Aug

20

Time magazine's cover story is about the Davidson Academy, where my son and daughter are students.

Any sensible culture would know what to do with Annalisee Brasil. The 14-year-old not only has the looks of a South American model but is also one of the brightest kids of her generation. When Annalisee was three, her mother noticed that she was stringing together word cards composed not simply into short phrases but into complete, grammatically correct sentences.

After the girl turned six her mother took her for an IQ test. Annalisee found the exercises so easy that she played jokes on the testers. In one case she not only put blocks in the correct order but did it backward, too. Angi doesn't want her daughter's IQ published, but it is comfortably above 145, placing the girl in the top 0.1% of the population. Annalisee is also a gifted singer. Last year she won a regional high school competition conducted by the National Association of Teachers of Singing.
Annalisee should be the star pupil at a school in her hometown of Longview, Texas.

While it would be too much to ask for a smart kid to be popular too, Annalisee is witty and pretty, and it's easy to imagine she would get along well at school. But until last year, Annalisee's parents, Angi, a 53-year-old university assistant, and Marcelo, 63, who recently retired from his job at a Caterpillar dealership, couldn't find a school willing to take their daughter unless she enrolled with her age-mates. None of the schools in Longview, nor even as far away as the Dallas area, were willing to let Annalisee skip more than two grades. She needed to skip at least three as she was doing sixth-grade work at age 7.

What's needed is a new model for gifted education, an urgent sense that prodigious intellectual talents are a threatened resource. That's the idea behind the Davidson Academy of Nevada, in Reno, which was founded by a wealthy couple, Janice and Robert Davidson, but chartered by the state legislature as a public, tuition-free school. The academy will begin its second year Aug. 27, and while it will have just 45 students, they are 45 of the nation's smartest children. They are kids from age 11 to 16 who are taking classes at least three years beyond their grade level (and in some cases much more; two of the school's prodigies have virtually exhausted the undergraduate math curriculum at the University of Nevada, Reno, whose campus hosts the academy).

Among Davidson's students are a former state chess champion, a girl who was a semifinalist in the Discovery Channel Young Scientist Challenge at age 11 (the competition is open to kids as old as 14) and a boy who placed fourth in both the Nevada spelling and geography bees even though he was a 12-year-old competing against kids as old as 15. And last year the school enrolled another talented kid from a town 1,700 miles away. Annalisee’s mother moved with her to Reno so she could attend the school (her father was working in Longview at the time).


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5 Comments so far

  1. Kenneth on August 20, 2007 10:21 am

    I think the most important factor in the educational system’s inability to handle exceptions is it’s preoccupation with social modeling.

    The system has become encumbered with the notion that it must construct the “correct” balance of societal components (the right amount of each race, the right amount of each gender, everyone alongside their “correct” peers in emotional development, and no one standing out based on performance - because such things hurt feelings!

    In turn, the system forces everyone into the majority, like gravity. For every attempt to pull away from the mob there are catches in place to pull one back in.

    It is my understanding that school exists to give individuals the tools they need to function successfully in society - not to create a social model and then adapt the treatment of individuals to fit that model - which is what I think we have now.

  2. Bill aka NO DooDahs! on August 20, 2007 11:43 am

    Sounds like they should homeschool the lass.

  3. Michael on August 21, 2007 9:05 am

    We would rather spend many, many millions concocting programs that we are told demonstrate that every kid is a genius if we measure genius in enough ways, one of which is likely to apply to every child.

    And then there are the millions spent on programs to keep kids in school learning or not learning things that are irrelevant to any life they are likely to lead, as the educational establishment prods us to be proud of their accomplishment.

    The future seems unlikely to hold much promise for a country with an educational system like ours.

  4. VJ on August 22, 2007 5:39 am

    Hogwarts….

    should do another study. what happens to these kids at and after 40..do they become the superstars we would expect or do they get obsessed with their over-achivements and fail eventually ending up as (frustrated) … one need’nt look to far for examples. :-)

  5. Cindy on August 22, 2007 10:35 pm

    To Hogwarts - There was a study done. Longitudinal too. Found that real benefits were only reached when students were in full time programs - like Davidson. The benefits were real & lasting. Saw it in a major publication (Time, Newsweek, NY Times, can’t remember exactly, but it was less than a year ago.) Perhaps someone out there can remember.

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