The following is from the Annual Report (#18) of the Board of Education, Saint Louis Missouri, in 1872 - including the Superintendent's discussion of their high school's system of promotion.

This is the first of two excerpts from the Annual Report. This is focused on the evils of the standard promotion system - which was not yet standard in most of the country, but which was becoming increasingly so. With no further delay, the words of Dr. W. T. Harris:

"The High School course is divided into four classes, the work laid down for each occupying one year in its accomplishment. (See Appendix, p. xcv.) The fact that each High School class is expected to begin its work in September and complete it in June, indicates at once the condition of things that I have already alluded to in this report. Such a course of study is "nailed to the calendar," and its progress is rigid and determined by the lapse of time, and not by the progress of the pupil. If a pupil is sick and unable to attend school for ten weeks, he finds, on his return, that there is no class just ready to admit him. The class which he left is now ten weeks in advance of him, and to make up this work and at the same time to do the regular work of the class is too difficult. If it were possible, it would prove a superiority of individual work over work in a class.

"The pupil is probably obliged to enter the next class below, but this class is thirty weeks behind his present acquirements, and his ten weeks' sickness has thus cost him a year's progress. On entering the lower class, however, he finds himself going over familiar ground, and gets careless in his work. By the time his present class arrive at the work from which he was broken off by sickness the previous year, he has acquired a loose habit of study, and is likely to fail on the first difficult study that he encounters. Two failures are pretty sure to complete his discouragement and cause him to leave school. Another case: A pupil, for some reason, is not quite able at the close of the year to pass the standard for admission to the next class, and is accordingly obliged to join the class below. He is set back just one year at once. He might have lacked five weeks' study or ten weeks' study—scarcely more than this—of completing the work of his class. But for this he is obliged to lose nearly a year more than was really necessary. It must be remembered that these are not isolated instances, but that the number of each class who ought to be separated, for one reason or other, from the part of the class that does the work of the grade thoroughly, is about one-third of the entire number. In order to avoid this evil of putting back pupils, there is a strong temptation to let them pass on at a low standard. The consequence of such a course is that each class is impeded in its work by the presence of a number who are not «qual to the performance of their tasks.

"These evils are not confined to the classes of the High School; they extend to the higher classes of the District Schools. Inasmuch as the examination for admission to the High School is to occur in June, the first grade's work of the District School must be completed at that time, and hence must be commenced in September of each year. This fact in turn influences the time of beginning and completing the work of the second grade. The tendency of all this is to produce a system of classification throughout the entire course of the District Schools similar to that in the High School. In this case classes would follow each other at intervals of a year, and the difficulty of properly assigning those who should be classified in grades between those established exists throughout the entire system. In many sections of the country—in Ohio and New York, for example—this very practice prevails. A promotion takes place once or twice a year, on occasion of a general written examination by the superintendent. Those who "pass" go on; those who fail fall back to the lower class or leave school altogether."
A number of years ago, I attended a lecture given by the late Dr. Ted Sizer. For those of you who don't recognize the name, he was the founder of the Coalition of Essential Schools, one of the more established educational reform movements. At that point, he was Dean of Brown University's School of Education, but previously he'd held the same title at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and still earlier he'd been headmaster of Phillipss Academy Andover.

Sizer enjoyed startling his audiences and this speech was no exception.

"I believe in tracking," he declared. Then he paused to let his words sink in.

"...so long as there is one track for every student." The other shoe had dropped and the audience felt much better!

In a subsequent conversation, I hearkened back to that speech, which he recalled with a chuckle. "But Ted, doesn't that imply that fully individualized education is the way to go?"

While he did not initially get my point, after a bit he conceded that perhaps that was the logical extension of his comment, but he did not concede that it was necessarily what was actually best.



But what does that have to do with acceleration or physics? Bear with me briefly. We'll get there.

In educationese, for more than 100 years, acceleration has usually meant skipping a grade (1). Radical acceleration has been defined by Miraca Gross for at least a decade as resulting in high school graduation 3 or more years (2). More recently, acceleration has included a variety of techniques including subject-only acceleration - techniques that are almost as old as grade skipping.

