The SparkI have a thing for works about gifted kids. Searching for Bobby Fischer, Little Man Tate, that Oliver Twist retelling about the kid who's a musical genius and it turned out that Felicity is his mom--watching precocious little kids is like watching the extra-smart chick who's the first one of the clutch to figure out that potato bugs are for eating; you're all like, "Look at you go!" AND "Awww, how cute!" all at the same time.
This book strikes me the same way. I hit up Youtube after I finished reI have a thing for works about gifted kids. Searching for Bobby Fischer, Little Man Tate, that Oliver Twist retelling about the kid who's a musical genius and it turned out that Felicity is his mom--watching precocious little kids is like watching the extra-smart chick who's the first one of the clutch to figure out that potato bugs are for eating; you're all like, "Look at you go!" AND "Awww, how cute!" all at the same time.This book strikes me the same way. I hit up Youtube after I finished reading, because I HAD to see what an eleven-year-old looks like delivering a lecture on quantum mathematics, or whatever the kid was talking about--went right over my head. But the whole time that he was talking, I was thinking, "Look at you go!" AND "Awww, how cute!" all at the same time.I was much less interested in the parts of the book in which Barnett describes how she helped her son and other kids mediate their autistic traits and learn to function, communicate, and enjoy life in the world. I don't know anyone who's autistic, and so I'm not even going to touch an evaluation of her methods for working with those particular kids. I *want* to say that it seems pretty dicey to believe that she could teach a completely non-communicative autistic teenager to communicate in one session, or get an autistic preschooler to build tiny little model boats with her when his occupational therapist couldn't even get him to draw a circle, but hey, she says she did, and that's awesome for the kids and their families, so there you go.I am, however, totally on board with Barnett's methods, and this is the part that I did find fascinating, because they're methods that many (if not most) homeschoolers use. You teach kids to do stuff that they don't want to do (in my case, pencil-and-paper math, in her case, sit through a public school day), but you also spend a ton of time engaging them in their passions, and sneaking in ways to teach them loads of other stuff through those passions. For instance, she and I both give interested kids old appliances and tools to take them apart with; the difference is that the kid SHE taught later built himself a computer or something, and the kid I teach is now just really good with a screwdriver. She and I both do a lot of baking with interested kids; of course, the kid SHE taught now decorates cakes for a bakery, and the kid that I teach messed up the cornbread that she made to go with dinner last night by accidentally putting in a cup each of salt and baking powder, instead of .5 tsp.Because of this, I do find it weird that Barnett didn't homeschool her kiddo until a college-related scheduling kerfuffle basically required it for a semester. Unfortunately, based on just a mention or two, it seemed like it was that erroneous "socialization" myth that precluded it for them. Although it seems as if the kid got plenty of friend time, free play time with other kids, organized sports time, formal education time in lectures he attended for fun, etc., he was still required--a kid who could probably have done college-level work as a six-year-old, if they'd thought to offer it to him--to sit through kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and so on. It wasn't until the poor kid was having his IQ evaluated for college admission (he scored REALLY high, obv.) and the professor administering the test manipulated the mom into sitting alone and bored in an empty office for
almost five hours that she was apparently made to understand that that was basically public school life for her kid, all day every day. Life got LOTS better for the kiddo after that, it seems. So yay.Another compelling theme to the book is the relationship of blue-collar America to the educational system. This book takes place during the recent recession, and the author, an at-home daycare provider, and her husband, an employee of Target and then (gulp!) Circuit City, are severely affected, as are their entire social circle and neighborhood. They're desperately poor for a while, until the economy picks back up, and then they're employed again. Throughout the book, however, they make some seemingly questionable financial decisions, which, it's implied, are influenced by their blue-collar backgrounds. For instance, the author starts a highly successful kindergarten prep program for autistic preschoolers and shells out a ton of personal time and personal finances for it, and refuses to charge families anything. No fees, no sliding scale, no donations, nothing. To explain this decision, in light of the extra hardships it entails for her family, she explains that her family raised her to do service like this. However, not only does she already do community service in other areas, but a career/financial/life skills/ANY kind of adviser would tell her that there's no shame in getting paid for what you do well. In fact, that's what you're SUPPOSED to do. There are other iffy financial decisions, of course, but that's the one that really struck me as cultural.The author's description of her insistence on public school for a kid pretty unsuited to it also sounds culturally based. Public school is an excellent goal for many kids, but being blind to any other options better designed for a special kid can be very detrimental, especially in the case of the author's kid, and especially from her very few anecdotes about it. Seriously, her kid's math instruction for an entire school year consisted of him reading a book in math class because he already knew the material. The author submitted to school authority in a lot of these ways, but wrote herself as combative and unwilling to talk through issues with school authority in a lot of other ways, speaking to an unfamiliarity with how to manage the administrative system. The family's quick dismissal of homeschooling based on a false trope also makes me very suspicious about the fact that the author never mentions private schools, magnet schools, or the like, places where a gifted child could have the school day experience they apparently wanted for him while having his learning accelerated. She seems to operate through a lot of received assumptions about schooling in general, despite her willingness to trust her instincts about childhood learning, and this is why I suspect cultural bias.Regardless, all's well that ends well, I suppose, and I was thrilled to end this book with a happy kid thriving in an intellectually stimulating environment. Interestingly, this kiddo's work has already advanced his potential and current income levels, both with the higher education that he's receiving and with his ability to be employed in higher education as a little kid. Also interestingly, as the family has been taken through this journey of transformative educational experiences, the author notes towards the end of her book that her other two sons, neuro-typical children the both of them, are also taking advantage of at least one of the special programs for accelerated learning that her son's needs led her to. It's also a pricey program, she's mentioned before, so I'm betting that it's a program that high-income families use a bunch, just like it was always the rich kids in my schools who got to go to the special science programs at the university and get tutoring to score super-high on the PSAT (earning them college scholarships that some of us whose parents couldn't care less about the PSAT, much less help us score high on it, might have liked, but whatever).
So... read the book for the story about the smart little kid, I guess, but come away with many thoughts about income and education. How fun is that, right?...more