Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It gets better, the gifted version

Bad Dad and I were wondering if it is time for a It Gets Better campaign for gifted kids.

I was talking with a reporter about my finding that super-high-test score districts are less likely than average to advance their kids in math. He wondered how I stumbled upon that finding. Why had I bothered to look at the data in that way?

The short answer is that it is because I care. But I care for a reason that was not immediately obvious to him. I better spell it out really clearly.

It's not about bragging rights about whose child is more advanced.

It's about the child who is sitting in math class, thinking she just might not be cut out for math because she will tear her hair out if she has to sit through another fracking demonstration of long division.

It's about the child who gets sent to the principal's office for reading a book in math class (and being told to go back to the classroom to apologize).

It's about the child who quickly turns over her 100% test grade so that the other kids don't see it--lest she get beat up in the school yard over that.

It's about the child that got beaten up in the school yard anyway, while the other kids watched, and then took turns kicking her once she was pulled down to the ground.

It's about the kid who looked to the teacher across the school yard for a rescue, and watched the teacher walk away instead.

It's about me.

I'm here today to tell you that, if they ever let you go beyond long division and fractions, it gets better.

You'll learn that rational numbers are a field under addition, negation and multiplication but integers are not. Integers are merely a ring because they lack the inverse under multiplication. And every system of algebra opens up a different universe of possibilities.

And the special algebra of infinite-dimensional Hilbert spaces will open up the world of quantum mechanics to you. And, once you gain entree into that world, you will see how the quantum world manifests itself in the macro world all around you.

Who knows? You might even learn about general relativity and make relativistic corrections for satellite-to-satellite communications.

You might even work at a place alongside 850 other PhD-holding rocket scientists, marry one of them, raise a family and take fantastic trips (with the MIT alumni travel program).


  1. Gifted kids do get treated like dirt. I know, I was one too. But then I got to go to UC Irvine as a biology major, learn cool stuff...transfer to Berkeley, study with Nobel Prize winners and brilliant researchers, meet a handsome and brilliant water polo player/economics major...marry him...and no one ever teases you about being 'too smart' again.

  2. That's utterly heartbreaking. The entire story of violence is sickening, but I'm utterly appalled by the adult teacher abandoning the tormented student.

    I'll agree with Little Hunting Creek in that the life gifted students live beyond the confines of their small-minded schools can be beyond compare, however, does that ever erase the hurt of being bullied? I doubt it.

  3. Heart-braking story. I guess there are teaches who should not be allowed to approach kids. A good teacher can adjust at least some tasks for different kid's level, at least I see some of it for my gifted 4th grader.

    And I think that we - scientists and PhD - really have to interact with kids, come to classes and talk about cool stuff science does. This get them inspired. At least in elementary school. I cannot say I do too much, but I tried to do one liquid nitrogen demo a year. One of the most satisfying moments about that is when one of the moms (whose kid I didn't know) recognized me during PTA meeting and quoted her son saying: "Katya (DD) is so lucky, she can do science all day long with her parents!" May be I am idealistic, but I hope that this boy will be a bit less likely to despise science or math class later. Probably not... but I still hope.

  4. That story is so incredibly heartbreaking, and the sad thing is that large parts could have been my story, especially the parts about thinking I was not cut out for math because I wanted to tear my hair out, reading in math class and being punished, beaten up and derided, given up on and abandoned by teachers, except that for me it continued into college and I didn't pursue those scientific interests because I didn't recognize my potentials until long afterwards. The stories I could tell.

    The world needs a lot more moms like you.

  5. I wrote a post a while back about wanting to go back to my high school homecoming assembly and be the counterpoint to all the cheerleaders who come back to do a routine and are introduced as "this is so-and-so, and she's married and has three kids!"

    I wanted to be "this is so-and-so, she has three degrees!"

    But sadly, I didn't get a masters on my way to my PhD, so I only have two degrees.

    Also, no one has ever asked me to go back to a high school homecoming assembly!

    But yes, it does get so much better.


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