Physics, on the other hand, says Acceleration is defined as the rate of change of velocity. Acceleration is inherently a vector quantity, and an object will have non-zero acceleration if its speed and/or direction is changing (3). (Velocity = speed and direction, both.)

To my mind, grade skipping barely deserves the label of acceleration at all. Imagine, if you will, a car going 60 miles per hour along a straight highway. No acceleration, right? Now, a beam of light appears around the car; the car disappears; then the beam places the car two miles ahead on the same highway going in the same direction.

The car has only been displaced - everything else remains the same: speed and direction.

This is almost a perfect metaphor for grade skipping. The student finishes a particular grade or even a particular day of a particular grade and then is a year removed forward from there without a change in the pace of the school or the direction of the student.

The thing that makes this not a perfect metaphor is that the first month or two in the accelerated school often involves some scrambling on the part of the student to acquire the full academic year of material that has been skipped past - it is often the most exciting time in the student's academic life! And it is sufficient for many if not most skippers. But for some of them (hg? pg? who knows!), the return to the regular pace after that burst of excitement is just as stultifying as the original grade was and all the student's reasons for being skipped return in spades, often to the thorough frustration of the school and/or parents, who thought they had dealt with the student's needs.

This is why we have radical acceleration.

From the physics perspective, though, there is more than a bit of irony in the resistance that so many teachers, principals, schools and districts give to acceleration.

It is not just that as educational interventions go that acceleration is among the most studied and best proven, though those are true and I am sure other bloggers have written about it and linked to A Nation Deceived among other documents that support this position.

It is that acceleration is an active standard tool actively used in almost every public school in America. I can imagine a few raised eyebrows, but remember that change in velocity is the definition of acceleration I am using, which means a change in speed and/or direction.

Our slower students and our SPED students get the benefit of acceleration regularly. (Or not the benefit in the case of grade retention!) Change in curriculum, extra time, adjusted curriculum or assignments or testing. Change in room for part of the time to get more support.

All of this is acceleration. And all of it would and does benefit the gifted student who gets it, too. Change the pace. Change the type of delivery. More or less time on a topic. adjusted curriculum or assignments or assessment.

I don't know that this is astonishing news. I don't claim that it is a new perspective. It's just the only thing I thought I had to say on the topic of acceleration. Hmmm... not quite.

In those times 100 years ago, they were conscious of having as much as 5 levels of knowledge (current year minus 2 through current year plus 2) in their cities' 4th grades, for example. They were conscious that as many as 25% of the students were one or more years accelerated in their knowledge, even when they were not accelerated by grade, let alone those who were accelerated by grade.

(1) For example, Annual report of the School Committee and of the superintendent of schools of the City of Chicopee for the year ending November 30th, 1914 (<http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?num=1&u=1&seq=16&view=plaintext&size=100&id=uiug.30112088234122&q1=accelerated>)
(2) http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10349.aspx
(3) http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/acca.html
https://www.facebook.com/humansofnewyork/photos/a.102107073196735.4429.102099916530784/872765736130861/

This link is to the story of Nadia Lopez, the principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. She shared with her school, in the aftermath of the great good fortune that befell her and her school, that she had been ready to give up, to surrender, because she had lost faith in her kids and her program.

As you may well know by now, Vidal, who is one of her students, had his brief story (and face) was captured by Humans of New York and put out on the internet where anybody and everybody could read it --> and his life, her life, and the school's life have been irrevocably changed - more than $1,000,000 has come in, her faith in them is restored by his story, and all is well or, at least, looking pretty good right now.

So, why then is this labeled a tragedy?

There are so many more Mott Halls out there. So many more Nadia Lopez stories - people with a dream who pour their hearts and souls and blood and sweat and tears and whatever metaphor for lives you care to use, but whose student was not Vidal, was not on Humans of New York, and whose dreams are dying or have died.

We are not a meritocracy. We are not a place in which a dream and hard work is enough to ensure success. We are a place of crap shoots and luck. We are a giant lottery with people investing their beings in the belief that that will give them a good chance of winning when it gives them, at best, a poor chance.



