48 Hours

In the spring of 1997, I stood outside my old M.S. adviser’s door in the College of Business at the University of Colorado, waiting to ask him, in person, if he’d write me a letter of recommendation for a second master’s degree. When the door opened, he was delighted to see me, and we sat and talked for a while about what I’d been up to (starting a company) and what I hoped to do in the future (start another one). But the long hand on the clock got to doing what it does best, and after a while, he asked what he could do for me. I told him, and he began guessing all kinds of programs in a wait-wait-don’t-tell-me mode. Computer science? Statistics? Mathematics, for sure.

Anthropology, I told him, and the long hand worked away for a while before he spoke again.

In the end, he did write it, and the anthropology department got a stack of some truly strange-looking recommendations, from their perspective, and I got in. I wasn’t one of the department’s Chosen Ones. Those came with the right degrees in hand, degrees in sociology and biology and forensics, from the right universities, with the right recommendations. We all knew who they were from the first minute of the first colloquium. I was supposed to be an afterthought, one of the students that pads the department’s coffers and scrapes out a degree while so doing. I wasn’t supposed to make the graduate Dean’s List in six consecutive semesters, or wrest the Quiatt Award for Excellence in Anthropological Writing away from one of the Chosen, or get one of the first teaching job offers out of the program. But I did.

After the graduation festivities had died down, I met my M.A. adviser for a beer at a favorite British pub here in Denver, and over one too many Boddington’s, she told me something remarkable.

She said, “everything about who you were and what you did surprised us.”

That probably wouldn’t be the case today. We’re in a transition from a society focused on credentials to a society focused on outcomes. I see it every day in the work I do, side by side on teams built out of a graying Cornell grad at one end of the table, and, at the other, a Colorado College dropout who MOOCed his way to analytics competency and then blogged about sabermetrics until he got noticed. (True story.) What’s the difference between the two? Nothing. They’re both respected project team members. One’s just from the generation prior, when we obsessed over potential instead of product.

So why do I bring this up? In part, because I’m rising to the defense of one of my own. Music instructor-turned-credential ghoul Mark O’Connor has been kicking around the gravesite of venerated violin method creator Shinichi Suzuki for a few years now, turning over rocks in search of wiggly things, and he’s surged to the forefront of pedagogy again this week with more questions. Did Suzuki really study with Klingler? What was his relationship with Einstein? Was he really a doctor? 

I couldn’t care less. In 1977, my parents pushed me – reluctantly – into the Suzuki violin program, and I stood in a gym with what seemed like a billion other kids and crawled my fingers from one end of the bow to the other. It was stupid and pointless, and I would have told you at the time that there was no way this would possibly lead to me being able to play anything in Book One, except it did, and those exercises were equally stupid and pointless; I bitched a high holy storm about those, too, how they couldn’t possibly lead me on to any real songs, except they did, and then I was playing Humoresque, and then I was second-chair viola in an orchestra, and then I was picking up the guitar and the mandolin and the cello and then I was 45 and seven years into performing live in a band as a principal songwriter and lead guitarist.

Stupid bow exercises.

Shinichi Suzuki could have claimed anything, as far as I’m concerned. He could have claimed to have invented the rotary engine, or that he cured Legionnaire’s Disease, or that he designed the bidets on the International Space Station. I couldn’t care less. His method worked, and continues to work to this day. It’s fantastic.

What makes me sad about the entirety of this conversation is not whether or not Suzuki falsified aspects of his background or experience in order to seem like a more traditional, more ‘qualified’ instructor for children. He might have, or he might not have, and the people that could corroborate or disprove his story are all dead. No, what makes me sad is the fact that Suzuki lived during a time when he clearly felt pressure to do so. Today, his experience would be very different. He was an outcome man living out his days in the credential era, and I’m appalled that his accomplishments can’t simply stand on their own, the way the accomplishments of so many others can in the 21st century.

