Apparently, not long ago, someone wrote a column or letter to the editor for The Citizen (in Georgia) suggesting that gifted children be allowed to skip grades as a way to save money and give the kids some challenge. A parent of two gifted kids responded with a letter to the editor suggesting that this was a horrible idea. (Click on that link to read the letter). Why? While it might be OK for math or reading, the letter writer notes, kids would suffer from horrible "giant holes" in their education. They might not know about World War II!
This is the familiar old argument about those dreaded "gaps" in education that kids supposedly suffer when they are accelerated. I find this argument very odd on many levels. For starters, no school system claims to teach everything under the sun from K-12. We all have gaps in our education. I, for instance, learned basically nothing about the history of Islam in school -- not a small or irrelevant matter, if you think about it. I didn't learn that much about World War II either, because my world history class and US history classes kind of ran out of steam by the end of the year. And I never skipped a grade!
I have filled some parts of these giant holes by doing what many curious people do -- reading books on the subject. Other options include watching movies, taking courses in college, listening to audio lectures, visiting famous WWII sites in Europe, Japan and Australia, etc.
The point is that gifted kids, in general, like to learn. And part of liking to learn is identifying holes in one's education and filling them in. I taught myself to write cursive because I went to two different schools for third grade, and each of those schools taught cursive during the time of the year I wasn't there. I can guarantee that I spend a lot more time writing in cursive (in my journals, in long-hand rough drafts I've written, etc.) than anyone in my classes who didn't experience those gaps.
Acceleration remains one of the best ways to challenge gifted students to the extent of their abilities, particularly in districts that are not going to create self-contained gifted programs. Any district can do it, and it requires no extra funding. Indeed, as the original letter writer must have pointed out, it saves money.
Though, apparently, the parent writing the "giant holes" letter didn't like that line of reasoning either. "Why in the world would you want a child to rush through the fun and joys of childhood just to save a little money?" she writes. "What do you think happens to a kid who is a couple of years younger than everyone else at college? Do you think they would have a normal college experience and any friends or relationships?" Having known a few people like this, I would say that the answer is largely yes. And if you're bored to tears in school, you're probably quite willing to rush through the "fun and joys of childhood" too.
Acceleration isn't for all gifted kids. But it can work for far more of them than are ever given the chance to try. Rather than worry about "giant holes" in their education, we should be worrying about the giant holes in their spirits created by a lack of challenge in grade-level classes.