It is worse than that, unfortunately. The dreams of our private educators who have made their way up from the bottom are smashed into pieces, but that is not the worst of it, by any means.

Our public schools are filled with teachers, almost all of whom mean well. Among them, our most passionate, most caring faculty are burning out just as Nadia has burned out. They, too, think "I felt like typing my resignation. 'I don’t think I can do it anymore. Because I don’t think my scholars care. And I don’t think they believe in themselves enough to care. I’m afraid they don’t think they’re good enough.'

And they think their administrations don't care enough. And they think their school boards do not care enough. And they think their state and federal legislators do not care enough. And it is hard to tell them they are wrong in the face of what we are doing to our teachers, our schools, and our students.



Some of you, reading this, may wonder what this has to do with gifted education, which is most often the theme of these posts.

We see the same things in gifted education that we see in the rest of the field of education, folks. We see tired, burned out people. We see institutions that have died because the people behind them grew too tired to move forward, while being also unable to find young firebrands to pick up the cause.

This state organization. That regional conference. This other unique group's newsletter and conference.

Some of them are thriving because they got lucky. No, not because they are good, but because they got lucky. Their founder did not get sick or lose all their money in a scam. Or a benefactor joined them and brought them back to life, like Mott Hall. Or any number of other pieces.

Yes, yes, you need to be able to take advantage of luck when it happens, but when it doesn't or when it is bad, then what? What is resilience to an institution that ran on a shoe string, when the shoe string breaks?

We are losing precious gifted institutions. College programs with both research and courses, as well as community outreach are going away either from defunding at the state (or province) level or because the leader died or moved along. City wide programs have gone away for much the same reason. It's not everywhere nor all at once. But in an area that ran annual events for decades, two out of three years there is no event and what used to be sponsorship from the state departments of education is gone, not just some of the sponsoring groups.



Please understand - what happened for Nadia Gomez is a wonderful thing for her school, her students, and her. Celebrate what has happened. But do not think it is a more deserving program than some of those that fall by the wayside, unnoticed in their passing. It is both deserving and lucky.

Do you have luck that you can lend to something you believe in?
"Vast sums are yearly squandered to no purpose. If the books selected consist of extracts and compilations, wholly unsuited to the capacity of children - if the house is cold or crowded, inconvenient and uncomfortable - and especially if given over to the management of an incompetent teacher, the school becomes a scene of anarchy and confusion, and all is waste-the young mind becomes disgusted with books and schools and teachers, and hates learning forever after.

...

"The entire premises... should be an enchanting spot, sheltered alike from the cold blasts of winder, and the summer's scorching sun; a place of love, of kindness and good will; and not a place of whips, consternation, despotism and terror."

J. D. Pierce, Sup't of Schools, Michigan, December, 1836 (Senate Document 7)
from
Journal of the Senate of the State of Michigan, January, 1837.

(also from System of Public Instruction and Primary School Law of Michigan (Document No. 6)
Prepared by Francis W. Sherman, Superintendent of Public Instruction, 1852)
"No greater foe to the genuine equality of opportunity which our educational, as our political system, implies, can be found than the belief that equality can be attained by ignoring or denying diversity of gifts or by submerging all elevations in the vast ocean of the commonplace.
...
"The supreme test of a teacher's efficiency is nothow wellhe has awaened sluggish minds, orhow far he has ledthe capable, or what excellencieshe has discovered, but how few he has "failed." Reward for, or even recognition of, high achievement inanyline save athletics is singularly lacking.
...
"Soon we shall hear that college itself has been appropriated by the aspiring crowd and the inspiring dictum shall go forth that human society owes every child a college education.
...
"It is undoubtedly true, as we are continually being reminded, that the public schools as they stand, do not produce the citizenship needed for the work ahead of the country.' But in all fairness, how can they be expected to when the whole tendency of teaching and of administration is toward the minimizing of distinctions by virtue of which alone special efficiency of anysort is possible?"

