What It Really Boils Down To
School should be about LEARNING. It's really that "simple" to me.
Yes, our schools fulfill other purposes, too. I certainly don't deny or disagree with (much of) that.
But if a child is mostly being "taught" what he or she has already mastered, I don't think we can say that child is getting an education. At school, of all places.
Ironically, it is our gifted youth who are often learning the least. For one example, see the Fordham report, High-Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB, which shows stagnation, not growth, for the top 10 percent of our learners.
I equate an ill-fitting education to ill-fitting shoes. We don't tell children whose shoes are too small for too long to "suck it up" -- because we know that too small shoes for too long cause actual physical harm. Well, a too small education for too long causes harm, too. Withholding an appropriate education from a child is educational neglect, particularly when the accommodations are often actually simple adjustments. If we withhold an appropriate education from a child on the other end of the spectrum, we face a legal tangle of lawsuits. Why on earth do people - even teachers - think it is okay to withhold an appropriate education from a child who is just as far from the norm, but in the other direction? Because that year the child gets to "work on her handwriting" and "learn how to get along better with others"? Those things should happen ANYWAY. They can happen hand-in-hand with the child getting an appropriate education. These children do NEED an appropriate education (like all kids!) But many end up depressed, anxious, resentful, unmotivated, and defeated without one. EVERY child should be learning in school.
I can guarantee you, a stagnating gifted child hitting intellectual brick walls in the classroom is not thinking, "Lucky me, this year I get to take it easy and learn how to get along better with others and improve my handwriting!" (for example). Rather, they are building up resentment -- and, if there is still no appropriate challenge (i.e. appropriate education) year after year, that resentment turns to rage.
I don't want these kids to become resentful, defeated, and enraged. I want them to be able to find and fulfill their potential and become legally productive citizens - the very same thing we want for all children. But for our brightest to have that opportunity, it means we need to get out of their way and provide appropriate accommodations.
Educational neglect is not okay with me. Children should be LEARNING in school. ALL children should be learning in school -- every day, not just some years when they luck out and get a teacher who knows what to do for them.
Our teachers need training in how to reach, stretch, and challenge the most advanced learners in their classrooms. Many teachers want to do right by these kids, but they're at a loss as to where to begin because no one gave them a head's up that some kids would already know what they're supposed to be teaching them.
And for the (sadly not small enough number of) teachers who think that the child who already knows much of what is being taught that year is "one less child to worry about" because he is "already where he needs to be," ... can you honestly call yourself an EDUCATor? Teach that kid! Find what he needs, what he's ready for, and give it to him. And if it's beyond you, or if you don't have the resources, then become his advocate and knock on doors until someone listens.
Because what it really boils down to is all kids should be learning in school. Even the ones who "already know it all." Because they don't. Yes, they have room to grow, too. And rightfully should.