Monday, November 06, 2006

Specialized High Schools in the Humanities

About a dozen states across the country have created specialized residential high schools for gifted students (usually covering junior and senior years). Most focus on math and science. I've written about my own school, the Indiana Academy for Science, Mathematics and the Humanities, which also focuses on students with gifts for literature, history, religion and arts studies. At times I've wondered why none of the other schools made it clear that students with humanities gifts needed differentiation as well. I'm happy to report, however, that I was wrong. Texas has such a school as well.

The Texas Academy of Leadership in the Humanities, like the Texas Academy of Math and Science, offers students the opportunity to earn college credit as they also complete advanced high school course work during their junior and senior years. You can visit the school's website here.

I still think the Indiana Academy model is the best, since it combines top programs in math, science and the humanities on one campus. Where should a Texas young person with profound gifts in math and writing enroll? While I don't mind the idea of kids getting to specialize in high school, this seems like a rather arbitrary distinction.

But I'm glad that Texas recognizes that not all gifted kids express their gifts through being, say, math whizzes. I've always been amazed how little differentiation there is in humanities coursework in most schools. Granted, creative assignments (such as writing a paper) can differentiate themselves. But some students in a given grade may be able to focus on the deeper philosophical meanings behind a work, while some are still having trouble understanding the vocabulary words. Forcing all children to follow the exact same lesson plan bores the former and confuses the latter.

I've certainly experienced this in my own life. I know I'm a much better writer than I am a mathematician. Yet I had differentiated math curriculum since fourth grade. Only as a tenth grader did I wind up with an independent study in literature/writing (and that was because I'd enrolled in too "easy" a level of English to start with -- because that was the only course that kept my schedule open enough for me to take a math class with children two years older than me!). While I had a few quite good English teachers along the way -- interspersed with some rather wretched ones -- specialized, accelerated classes simply weren't as high a priority in this subject.

That's too bad, because children with gifts in the humanities, no less than those with gifts in math and science, need to have their creativity honed and trained. They need to be pushed to think deeper, to draw more insightful conclusions. While I wish Texas had combined its schools from the get-go, I'm happy that the Lone Star State recognizes that advances in our society may someday come from right brain types as well.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more that Humanities - writing and history and politics need to be differentiated. Math can be work individually up until a rather high level, while the Humanities really reguire a group of peers to develop their critical thinking together. To me, the idea that Math is what Gifted Kids are good at, harkens back to the idea that the traits that are common in Males are the "true" kinds of intelligence, while the traits that are common to Females are the "2nd best" kinds of intelligence.

It does seem a pity that children are forced to choose between Math/Writing. OTOH I think that it's essential that each gifted program figure out what their target audience is and plan a program to serve it, otherwise the common mistake of serving only least extream of the gifted population gets repeated.

Anonymous said...

Way back when I was in high school (graduating in 1971), we had an accelerated program for math, for English, and for science. With a few exceptions, it was the same group of kids in all the accelerated tracks.

Requiring an 11 or 12 year old to specialize seems a bit too soon for my taste.

Anonymous said...

I am so happy to see an expert in gifted education address this issue. A number of other parents and I have brought up the fact that it is very difficult to find programming and mentorship for children gifted in the humanities.In fact, even parents of gifted kids often assume that true giftedness comes with a passion for math.

My 9 year old son is great in math but his passions lie in political science, history and the classical languages. We have had him in a variety of schools and homeschooled him, but while it was easy to acclerate him in class or at home in math, it is a bit more difficult to do so in the social sciences. Yes, he can read to his heart's content. But real growth in these disciplines come in debate and challenge in a GROUP!It is rarely an isolated learning experience.

I am concerned that there are so few mentorships outside math and the sciences for my son.He would do so well working in a political campaign or with a historical scholar but the public does not see these types of prodigies on a regular basis (no Westinghouse Scholar program for latin or history scholars)and the options just are much scarcer.

We need more attention to be given to this area.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to read that there are at least a few schools that are willing to recognize the need to provide an appropriate education to those gifted in the humanities.

This has been a pet peeve of mine: the notion that only math requires differentiation and that the needs of gifted readers or writers can be met through the same curriculum as that which serves the average, or for that matter, the above-average population. It seems to reflect a gender bias as well as a profound misunderstanding about verbal giftedness.

Anonymous said...

Our local school district is very proud of having a Math Acadamy and a Humanities Academy. Unfortunately, they are at different high schools, so a kid good at both is left with no good options. (Well, one---there is an excellent charter school, but the lottery to get in gives kids about a 1/5 chance.)

scarpenter said...

We have great Magnet schools in Austin,Texas that really cater to the students who are really curious and want to learn more. We have two Middle School Magnets. One is a Law and Humanities Magnet that even has all types of Japanese culture (drama, language, etc.) As a gifted adult, I really don't think acceleration is as important as just more information and topics. When I got to college and realized how many more subjects there were, I was so excited. In fact, we have promised our daughter that she can take AP classes so in HS so she can take some of the other interesting classes in college just for fun!