~ Frank P. Whitney,
Equality and the Schools in Education, Vol. 33, No. 2 (October, 1912)
"During the middle part of the last century individual teaching fell into disgrace and... the emphasis was placed on class teaching and class organization. Indeed, a careful perusal of [journals] would almost lead one to believe that individual children scarcely existed in the schools..., so little is said of their needs.

"Matters in America, however, began to change for the better in the seventies... The importance of the individual child has since then been brought to the front slowly but surely, until now the principle is rather firmly established that the school should be organized to meet the varying needs of the individuals who comprise it."

School organization and the individual child: a book for school executives and teachers, being an exposition of plans that have been evolved to adapt school organization to the needs of individual children, normal, supernormal and subnormal. By William H. Holmes (1912)
From Raymond Harris' American Education: Facts, Fancies, and Folklore (1961)

Before you read this, it might be useful to know that Raymond Harris also disputed the notion of anti-intellectualism.

"Ability merely gives a child the potential for serious achievement. To realize the potential, ability must be combined with sufficient industry to complete difficult and extended learning tasks. Brightness alone, though noticed in the classroom, has little value unless it is accompanied by seriousness of purpose. The child with the high IQ, who will not work, is known to every teacher. Probably the number, if not the ability, of such children is somewhat exaggerated because they are mentioned so frequently, but they are present in every school. Industrious, but less bright, children, are also identified. They are welcomed in every classroom, because teachers admire their diligent attitudes, but they seldom become the top-ranking students. They perform reasonably well on most assignments, but only dimly glimpse the more abstract points of the subject materials. Ability and industriousness occur in every conceivable combination, and so contribute to the great range of achievement among individual children. No one can remain near the top of the range unless he possesses a high degree of both. It is quite probable, moreover, that ability unaccompanied by industry eventually deteriorates into mediocrity.

Many educators have learned to avoid the use of the word "gifted" when referring to the specially talented children. For one thing, it is an emotional term making objectivity difficult. Individuals have many different kinds of gifts, some of which have no relation to school work, though they may be of great value to the person and to his society. Hence the tendency to avoid the term and use more descriptive phrases such as "students with ability and industry." A number of such phrases are in use among educators, all of them improvements upon the single word "gifted."
Optional Work. - A wide variation in the abilities and attainments of children makes optional work an essential factor of effective teaching. Since all pupils cannot go the same pace, it is important that some special provision be made which will insure a maximum accomplishment for each. In well-regulated schools this condition is provided for by adjusting the assignment to the average ability of the class and then providing special aid for the weakest of the group, and optional work of a supplemental character for the unusually gifted children.

With all of its defects the country school of a quarter century ago was strongest in caring for the unusually gifted children. These were given great freedom in thought, in rate of accomplishment, and in the materials assigned. The graded system with all of its improvement has decidedly narrowed the range of opportunity of the gifted child. Supplemental provisions, such as optional work, must be introduced to restore these opportunities for maximum development.

To be effective, optional work should not be merely incidental or 'busy work.' It must be an organic part of the school program. It should feature in both the assignment and the recitation with as much prominence as does the regular work of the class.

(Leaving the discussion of gifted)

Constant acceptance of the utterances of textbook writers and teachers, by pupils, slowly but surely develops a servile dependence which negatives the underlying factors in responsibility.


Unfortunately the school has fostered an enormous amount of docility.

The Essentials of Good Teaching By Edwin Arthur Turner, Lotus Delta Coffman
1920

(Originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007. Original title: 87 years later)
1. Enrollment in Relation to Age and Grade

Two of the very easiest facts to observe and record about the pupils in any school are age and grade. If they are recorded as in Table 1 on the following page, even these simple items tell much about the working of the school in question. Thus, looking at each vertical column, one sees at once the enormous variability in age of those who reach the same grade or educational standard. In the third grade in Connecticut in 1903, children were reported as young as four years old and as old as seventeen. To include nine tenths of the children in this grade, a range of five years is required. Over three years are required to include even three fourths of them. In the fourth grade, only a quarter of the children are of the so-called "normal" age of ten; a fifth of them are twelve or over; in a class of forty there will usually be one child fourteen or more years old and four children eight or less. In the elementary school, even in the lower grades, there are many adolescents, beginning to be moved by the instincts of adult life. In the high school are many boys and girls under fifteen who, though intellectually gifted, are physically, emotionally, and in social instincts little children.

