Friday, December 15, 2006
Prodigies, Policies, and Policing
Now we're starting to get calls about 8-year-olds. Literally. For regular courses, not special summer programs for kids or swim lessons.
This worries me.
Subject matter, oddly enough, is the least of my concerns. The prepubescent applicants tend to cluster in math, science, and music, where the subject matter generally isn't R-rated. If a kid is capable of making differential equations do handstands, bully for him. It's all the other stuff that worries me.
Most of our internal policies and procedures are based on the assumption that we're dealing with students directly, rather than through their parents. With the 18-and-up crowd, this makes sense. With 8-year-olds, it really doesn't.
We don't have a “dropoff and pickup area.” We don't allow parents in classes with their kids, unless the parents have also registered (and paid for) the class. Our counselors are not trained in pediatric disorders. Our medical staff does not include a pediatrician. We don't act in loco parentis. Our professors, with some exceptions, have not been trained in child or adolescent psychology, or in the learning styles characteristic of children. We don't have the security measures in place that elementary schools do to protect children against predators. We have an open campus – if they don't have to park, anybody can come to campus and just wander around. We don't have separate restrooms for children. We don't have the staff to provide bodyguards. We are not physically capable of 'lockdown mode.' We simply have not organized ourselves for the physical protection of young children, because that was not who we were designed to serve.
Add to that the general coarseness of much informal student conversation, much of which I would not advise anybody to let a young child hear. And we absolutely cannot go around policing private conversations among students, other than the usual prohibitions against threats of violence.
I've suggested that we offer access to online courses, where the subject matter makes sense, so the child could still be under the physical supervision of his parents while getting the intellectual stimulation of college-level work. There are times when that can work, but certain subjects just don't lend themselves easily (certain upper-level math, where notation is the issue) or at all (music performance, some lab sciences).
We've received legal advice to the effect that we can't do anything that smacks of 'age discrimination,' whether on the high end (mandatory retirement) or the low end (a minimum age to take classes). This strikes me as absolute madness. Young children are not just shorter adults. They have different needs, and require different kinds of support, than we can offer.
Normally, I'm in favor of offering talented students all the academic challenge they can handle. I'm just not convinced that throwing the child prodigy into an institution built entirely for adults is the way to do that. God forbid, one kid gets abducted, and the whole thing comes crashing down. I say set a minimum age of, say, 16, and take our chances in the courts. I don't want to be the one on the stand explaining to the nice judge why we don't have hidden cameras in the study carrels or bathrooms, or why nobody stopped the sex offender from enrolling in the same class as the 9 year old.
Good luck! It takes an administrator to point out the obvious!
I can't imagine a parent would balk at the idea that their 9 year old would be better off with an online curriculum at the college level (with a faculty adviser available at reasonable times for advice) than sitting in a classroom with a bunch of students at least 9 years senior to them, and with an unknown level of social responsibility.
I wouldn't want my child, no matter how precocious, hanging out with any 18 year old, unless I knew the family AND felt comfortable with them all.
Parents can be so blind. See the forest, folks.
I used to have a "blended" music studio of my college music students and younger kids. Our recitals were multigenerational, and so were some of our studio classes classes, simply because I didn't have enough university students to make the classes worthwhile otherwise. I held all these classes at my university and called them "community outreach," with my ecstatic department chair's blessing. But I supervised everything personally and never let a kid out of my sight. Parents were expected to supervise their own kids (and bring food for all of us!). And only the college aged students earned credit. (The rest paid me privately.)
And yes, I had an 8 year old who played better than many of the college students. But that's very, very unusual. And it would NOT work in just about any other classroom in the country. Mine was a very rare exception. And my little 8 year old genius, no matter how well he played, did NOT belong in a regular college classroom.
What are parents thinking?
I'm scared to death enough of 15-year-olds on a college campus, to say nothing of 8-year-olds. You'd better have more than a few protections in place for them, or else you're careening towards truly dangerous places...
A good friend of mine, 9 months older, graduated from college the same year I graduated from High school. But his district had special programs for advanced students, and he went to Brandeis for his undergrad.
The problem is that there is no middle ground for these kids. If there is no school in the area that provides for that kind of advanced learning, what do they do? It seems a waste to refuse them education that they so clearly need and want, but your points are all valid concerns, and important legal issues.
What would be best for these kids? Well, if there really are more than one or two of them in a blue moon, then a local initiative to start a school program for them would be in order. If not? Then legal counsel and admin *ought to* (not "can," not "will," and certainly not "can afford to,") find a way to admit the kids. Maybe be requiring that their parents simultaneously enroll, with more flexible limits for auditing if the class is beyond their ability. Something. If the parents are looking to the college, then the child is likely beyond their ability to homeschool. It just seems a shamefor this kids to get lost in an inadequate system.
