Found in 1 comment on Hacker News
jey · 2007-08-18 · Original thread
I agree that it's very important to learn how to navigate the real world, but I really think there's a comfortable compromise between destroying the egos of a significant fraction of gifted kids and sending them to some exclusive school with an artificial environment. I stopped doing homework in the third grade, and scraped by for the rest of my time in the school system. I somehow managed to get admitted to university, but was kicked out after two tortuous years for failing too many classes. I pretty much had 11 unhappy years, from third grade until I got kicked out.

I always enjoyed learning interesting things, but school had nothing to do with learning. School was a place you went to maximize your GPA by doing rote busy work, and any learning done was just an accidental side-effect while pursing grades.

I never considered myself smart while in school; I saw myself as a worthless slacker with an unhealthy programming obsession. This was the image instilled in me from my teachers, school administrators, and parents constantly chiding me to do my homework. I didn't have the perspective nor the self-image to seek out the kind of help I needed. I also don't think an 8 year old should be expected to come up with theories of why he's failing in school.

The theories that the school administration came up with were just based on one observation: Jey doesn't do his homework. Solution: make Jey do his homework. There was no thought given to root causes, nor any experimentation with different strategies. It always just came down to keeping a notebook of homework assignments and making sure I did them that evening. All this bullshit just made me consciously give up on the educational system and write it off as worthless and ineffective.

I still don't know how exactly I should have been helped, but a huge problem is that the educators themselves are not aware of the pattern I was exhibiting. It's well documented that many "gifted" kids exhibit the same symptoms: extreme abrasive cynicism, defiance and hatred of authority, lackluster school performance, and depression. Part of the problem is that these kids will be pretty rare; gifted kids are rare to begin with, and these kids form a fraction of the gifted population. There should be some effort to educate educators of this pattern, and research on what kind of help works for this population. I think any solution that would have worked for me would've had to capitalize on my high level of curiosity and harnessed it in some way. Assigning more bullshit busy work (a la AP and Honors classes) wasn't the solution. If I had a teacher who engaged me in the material, and presented material as interesting and challenging rather than as work, I think I could've done better. AP and Honors classes seem to make the classes harder mostly by increasing the volume of work. On the other hand, this could just be wishful thinking and maybe there is no strategy that could've made me get through formal education. I don't know, but I think it's worth doing the studies to find out, as I'm not a one-off oddball case.

Getting kicked out of university was the first step to recovery for me, and it's the best 'disaster' that has ever happened to me. I'm now a happy person, and really enjoy who I am and what I do. I just wish there had been a less painful way to get here. Going to public school and suffering through the crap did help me develop socially and form healthy friendships, something that I would've completely missed out on if I had been homeschooled.

"How do I teach him to learn for himself. To realize that his school gives him a starting point for his education, and not the entireity. To help him end become a ferociously curious individual who gets stuff done, not in some isolation chamber gifted bubble, but in the real world -- omplete [sic] with alliances and politics and emotions and conflicts."

Engage his natural curiosity in the learning process. Make learning fun and a process of discovery, not a process by which a bunch of facts are memorized to appease some authority figure. My dad did this by using the socratic method, and encouraging me to ask questions. Feynman tells a similar story about his experiences with his dad in the first chapter of "The Pleasure of Finding Things Out".

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