(from page 3, with emphasis and link added)
Educational Administration: Quantitative Studies (1913) By George Drayton Strayer, Edward Lee Thorndike
*****

As I noted elsewhere (I think), "With all of its defects the country school of a quarter century ago was strongest in caring for the unusually gifted children. These were given great freedom in thought, in rate of accomplishment, and in the materials assigned. The graded system with all of its improvement has decidedly narrowed the range of opportunity of the gifted child."

Thorndike's work, both then and later, provides a lens through which one can examine educational practice today, not only of the gifted, and see some of the places in which we fall terribly terribly short.

(originally posted Feb. 24th, 2007)
The literature on giftedness, what it is, how to raise and/or teach and/or counsel these children, is fairly extensive. It goes back more than 100 years ago, and about 90 years ago, they had a pretty good idea of what worked and what didn't.

Doesn't mean that they did it at any point in the intervening years or that there are many places doing it now. Merely that the failure to do it well is from a failure to do one of a few things: 1) Research; 2) Believe what you read; 3) Learn from your mistakes.

This is the generous view of it...

On the fictional side of things, there are only so many plots that are out there.

The first breakout is that you have one gifted kid or you have a bunch of them. The Odd Johns of the world - both IRL and fiction - are plentiful. The groups are less common, excepting only the super hero genre of comic books and novelizations.

Wilmar Shiras wrote about Children of the Atom years before the X-Men (or the Tomorrow People) came into being. A brilliant boy doesn't quite fit in without calling attention to himself and gets found out by a psychologist. Together, they seek out more like him, find them, and pull them together, only to discover that society is not ready for these kids to be working together. But, they are good kids, and want to make the world a better place.

Stephanie Tolan's Welcome to the Ark tells a similar tale, though there is more to these children than just intelligence.

The X-Men are mutants and, originally, gifted youngsters who need to learn to use their powers. The bigotry against them, as mutants, is usually blind and without regard to circumstance. It doesn't help that not all mutants are altruistic. Some are 'merely' self-serving and/or opportunists. Some have the urge to dominate and control others. Some just want to tear things down.

This, then is the crux of the issue: How do we know that if we have kids with these powers, that they will use them for the good of humanity, or at least our nation?

John Brunner's Children of the Thunder asks that question and suggests that not only do we not know it, but that if there are some of these kids with noble objectives and others with more self-centered goals, that all other things being equal, the negative approach will win out.

There is another wringer to be tossed in here - perhaps the most common type of tale that explores this stuff even slightly seriously. What if the institution that is training the children is corrupt, regardless of the original plan? John Brunner addressed this before he looked at the other - an individual gifted person, escaped from his school where he felt he was mistreated. Much of the novel is spend following our protagonist as he eludes capture in a world made up of plug in employees. (Shockwave Rider - Editor)

Jarod, in The Pretender, a TC series, has a remarkably similar path - escaping from The Center and adopting a variety of guises and careers to find out about his background while being a do-gooder everywhere he goes.

James Patterson's Maximum Ride series takes the perfidy of mad scientists and the evil institution and combines them with kids who are not merely gifted in their thinking. They have wings - and they have escaped from The School, whose owners and directors do NOT have the kids' best interests at heart.
*******

But in many ways, the questions asked, the puzzles shown, are consistent from book to book and show to show. How alone am I? How do I connect with others? If I run, where will I run too? What happens when my friends discover just how weird I really am?

Why am I so alone? And often, What is wrong with me?
******

(originally written Jan. 12th, 2008)

Postscript: This whole topic deserves a longer look. In addition to the titles/topics above, there is the counterpart to Xavier's School for Gifted Children, called Massachusetts Academy, where the Hellfire Club trained its future members (or cannon fodder). An interesting counter to the X-Men version of things is Aaron Williams' PS238, the School for Metaprodigy Children and its internal counter, Praetorian Academy. Also worth a look, at least briefly, is the movie Sky High.

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