Thursday, January 27, 2011

wanted: Tufte, or possibly a skilled semaphore operator

I plonked my hands on my hips, and glared. The Man, on the other end of the glare, was infuriatingly stolid.

Fine. I flung my hands up, and stomped for emphasis. Be like that. Although, for the record, "I turned out just fine" is what you said about formula, also.  He winced slightly, remembering the MIL's lecture about his early babyhood and what, exactly, he'd been tippling at the time.

Actually, he said, there is something that we do agree upon.  Reached over, grabbed a pen and a pad of sticky notes.

Many sticky notes later, we were still quibbling over the details, but we had this:

Assume a graph.

One axis is P = a child's potential. Keeping in mind that a good chunk of this is bunk, because potential shifts, depending on any number of things, including that nasty 'use it or lose it' thing. Add in circumstance, opportunities available, etc, and you may feel yourself perfectly free to sneer at the axis in question.

The other axis is A = the child's achievement. The kid's five. I'd settle for consistent bottom-wiping on that axis, said one of us, maintaining deniability. Er, yes, said the other. Good point.  So, unless you think that achievement is something that can be pinned to a clear and appropriate standard, feel free to wave off that axis, too. Or, if you are Malcolm Gladwell, fling up your hands and consider stalking out of the room.

But, for the sake of argument, let's consider this: assuming that not all gifted kids are created equal. And that some of those kids will soar, no matter what. For them, P = A, and we all want to know how their parents did it. Or, possibly, how it was done despite, even irrespective to their parents. (I'm not just using Malcolm as a prop here, he really does have some fascinating thoughts on the subject.) See their happy, rising bubble? That's them.

Let's say that some kids aren't gifted. Blithely ignoring the question of the specifics of their education, the problems with how we identify giftedness, or any of the other things that make me inSANE where the concept of giftedness is concerned. Right. For these kids, ignoring a host of issues and a recent, smack-you-in-the-face documentary, let's have their P = A, although without the happy rising bit. See the square where the two axes meet? That's them. We've circled them for emphasis, and possibly in rebellion against the over-simplistic divide between the two groups.

At this point, I'm worked up into a seriously pissy maternal bundle, but our sticky's not done. Going back to the idea that not all gifted kids are equal - nor are they homogeneous - and for the sake of making a semi-clear point, ignoring the fact that we didn't extend this reasonable consideration to the non-gifted kids. The sticky be small, people. For this third group, the P is way ahead of their A, which means that in the classroom, these kids are likely to be one heck of a PIA. Or quietly miserable.

I wonder if those are the kids who drop out, one of us said, morose in the aftermath of an overdose on nastily personal statistics.

That's what I'm worried about. That he'll be in that group. At which point, his P slides back to smack him in the A.

The Man folded his arms and considered. Okay,  he said. I understand that.

We contemplated the sticky note, letting silence replace the discussion about why, how, and what the hell are we supposed to do now. So, if I show people the sticky, will that avoid all of these awful -  

No. But at least you'll be able to explain what you are worried about.

So, there you go.


jgfellow said...

Now: assume a 5-year old is a perfect sphere...

Rixblix said...

Perhaps what just happened at our dinner table will amuse you...

Sam (14, freshman,advanced biology): "Mr. Stanley assigned us a paper on reverse osmosis. It's due on Tuesday. He didn't even bother telling us what reverse osmosis IS"

Nat (12, 7th grade): "Osmosis is going from high pressure to low, so reverse osmosis is just going from low to high. Like water filtration. Duh."

Sam would fall high A, high P on your scale. Nat would fall high A, middle P.

You forgot one variable...the "H" variable. H = happiness. P remains constant...A seems to fluctuate in direct proportion to H.

And I'm 100% not a math person so maybe 'H' isn't a variable....maybe my algorithm isn't a theorem.

All I can tell you is that you, Miyram, have always honored your intuition. This will serve you well as you navigate this facet of your kids' lives. My older boy has a much more dominant personality and it's been interesting to see how my younger one makes his voice heard...mostly that has happened through music.

Again, my dear, you will be fine. It will get easier.