Fighting For My Daughter’s Right To Be Young, Gifted and Black

Fighting For Her Right To Be Gifted via @MissLori

Parenting my daughter’s mind has been like a tennis match, but half the time I’ve felt like I was playing without a racket. Her first word was “Bubble”; the bubbles in her bath. She started speaking in full sentences before she was 18 months old. By 2 her daycare administrator complained that my girl wouldn’t talk to her “peers”.  The Director failed to mention that my kid was having full conversations, just with her teachers. By 3 my daughter was reading, increasing her knowledge so much that she possessed the vocabulary to accuse me of being “facetious”. At 3 1/2 she started answering her brother’s Kindergarten math homework. I contacted the Center For Gifted Learning, but they told me they wouldn’t even touch kids before they turned five. So after completing the entire Kindergarten curriculum at her Preschool, I begged the Chicago Public Schools to let her start Kindergarten early. I had her tested for the Gifted Kindergarten classroom her brother had been in. She scored in the 140’s, (Yes, that’s IQ points). However, when the school system figured out her true age they blocked her entry.

My daughter had to wait an agonizing year to turn 5 before she could start official school. I was disappointed, but not totally distraught, because I knew who her teacher would be, she had taught my son. She had a master’s in gifted education and had been waiting for my daughter to be in her classroom since she first met my precocious firecracker two years before. But on the first day of Kindergarten my resolve was destroyed. There was a new teacher standing in the classroom door. My son’s former teacher had left on maternity leave and her replacement didn’t have the training to fill her socks, let alone her shoes. Each day my daughter raced through her assigned work and she would come home with 6-7 art projects in her desperate little hands. When I asked her how she was able to complete so many in one school day, my daughter told me once she was done with her regular assignments the teacher told her to “just do art” for the rest of the day. The dirty secret is that the white children in her class weren’t subjected to such academic dismissal.

I took my brown baby to the “gifted” doc to have her tested professionally. After evaluating her, the doctor explained to me that, in short, if someone were to just explain the rules of trigonometry to my daughter she would be able to do it. Heck, I was 36 and I couldn’t do advanced algebra. My daughter was 5 and could potentially do trig? I knew I was out of my league, and thus, it was clear, so was the school. I spent the rest of the year lobbying to get her skipped to 2nd grade. It was a daily fight, up stream, without a paddle. I couldn’t believe that I had to struggle so hard for my kid to be able to be in a classroom that was commiserate with her academic ability, but that was my reality. I finally got her placed in a second grade class, but not until a week before the school year started, and only because the school needed to meet an integration quota. Such irony!

That wasn’t my parents’ experience when I was growing up. When I was just about to enter 2nd grade my parents moved us to Madison, Wisconsin. In Milwaukee I was in a Montessori program, and they had us writing in cursive for everything. At my new school my 2nd grade classmates were only printing. I was reading and writing at a higher level than they were, but that didn’t pigeonhole me. This was Madison in the 1970’s. Our classrooms were filled with around 20 students. They had space to do differentiated learning, and the schools encouraged parental involvement. “Catholic schools reknowningly are rich with parents and not necessarily with staff,” my mother told me. Because of the parent oversight my advanced abilities didn’t slip through any cracks. So after a 2nd grade year that turned into more of a combined 2nd and 3rd grade I was bumped up to 4th. It just happened. No questions, no issues and no problems. Academic that is.

“The tone of the educational system was progressive and pretty intellectual, it was not so critical and accusatory,” my mom said. “A bright child was accepted as a bright child, instead of suspected of cheating. The system was more accepting of a bright child and a talented child, and they nurtured that to the best of their resources.”

That was my experience, for the most part, even through college. I was allowed to be intelligent, and gifted, (and Black). So, when I became a parent of children who demonstrated advanced academic skills, it never occurred to me that those skills would be met with opposition. My mom laid it plain. “For you actually, the notion of skipping your child was a natural thing you thought would be supported. That was your expectation. You weren’t accused of being too smart like your daughter has been.”

“Accused of being too smart.” Yes, that was it. My mother hit the nail on the head. Being “smart” or “gifted” is thrown at kids these days, particularly children of color, like an accusation. That is what my daughter has faced her entire academic career. Her beauty, her brains and her blackness were a trifecta too overwhelming, not just for her classmates, but for her teachers and administrators. The fight to get her accelerated to 2nd grade was just the first volley in an education odyssey that has included 5 schools, and countless numbers of meetings and pleas, and a ton of advocacy.

My daughter is about to turn 15 and she is now on a path to graduate as early as the end of this year. You see, I finally summoned the courage to do what I knew in my heart was absolutely necessary, I pulled her out of the public school system that was actively seeking to hold her back. She is now completing her high school education online, under her own accelerated-brain fueled power. No more ‘accusations’, just freedom to be young, gifted and unapologetically black.

Game, set, match.

SMILE On!

Miss Lori

If you enjoyed this post please read; My Daughter Got Detention and I Couldn’t Be More Proud, Miss Lori Encourages You To Include Instead of Exclude, Inconvenient History Pt 1; No Cake For GeorgeInconvenient History Pt2: My Name Is Oney Judge and 8 Things To Do If Your Child Is a Victim of Cyberbullying.

 

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