Updated: Feb 11
All men have a denial gene when it comes to aging and their ability to play sports. It’s a complex chromosome that activates somewhere in a man’s late 20s and then takes full control of the prefrontal medial cortex by his late 30s. You can observe this phenomenon every weekend, as men with knee braces, back supports, and talcum-powdered loins take to the field or court to “put the smack down” (a stagnated phrase left over from a time when the man’s physical prowess allowed him the mobility of said smack).
I have this gene. That’s why, this summer, I signed up for mixed-aged martial arts at the Lone Eagle Fighting Arts dojo. Here I am, with my entry-level white belt, surrounded by a group of kids who are all two feet shorter and at least two belt degrees higher than me. Fortunately, there were other adults who looked just as awkward as me, and we all lumbered through the steps together.
This is mixed age. This is community. This is what your gifted child needs–a group of like-minded individuals brought together based on interest and ability.
It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth lesson that I lost sight of the age gap. Perhaps my denial gene kicked in, but there I am kicking a practice dummy, giving both my daughters high fives, and taking advice from a 12-year-old girl with a green hair band that matches her karate belt. This is mixed age. This is community. This is what your gifted child needs—a group of like-minded individuals brought together based on interest and ability.
In 1993, Miraca Gross published her study where she looked at the social isolation of gifted children, concluding that when gifted children were accelerated to be with intellectual peers, the isolation disappears and the students are able to form warm and supportive relationships with older classmates. As adults, we have all experienced this phenomenon. For example, colleges do not make your age a prerequisite for attending class. I know this first-hand because I’m in the same program as Noel Jett, the eighteen-year-old doctoral candidate at the University of North Texas (DeLeon, 2015). Why then, to quote Sir Ken Robinson, is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are…their ‘date of manufacture?’” (2010).
And Sir Ken wasn’t simply being tongue-and-check; the very same study from Gross (1993) has some chilling evidence: “In almost every case, the parents of [intellectually gifted] children retained in the regular classroom with age peers, report that their student’s drive to achieve, the delight in intellectual exploration, and the joyful seeking after new knowledge, which characterized their children in the early years, seriously diminished or disappeared completely” (pg 8).
Whether it’s at the dojo or school, you need to find ways to get your intellectually gifted child with like-minded peers. In the school context, this takes the form of subject acceleration (where the subject matter is streamlined) and grade acceleration (where Timmy completely skips 3rd grade).
Perhaps the same denial gene that tells me to high kick with no regard for tomorrow’s aching muscle is also responsible for perpetuating an inadequate system in the face of research and reason.
Be warned, all ye’ brave parents, while acceleration is well-researched as an effective intervention for precocious youth, you generally won’t win any friends at your school. Other parents will misconstrue your advocacy as elitism; administrators will baulk at paperwork and adjustments to the master schedule; and the teacher, who is tasked with challenging every student, will take personal offense to being told that her class simply isn’t challenging your son or daughter. Perhaps the same denial gene that tells me to high kick with no regard for tomorrow’s aching muscle is also responsible for perpetuating an inadequate system in the face of research and reason. “What? He doesn’t need to advance grade levels. He’ll be fine after he ‘levels out’.”
After you’ve come to terms with these obstacles and have still mustered up the courage to move forward, start by learning the vocabulary and approach. One resource is this publication out of NSW; it’s straightforward and helpful. http://www.curriculumsupport.education.nsw.gov.au/policies/gats/assets/pdf/polimp.pdf
Quick side note: I would love to know the experience and suggested resources of my readers who have attempted (successfully or not) to advocate for acceleration. Your stories help me to build a trove of anecdotes when I work with schools.
The take away is that there are ways to find like-minded peers inside and outside of the classroom. I joined a mixed-aged martial arts class because of my over-active denial gene; however, I have become invested in the process. When I’m there, I’m surrounded by other students who are training with equal gusto, regardless of their age. Imagine some bizzaro world where every 40-year-old in the neighborhood is required by law to show up to karate at 7pm. I’m not saying that I’d be the best, but I guarantee I would be one of the few who are eager to learn the sport. This is your kid in class. She’s looking around and wondering why the others don’t want to do more math problems or read for fun. It’s up to you to seek out and advocate for ways where your child can be surrounded by like-minded peers and community.
DeLeon, J. (2015, June 12). Studying gifted young people. The North Texan. Retreived from http://northtexan.unt.edu/node/5704
Gross, M.U.M (1993). Exceptionally gifted children. (Print) London: Routledge.
Gross, M.U.M. (2000). Exceptionally and profoundly gifted students: An Underserved population. Understanding our Gifted. Winter 2000.
Robinson, K. (2010). Changing education paradigms. Video. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms
Justin is a teacher, gifted specialist, curriculum writer, and fledging practitioner of karate. He is best known for his creation of mixed-age programs and professional development in the field of gifted education. You can find learn more about him here.