By the way, it’s turned out that O’Connor’s accusations have been largely discredited. It’s quite likely that the word ‘guardian’ was mistranslated from the original text in describing Einstein’s relationship with Suzuki. It’s also quite likely that Suzuki spun Klingler’s noted dislike of teaching to turn a reluctant pedagogy into a unique teaching arrangement. Fine. And enough universities handed Suzuki honorary doctorates as to make the question of his academic authority irrelevant.

But wait.

Before we leave that last concept, let’s spend a moment on it.

Because we have a new arrival on the pedagogical scene, one equally unqualified to be teaching, and he’s making a difference in the academic lives of millions of kids every day, too. And we don’t say boo about his quals and certs, because we’ve jumped that line, that demarcation O’Connor’s pushing into our faces and asking, isn’t this relevant? Isn’t this important?

Sal Khan isn’t technically an educator by training. He’s a mathematician, engineer, former hedge fund analyst, and entrepreneur. But go check out the Wikipedia entry for Sal Khan. I’ll wait. Read the very top line. The first thing on the page.

Back?

That’s what Shinichi Suzuki was: an educator. Not by training; not by credentials. Almost certainly not by association with top-flight conservatories (although maybe he was, and maybe he wasn’t). He wasn’t the concertmaster for the right orchestra and he didn’t have the right tutelage and he didn’t possess the right insider relationships to merit being considered an educator in his day. He just became one in part because he simply didn’t give a shit about anyone’s need for credentials. He was too busy with outcomes, with the task of educating millions upon millions of kids in the joys of playing music. He was, essentially, the Sal Khan of his day.

How have things changed since then? Well, Consumer Reports recently reviewed a car and found it to be the best car they’d ever seen. It wasn’t conceived of by a car guy, a Detroit insider; it wasn’t brought to the world by anyone with a finger’s width of degrees. In fact, its designer holds a degree from the not-so-snazzy-sounding University of Pennsylvania. A B.S., by the way.

Oh, he did attend Stanford. For forty-eight hours.

And quit.

Elon Musk had bigger things in mind than credentials. He was already working on the outcomes.

Making the Choice to Manage Intensity

Fall color

Our family climbs a steep trail up to the top of a ridge every year to look at the fall color in Colorado. Dave and I have been taking the exact same hike, every year, since before the kids were born. We have gorgeous pictures – courtesy of my husband – of golden hued aspen in the background, followed by babies in the backpack, ruddy-faced toddlers with bright eyes, and smiling kids (missing many teeth!) in the foreground. It is one of those wonderful yearly rituals that reminds both Dave and I of the swift passage of time.

This year, as we were hiking a midst picking up interesting leaves and rocks, E wanted to talk about intensities. She, like all of us, struggles with managing her intensities at times, and she wanted to know how we navigated this as adults. Specifically, she wanted to know why she had to learn to manage her intensities at all. It was, and remains, a difficult question for me to answer.

Like most intense adults, I grew up not knowing why I felt things so intensely. Over the course of my lifetime, I have learned to manage my intensities mostly by observing others – seeing their expression change perceptibly when I have gone too far, overwhelmed them with too much information, too much excitement, or too many details. I have watched my message get lost in the delivery – being so enthusiastic about a problem I had finally solved, yet unable to explain it to others in a way that was meaningful to them. I have learned to temper the delivery, keeping the intensity under wraps, so that I can be more effective with the message.

Because of this, being around my family is both wonderful and exhausting. I love being around four other people for whom I do not have to temper the delivery. I can be as intense as I want, and they will volley that intensity right back to me, in a crazy ping-pong of words, movements, emotions, and energy. The flipside is that being around four other intense individuals is mentally exhausting. Our kids’ intensity seems to be a well that never runs dry. It also seems to defy mathematical rules, in that three intense kids together seems to equal more than 3, or 9. The end result is some sort of multiplier that I haven’t quite figured out.

