Can School Actually Stifle a Child’s Academic Progress?
Albert Einstein hated school.
He found it too rigid and too dependent on rote memorization. “School failed me, and I failed the school,” he said in an interview with the author of Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man. “It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam.” He dropped out of high school at 15 years old.
Fortunately Einstein didn’t give up on learning, and he eventually went on to study at the Federal institute of Technology in Zurich. But the problems he had with the standard educational system were not unique to him. Even today, many bright students find their academic progress stifled because they are not challenged or engaged with the standard teaching curriculum.
Signs that a child is not challenged in school include complaints of boredom, needing minimal time to study, skipping class, behavior problems, lack of homework, and a disinterest in the class or subject.
So what happens if your child has Einstein-like potential but can’t get past the basic, limited structure of the school day? A first step is to speak with your child’s teacher. Find out what options may be available to better challenge your student during the day. There may be advanced programs he can take or the teacher may offer to challenge him with extra assignments and lessons.
For some students, it may mean switching schools.
That was the case for Kelsey W., a student in Conifer, Colorado. “With Kelsey, I knew things were going to be different,” explains her mom Pam, “because of her drive and her passion and her intellect.”
As a rising middle school student, Kelsey was dissatisfied with the education she was receiving from the local public school. “[The brick-and-mortar] school is very simplistic and very straightforward,” Kelsey says. She earned high marks and even took the advanced classes, but she wasn’t being challenged.
“Our experience with [the] teachers was not always that positive,” says Pam about Kelsey’s education in the local public school, “and some of them stifled her learning.”
To give Kelsey the freedom to study more advanced subjects and to avoid a long school commute and excessive snow days, Pam began homeschooling her. But eventually, Kelsey wanted to combine the freedom of homeschool with more challenging curriculum and accredited teachers. So, Kelsey and her mom chose an online public school that offered a K12 curriculum.
“We were really pleasantly surprised when we found the K12 curriculum. It was just top notch,” says Pam. “It offered everything we needed her to have.”
Kelsey enjoyed taking a range of stimulating courses that spurred her interests. She studied Latin, which revealed her talent and interest in languages, then went on to take German, Chinese, and Japanese. “So, she’s had all four of those languages all through high school, which is actually pretty unusual,” says her mom.
Kelsey especially enjoyed speaking with her K12 teachers and fellow students during the ClassConnect sessions, finding the discussions also propelled her learning. “It’s a great opportunity to talk to other students,” she explains. “You can talk to your teachers . . . and have discussions about the different lessons you’re doing that week with the other kids.”
Kelsey excelled at her online high school, taking numerous science and math courses in preparation for a possible career in medicine. In her spare time, she also funded two medical mission trips, performed in musical theater, formed a pre-med club and a “mathamaniacs” club, and even won a Coca-Cola college scholarship.
“It was good for her because she was already on a track that was far ahead [of where] anyone else would be in a regular classroom,” Pam reports. “K12 has been a fabulous option for us.” Kelsey was so engaged in the curriculum that she took as many as eight classes in one semester!
“I could pursue what I wanted to, at the right level and pace and rigor,” Kelsey says.
If you suspect your child could be another Einstein given a more challenging school curriculum, you may be right. “It’s no secret that too many American students aren’t challenged in school,” Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education, told Time magazine. “While programs for truly exceptional students have a place, all kids would benefit from more enriching and rigorous educational experiences and more would be seen as ‘gifted’ with a better educational experience at their back.”
Elizabeth Street is a writer and managing editor for Learning Liftoff. For the past 20 years, she has written newsletter and website content for nonprofit and corporate organizations on such topics as the plight of children of prisoners worldwide, the lack of prenatal care for mothers in developing countries, and child mentoring programs. She has a particular interest in the importance of providing all children with a quality education regardless of their family’s financial status or background. A native of Virginia, Elizabeth is a graduate of James Madison University and loves animals, with particular fondness for her two cats, Oscar and Emmy.