Monday, October 30, 2006

Zooming Ahead Down Under

In response to the many international readers of Gifted Exchange who asked me to be a bit less U.S.-centric, I'm proud to bring you this story from Australia.

In the land down under, there's a saying about "cutting down the tall poppies." Namely, you don't want to stick out, and if you do, others will soon cut you down to size. That's certainly not a universal Ozzie sentiment, but unfortunately, it turned out to be school district policy for a gifted girl named Gracia Malaxetxebarria. You can read her story here.

Gracia, 12, was bored in school and wanted to move ahead a few grade levels. As the article points out, there's some precedent for this in Australia. Terence Tao, who just won the Fields medal in mathematics, was able to skip ahead and start college while he was still a pre-teen. But Gracia's Brisbane school didn't want to allow it. So her family sued and won the right for their daughter to skip grades as necessary.

As with many court cases, there are a few oddities and over reaches involved. I came across another article on the case, here, which says Gracia's mother pushed the court to give her a new home, a car and $500,000 compensation for age discrimination. The court declined to agree to that. But Gracia will be allowed to zoom ahead.

Of course, alert readers may be asking what's the difference between this case and the Levi Clancy case I wrote about last week. Don't both involve using the courts to advance gifted kids' interest?

From my reading, I believe that in the Australian case, the courts were being asked to address the case of an individual who was not given due process and indeed was treated differently than other children because of her age. Gracia had transferred to a private school and accelerated a few years; the public school completely ignored the evidence that she was earning As and Bs in her new grade. Normally, a child would be allowed to transfer to a public school from a private school at the same grade she was currently attending. Her public school was essentially changing its own policies to avoid accelerating the child. The court said that wasn't fair. No one was asking the courts to decree what the Brisbane authorities should spend their public monies on, as the voucher case does in California. I believe that's a question best answered democratically.

But hopefully the ruling in the Gracia case will encourage Australian schools to be more open to acceleration. Tall poppies deserve to grow no less than any other flowers.


Anonymous said...

Hello Laura
I am Gracia's mum and just thinking to start a Gifted website to help others, now our last child is in year 12
And noticed your site and would like to comment. Gracia did finish her B.SC.Adv and was accepted into medicine at UQ at 17. Where she is very happy and contributing already to society.

Anonymous said...

The real issue with Gracia's case was clearly set out in the High Court Transcript; She had been advanced three times in her education by professionals. But the Queensland Education Dept, namely the Minister, discriminated against her on age, putting themselves outside of the law and above the law as the Minister for Education became Premier of the State... who appoint the judges...