These parents need their heads examined, I'd say.
It does seem like a college is an inappropriate environment for children who still have crossing guards. Is there any way your legal department can weasel out of this?
Most of these parents (not all, but most) would much, much rather have their child in the company of others of roughly the same age group, but for some kids, intellectual stimulation and average kid of same age group really don't go hand in hand.
The Early Entrance Program at Cal State LA, for examples (http://www.calstatela.edu/academic/eep/index.php ) takes children as young as 11. Kids enroll in the program, and take regular classes at the school, but are also supervised and provided with age-appropriate accomodations (separate eating places, regular time with other children their age, specialized counseling, a concrete place for their parents to drop them off and pick them up, etc.) As a high school is also physically located on the campus, there is no dearth of same-age children around, either. I got into it when I was 13, just months before their cutoff date (14 year olds are "too old").
(Un)fortunately, my parents freaked out at the last minute and pulled me, as they didn't want their thirteen-year-old daughter wandering around a college campus, well-organized for children or not. I was incredibly upset, as I'd always wanted to skip High School entirely and go straight to college (and going to Under Funded, Under Performing Public School wasn't helping), but... it turned out to be for the best. I think my academic development would have been better served there, and I do think it was a good program that served children well, but I personally was not socially adjusted enough to have thrived as I should have.
(Do note that I mean that it's a good program, and if you have a child who is normally socially developing, they should be perfectly fine in a well-designed program. I was not, however, normally socially developed at that time, and would have emerged loonier than anything Warner Brothers could've dreamed up.)
That said... I think that's your best bet, Dean Dad. Point out (gently) to the parents of children who are way too young for that environment that although you cannot provide (all of those things), there are a number of programs around the country (okay, a small number, but a number nonetheless), and if the parents truly want to help their gifted child get ahead, they'll go find the programs that are designed to help them do that.
A well-designed packet of information (with a hefty waiver attached) would also help. "So you wanna enroll your pre-teen?" A list of classes that are available (so no, I don't care how precocious your child is, they can't take Survey of Western Sexuality, or the History of the Snuff Movie) with 'kid-friendly hours' (i.e. not at regular school-time, but not too late in the day), with honest (and detailed) descriptions of what would be required for the courses. Is the kid going to need to come back to campus for labs at odd hours? Does it involve working with partners outside of class time? (If so, where will they meet? Are you really going to have these college-age students come to your house?) Is grading attendence-heavy? (Heaven forfend a soccer match should be moved, or that flu find its way to someone's 5th grade classroom) and so on. Be specific and detailed. (I know, and delegate the making of this packet to someone with more free time on their hands, but we're dreaming here)
Add to that a list of "Things you should consider." List all of the things you listed here (though you may soften it a bit). Mention (proudly!) all of the resources you do have for kids of certain ages, and your wonderful online learning segments. Then mention all of the things you can't provide, and tell them why most of those things are solved in some way by your solution of choice (online learning, delaying enrollment until the child is older, sending them to a targeted program).
Then, at the very end of the packet, your enrollment forms, a statement limiting your liability ("because we don't have a pediatric nurse on staff, we aren't liable for any cases of the mumps which may suddenly decimate the under-ten population"), and a statement of understanding. That is, something like: "I the undersigned do hereby certify that I wish to enroll my child ________________, age ______ in Dean Dad's Community College. I understand the preceding statement of liability, and do hold the college harmless for any acts relating to the aforementioned structural conditions."
Preferably followed by an arrangement of transportation section (optional, not so much legally binding as 'a part of the application process that proves that we're not just being used for daycare, and helps the parents figure out all the things they might not have considered before'). A nice, easy to read worksheet having them fill in when the class starts and ends, and the weekly schedule of their household around that. Some boxes for names of who might pick the kids up, and a page of emergency information for the professor/school. The professor is under no obligation to take it or use it, but it's nice to have on hand.
I recognize that all of this would be ridiculously time-consuming for you. It's the kind of thing I'd *adore* doing (I like setting up systems, I enjoy contract drafting, and I'm very, very good at both research and creating forms that are easy for people to read and understand). If done properly, it would also solve most of your age discrimination issues. There is a process, you allow people to go through it, the information is widely available, and anyone who manages to complete all of the steps is well informed of the risks and has legally agreed not to hold you responsible for anything outside your control, provided you take all reasonable precautions.
Upon applying, the parents sign a waiver that very clearly says that the students are treated as adult college students. That means, for instance, FERPA rules that say we can't reveal student performance info to a parent or other family member apply. (Okay, so some parents don't read this until an instructor explains that they're not going to talk about little Johnny's failing grade.)
I wonder if your lawyers could craft a fairly intimidating statement that points out all the things that *won't* be like school, and the parents of minor children have to sign that before you admit them?
