a problem? Because lessons learned at the age of seven are always easier than ones learned during the difficult and emotional teen years. A child who had to struggle to learn to read is better equipped to face a tough physics course than is a child who previously entered school having mastered the skills to be taught that year.
Years of sailing through classes and standardized testing is terribly damaging to these kids; often, they find themselves with no resources when they encounter their first difficult studies. Their parents have spent these years talking about “how smart they are.” Their teachers have always expected them to get straight A’s. They feel like they are letting everyone down, and because this often coincides with the emotional roller coaster of the teen years, it can be a devastating experience.
Yet again, homeschooling is the answer. Children who have already mastered second grade curriculum do not have to be subjected to it. Instead of working on skills she’s already mastered, an eight-year-old homeschooler can spend months working on a science fair project or exploring subjects she might not have been able to access in school. Instead of years of damaging expectations about how she’s so “smart,” she can spend years in happy pursuit of hard work.
5) The freedom of homeschool allows students to develop their strengths while not being limited by their deficits
A better word for most academically gifted children than “gifted” is actually “asynchronous”: almost all gifted learners are way ahead in some areas while meeting or failing to meet age-based expectations in others. For example, there are plenty of examples of preschoolers who can read and speak with large vocabularies. But they are unlikely to be able to write with a fluency similar to their verbal skills. Other children might be studying advanced math concepts while still learning to tie their shoes. Still other children may show deficits in an area like reading but be very advanced in spatial reasoning.
The effect of asynchronous development in schools is often frustration and failure. Teachers expect that their fluent readers should be able to write at the same level. Fellow students expect that their gifted classmates should be able to interact socially within age-based expectations. When a child has skills at a variety of levels, no single classroom can suit her needs.
Homeschooling is obviously ideal in this situation. Your gifted math student will no longer be restricted by what school has to offer. Your avid reader won’t have to read books years beneath her reading and interest level in order to fit into a classroom. All your child’s curriculum and social interactions can be suited to his needs and interests.
6) Homeschooling allows academically inclined kids to have a more fulfilling childhood
Though it seems like every parent you meet wants to have a gifted child, those of us who actually do have them know that it’s not a gift you always appreciate. Gifted kids in school can suffer terribly from bullying, loneliness, boredom, and overly high expectations. Gifted kids can find themselves burdened with more busywork rather than more fulfilling work. They often experience stress in highly competitive environments.
Raising your child with homeschooling allows your child to be young for as long as she likes, to be competitive only when he is comfortable with it, and to develop skills without fear of not living up to her label.
Homeschooling a Great Choice for Gifted Children
Yes, your gifted child might be getting straight A’s in school, but that doesn’t mean he is excelling. Homeschooling might just be what frees your child to become the person he or she wants and needs to be.
Suki Wessling is a writer and the homeschooling mom of two children. She writes fiction and articles about parenting, gifted children, and education. Her book, From School to Homeschool, was released by Great Potential Press in November, 2012. Read more at www.SukiWessling.com.