Happy Exceptional Birthday
Our youngest of three children was born four year ago today. She was an exceptional child starting at birth for two reasons. For one thing, she was exceptionally long for an infant which has translated into being exceptionally tall when she reached the point where we stop measuring children horizontally. She was taller at three than her older sister was at four and this birthday is no different. When the pediatrician puts her height into the computer she is consistently off the charts, scoring in the 102 percentile range. This only makes mathematical sense if you know that outliers in a population are excluded from aggregated data sets so they don’t screw up the curves for everyone else. But she’s also an exceptional child because she was born shortly after the cut-off for entry into Kindergarten for most school districts, ours included. Not only will she be the tallest kid in her class but she’ll also be the oldest, with her age additionally contributing to her height difference.
Her height is only an issue because gender norms in our society still dictate that girlfriends can’t be taller than their boyfriends. It’s a dumb rule we tend to mostly grow out of when we get older and start looking to settle down, realizing that physical differences really don’t matter. But that won’t help her in the social meat grinder we refer to as secondary school. My little sister had the same problem, and would often complain at the beginning of the school year that there were only a handful of guys in her classes that were boyfriend material because the rest were of average height. I also witnessed a parade of potential suitors, good kids that she would have been lucky to have, friend-zoned because they were simply not tall enough to ride. [Sorry for the analogy, Dad, couldn’t help myself.] I realize this is a trivial concern in the much larger sense of raising a child. But as parents we want everything to be perfect for our children and knowing she’ll face challenges most of her peers won’t have an issue with before she even realizes or even cares about it still hurts a bit.
But a bigger challenge for her, and us as her parents, will be the cut-off date for Kindergarten. All children learn and mature at different rates and I understand that decisions have to be made about when children start attending school. At this point our daughter is not emotionally mature enough to attend a pre-K program, we fully recognize that. But I don’t think it will take an entire year for her to get there. She’s a sharp kid and our concern is that waiting to put her into Kindergarten until she is just shy of six means she’ll either be bored and unchallenged in school or she’ll be held back from her full potential by the standardized curriculum and the pace of progress of her younger classmates. There are ways that we can accelerate her education but those options come with prohibitive out-of-pocket expenses and the risk of pushing her too hard into the next grade level. Customizing her education for her specific abilities is out of the question. We do not have the resources for that, hardly anyone does, which is why we all collectively pay taxes to fund public education.
I fully admit that our standardized educational system has always seemed a little rote to me. My personal experience in our public school system was a never ending series of boring lectures, assignments and tests. With all the progress we have made in understanding the process of teaching and learning we still use the same overall structure that dates back to our early period of urbanization. Texas recently reduced the number of standardized test our children take after starting school from fifteen to five, but no consideration has ever been made for testing children before they enter school. The only requirement is your birthday has to be on or before a certain day. We realized that our schools were failing a lot of our children so we passed No Child Left Behind to mixed results. We constantly worry about the children that are falling through the cracks for good reason. But in today’s hyper-competitive global economy we need to start worrying that some of our children are being held back. There is more than one Kindergarten teacher in our child’s school and at every other grade as well. It would be harder to ascertain and divide the children up by ability within the grades themselves, both socially and technically. No one wants their kid placed in the “slow” class. But if we don’t get smarter about educating the specific child I fear we run the risk of being the “slow” country. Long gone are the one room school houses with all the kids learning together. But we should be able figure out a way to make the individualized instruction that came with it still work for our children in smaller groups than grade levels.