Can't your IT folks work on improving that math notation problem for distance learning? Math is a field where you get a lot of prodigies, so that seems like a good place to start. LaTex is a free, open source program that produces as elaborate math notation as you could possibly want into pdf files, which should be insertable into any web-based distance learning platform. Would any of your math faculty get on board with that?
Erik Demaine? Just to say that sometimes things work out pretty well. But he wasn't 9, he was 12 (I'd heard 13) when he started at the University of New Brunswick.
(He's also quite a good lecturer. I audited his class a few years ago.)
Second, and even more urgent, is the parent problem. Instructors do not want to and should not have to deal with Mom and Dad. 10 year old gets a C on the midterm? Mom's in the teacher's face and then yells at the dean when the teacher won't allow do-overs. This is bad for everyone involved, the kid most of all.
I would support a 16-and-up, no-parents-allowed policy. A very select few kids would be hurt by this--but the rest of the campus community would benefit, in my mind.
It would be an exceptional kid who was able to benefit from community college classes at age 9, but there are a few such (mostly math nerds) and in my opinion they should be allowed to take classes. Usually younger kids have their mothers wait outside the classroom.
I do agree that professors shouldn't have to be changing their curriculum for the younger students. If a young student can't handle the material in the course, he shouldn't take the course. Mostly the very young ones are in math or science where that's not an issue.
- Cardinal Fang
We have a largish dual-enrollment program, but some of the classes are taught at the high schools. We stick with FERPA as written, AFAIK. I'm surprised yours is small.
A cousin is a counselor at another CC that has a huge program (probably in lieu of a local IB program) that gets them an AA and a diploma at the end of grade 12. They teach some HS classes on the CC campus, so the kids don't travel back and forth and probably have a social cohort around them.
I had a female HS student in my physics class (and a night lab) last year. Not nearly what you blog about, but I was aware of it. It helped that I had done something similar (calculus at night at the local CC while in HS), so I could relate to her being around significantly older students.
I would be more concerned about a 10 year old who had been home schooled than one who had attended a public high school and graduated, because of the socialization issues. However, in this situation every kid would be a special case.
As for parents, we're already dealing with them for traditional age students. I know I'm not the only one, as I've read over a dozen articles like this Washington Post one in the last five years: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/20/AR2006032001167_pf.html
The Dean should also worry about the welfare of the faculty. A female calculus professor discovered the reason one student stopped coming to class by reading the newspaper: He had been convicted of rape. Did I mention that it was a night class?
Or this -- why couldn't the parents of this eight year old take the money they would have spent on tuition for the classes and just hire a tutor with expertise in that area?
We also just received her PSAT scores where as a 10th grader she did better than 95% of the college bound juniors, it was recommended she challenge herself with AP classes.
Also daughter will be picked up from campus after each class, not expected to hang around meeting older kids and dealing with guys too old for her.
I have no problem with rules requiring parents to escort very young kids to their classes. However, once in the class, the kid is on his own. No parental communication with the professor, no help with note taking, etc. -- otherwise they're just not ready for the environment. Furthermore, the class content should NEVER be modified because of a young student. "Adult" subjects are what they're there for -- at the parent's risk, and the parents have the ultimate decision to exercise good judgment.
I highly recommend against setting a minimum age of 16. That's just too arbitrary. I'd tie it to the state's minimum age for a minor to be left alone. Here in Maryland, that's 12. Under that age, the parent must be present.
My son started at a community college at 12. He's not a typical math/science prodigy type, either -- he's a verbal type. He thrived in the environment, and with his professor's recommendations, he transferred to a university at age 14 (as a sophomore on a full scholarship) and continues to thrive as a Political Science major.
Now, compare his current educational placement with the alternative -- he'd be a high school freshmen. He'd be in school six hours a day, with several hours of homework, and he'd be struggling to find time for extracurricular activities, especially ones that pad his college application. The AP course content is college level material, but it's dragged out over a whole year rather than a semester, and it includes lots of filler assignments, projects, and homework to stretch it out for the whole year. My son would end up bored stiff, numb from busy work.
Now, rather than pretending he's a regular college student, he gets dropped off to attend classes, and he comes home to be a kid -- ride his skateboard, play his bass guitar, hang out with his friends. He's not getting the typical college experience -- just the college content. And he's getting his childhood back, because he's much more free to hang with his friends and do extracurriculars than if he was in high school. And as for the "wierdo" factor -- sure, some of the early college kids are strange, but they'd be wierdos even if they stayed in traditional school, because by definition they're unusual.
