Close to 9 years ago, I wrote a column for USA Today called "Some Can Sail Over High School." The piece dealt with the phenomenon of early college enrollment, and suggested that it was a good idea for gifted kids. That was actually the column that led to my working with Jan and Bob Davidson on Genius Denied!
So I was fascinated to learn recently that my grandfather didn't go to high school, but did go to college. The story is a little less tidy than in these modern days of early college programs. He'd left school after 8th grade to work -- a far more common phenomenon in years past than now (and something I remember when someone extols the virtues of small scale farming. Sure it's fun to grow your own tomatoes, but small scale farming consumed a massive amount of human capital and potential before our economy became more specialized). But his minister saw that he was extremely bright, and tutored him. As a result, he was able to go to college and later to seminary to become a minister.
I wonder how many other stories there are like that? I was recently reading Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. The book is full of tales of people who are incredibly successful in business, despite not having more than (say) a 6th grade education. Plenty of smart people used to be forced to leave school for economic reasons, and had to learn on their own.
Now, one wonders, has the pendulum swung the other way? We force children to stay in school in lockstep for a certain number of years -- whether they're getting anything out of it or not. Skipping grades is a good way to zoom along to a point in school where one is actually challenged. It's fascinating to see that that is what happened with my grandfather -- even if the circumstances aren't so rosy.