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[Comments] (12) Skipping Grades: I went to DC to see Sumana's sister and parents, and at one point during the weekend we were talking about a similar experience Sumana and I had when we were kids: we both really wanted to skip ahead one or more grades so we could get out of school earlier, and our respective parents did not want this to happen.

I believe Sumana did end up skipping a grade, and I may have mentioned somewhere in this weblog's archives that I stuffed four years of classes into three years to get out of high school a year early. So we both got what we wanted, kind of. But I also remembered something I hadn't thought of for a long time.

I had second grade in LA with a teacher (Mrs. Rosenstiel) who was simultaneously teaching a second and a third grade class. I don't know how she did this, whether this was because of budget cuts or small class sizes or what, but I remember that the second graders sat on one side and the third graders on the other side. I sat with the third graders and did the third grade work. Although I didn't think of it in these terms, I effectively skipped the second grade. Then we moved to Arvin and I was put in a third-graders-only classroom, where I effectively repeated the third grade.

It's fortunate for my parents that I didn't detect this sleight-of-hand until a couple days ago, because realizing it at the time would have really made me mad. To younger-Leonard's way of thinking, the purpose of this whole schooling thing was to make sure you knew things. Period. If you learned things faster, you shouldn't have to do as much time in school.

This underlay my (and, presumably, Sumana's) constant nagging of our parents to let us skip a grade or two. What underlay our parents' constant refusals was the belief that schooling had two other purposes: keeping the kids out of your hair until they're old enough to leave home, and socialization.

My parents always told me that skipping grades would stunt my social development and leave me miserable. But here's the thing: I was stunted and miserable anyway. If school is supposed to be a big social club where you just have fun with your peer group, then sure, wake me up when I turn eighteen. But we all know it ain't that. I hated school the whole way through, and I was fairly popular and well-liked (though I wouldn't have thought so at the time). Sumana had it a lot worse.

For a long time I thought my parents were simply wrong about this. But I'm writing this where people can read it and comment on it because I'm starting to think they were not entirely wrong. What happens to a smart kid who's allowed to go through the public school system as fast as his/her talents can take him/her? Do you know any such kids? Are you one? Did such kids exist in the past and end up broken wrecks, cautionary tales to future generations of parents?

I'm not talking about the wunderkind who gets a Harvard scholarship at age 12; that kid is now Harvard's problem. I'm talking about a random lower- or middle-class kid from the 99th percentile. What are this person's parents supposed to do when he/she graduates at 14 or 15? Send him/her to college? College is full of kids from the 99th percentile who also have a 2-3 year age advantage. Put him/her to work for a couple years? Doing what? Set up some kind of independent study? With what time/money?

I'm imagining my parents thinking along those lines. Am I wrong? What is the deal? It seems unfair to withhold this seemingly universal parental secret from me, a grown man. I can see not wanting your kid to leave home at fourteen protected only by their ability to dissect fetal pigs and write essays about Jack London, but an additional two years of school won't provide much additional protection.


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