Many people can relate to the tedium of high school, especially for those capable of higher level work. But many people see the college option as an attempt to push the kid to adulthood too fast. Believe me, it works the other way for some kids. And just because so many of us have suffered through the traditional system doesn't mean it's the best option ("I was bored in high school but I turned out ok!"). Now, when he's 16 or 17 and graduates from college, he can enroll in a "normal" college experience (living in a dorm, etc.) and get another degree or go to grad school. It's not like this is a widespread movement for kids to take over college classes everywhere. Truly qualified young scholars are pretty rare. Just be careful with the rules you impose on them, even if with good intentions. If they're not hurting the experience for others, please let them have the opportunities, too.
I agree that can be a great option for some students. However, these programs are very rare. I'm wondering what would you suggest for children who don't live anywhere near such a program and not all families can afford to or wish to relocate cross country. The reality is that there just aren't enough students for there to be programs across the country like this.
The Dean suggests setting an age limit of 16. I'm wondering what he'd suggest for a child who scores in the 99%tile on the SAT at age nine. Should the child simply sit on their hands and wait to age for the next seven years because someone isn't creative enough to think of ways to keep them safe a few hours a week on a campus?
The reality is that the very rare kid who is ready for really early college entrance doesn't have the option to just stop developing for a few years. They may be rapidly growing out of many of the classes available for undergraduates.
There are students who go to college very early and do just fine. They are happy, healthy and pleased to be getting an appropriate education. Our child is one of these students. I'm glad that we've been fortunate enough to meet people who recognize that chronological age isn't always a good measure of acdademic readiness.
However, my troubles began at 4-year school when I was harassed by fellow students and the administration completely freaked out. The administration's response was actually worse for me than the student issues, because many of the problems were bullying that would have stopped if there was less institutional involement. I felt like my privacy was invaded as well as my chances of rebuilding later professional relationships with the students who were being really snotty were totally shot. That said, I came out okay from it all, and learned a lot about how to handle authority responsibly from the mistakes of others.
By comparison I really missed the security and stability of the CC environment, and I'm actually back there now to pick up other skills now that I've graduated. Please remember that everything you may have ever read about age groups or even experienced in your own life (for yourself, peers, family, your own children) does not always apply to the few extraordinary children. They have their own challenges and the best you can do is not sugarcoat life for them. And, realistically, you are far less likely at a CC to cause them harm because they are presumably still living with their own families. I would suggest you draw up a legal policy specifying that the very second each class is over their parents are back in charge.
Highly gifted 1:1000
Profoundly gifted 1:10,000
Our son falls in the later category.
He needed to work with specimens in the university lab. We estimate that by the time he reaches the age of high school, he will be working on graduate level projects.
Facts about Science and Education:
• About one-third of all jobs in the United States require science or technology competency, but currently only 17 percent of Americans graduate with science or technology majors … in China, fully 52 percent of college degrees awarded are in science and technology. (William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, Congressional testimony 7/05)
• Only 11 percent of bachelor's degrees in the United States are in the sciences or engineering, compared with 23 percent in the rest of the world and 50 percent in China. (National Summit on Competitiveness 12/05)
• China graduates about 500,000 engineers per year, while India produces 200,000 and the United States turns out a mere 70,000. (National Academy of Sciences: "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" 10/05)
• The United States in 1970 produced more than half of the world's Ph.D.s. But if patterns continue, it will be lucky to produce 15 percent of the world's doctorates by 2010. (National Bureau of Economic Research 5/05)
• 45% of new U.S. patents are granted now to non US citizens. (Education Week "A Quiet Crisis is Clouding the Future of R&D" 5/25/05)
• Only three of the top 10 recipients of U.S. patents in 2003 were American companies. (National Academy of Sciences: "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" 10/05)
• In the fourth grade, U.S. students score above the international average in math and near first in science. At eighth grade, they score below average in math, and only slightly above average in science. By 12th grade, U.S. students are near the bottom of a 49-country survey in both math and science, outscoring only Cypru and South Africa. (William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, Congressional testimony 7/05)
• Less than 15 percent of U.S. students have the prerequisites even to pursue scientific or technical degrees in college. (William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, Congressional testimony 7/05)
• The number of students in the United States planning to pursue engineering degrees declined by one-third between 1992 and 2002. (The Business Roundtable 7/05)
• 88% of high school dropouts had passing grades, but dropped out due to boredom. (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: "The Silent Epidemic" 3/06)
If the US continues to fail to adequately educate our best and brightest students we will continue to pay for it, economically.
My husband and I are doing our best to accomodate our son's inner drive to learn. A local university is working with us nicely to support this as well. It's been nice so far that we have not had any struggles with the university, unlike the public school gifted program that was never willing to teach him math or reading or language arts on his level.
I am sure that there are special arranegments that can be made for these extroidinary learners. Afterall, I am sure that universities will benefit from having students who actually want to be there and who are enthusistic about learning. Ours has. Our son has inspired the adult students to reach higher and to try harder.
Thanks for reading this far.
Connie B in BR