In the end, as we hiked down the mountain, I’m not sure I was able to adequately explain to our daughter why she should learn to manage her intensities. Intensities are such an integral part of my being that I can’t imaging living without them, even if it would make my life easier as a result. I suspect that she will choose, over time, to temper the delivery of her intensities, if only out of sheer necessity. In the end, though, it is our choice, as intense individuals, whether to respond to the widened eyes and sideways glances with anything but a shrug. Thankfully, our family will embrace us – intensities included – at the end of the day, no matter which choice we made.

giftedgrownups

This post is part of a Blog Hop for Gifted Homeschoolers Forum on Gifted Grownups. Check out the other blog posts here!

Why Identifying High Intelligence Might Change Everything

Flowers in Front Yard

A bit of background to start. Early in September of 2008, our twin girls were five, and had just started kindergarten. What we had imagined for years would be a time of great joy in our house – a leap forward with two kids now in full-day school – was a time of immense anxiety and stress. Based on recommendations from the school (the principal called me on day three), we were scrambling to get paperwork done for the GT testing deadline for our school district, which was due the third week in September for the next fall. We had essentially already written off the kindergarten year, since our neighborhood school did not have any space to move them up to first grade. We got the testing completed, applied them to the full-time GT program, and they were accepted a few months later.

The girls started the GT program in the fall of 2009, and our son enrolled early access in the fall of 2010. The next few years were a blur of grade-skipping, teacher meetings, more testing, and part-time homeschooling. By the fall of 2013, we were full-time homeschooling all three kids.

Why does high intelligence – and the intensities that come with it – matter? What would we have done differently had we known more in 2008?

For starters, we would not have automatically enrolled our kids in school. The enormous amount of energy we spent trying to get them in the right spot in school, the right “fit” for them, we would have channeled instead into teaching them at home, at their own pace. Identifying their high intelligence and intensities earlier would have led us down a different path from the start. Part of that energy was spent shifting expectations – from the infant, toddler, and preschool years where we had every expectation that they would be with us full-time during the day – to the “school” years, during which we thought they would be gone for most of the day. Redirection takes more energy.

Second, we would have focused more on learning about intensities, and teaching our kids about their own intensities, from a young age. Understanding why we, as a family and individuals, act the way we do has been invaluable in navigating the world around us, and accepting ourselves for who we are, and who we are not. Once we started homeschooling, we found our acquired knowledge extremely helpful in navigating the teaching experience. Facilitating learning for intense individuals is different, and we have approached it in a way that allows them to utilize their intellect, emotions, energy, senses and imagination as they see fit.

Third, we would have sought out meaningful connections with other high intelligence families sooner. Whether through social media, internet sites, organizations, or conferences, we have gained significant insight, compassion, and direction from the connections and information available. As parents, we have enjoyed meeting those whose experiences are similar to our own. The shared experiences help us sort out what might be innate, developmental, or truly unusual, and we can address issues in the context of a true peer group, instead of comparing our kids to an ill-defined norm.

What would we have done differently in 2008, given the knowledge we have gained today? Likely, we would have made different decisions. Or – perhaps – we would have made the same decisions, and ended up in the same place. Those decisions, however, would have been made with better information, and in a more thoughtful, proactive way, instead of reacting to each situation. Here’s hoping that we can pay it forward to another family – the knowledge that identifying high intelligence and intensities does matter. It might just change everything for you, too.

This post is part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum September 15th, 2014 Blog Hop: “Giftedness: Why Does It Matter?

Check out the other posts here! http://giftedhomeschoolers.org/blog-hops/giftedness-why-matters/

GHF Blog Hop Sept 2014

The Weapons of Goodbye

670px-Shoot-a-Nerf-Gun-Accurately-Step-1

The last week of August is the week we transition between summer – strictly unschooling – into a slightly more structured version of homeschooling. I usually take the week off from work so we can devote attention to getting the kids set up on the math and science websites/apps they would like to use for this semester, start social studies with a leisurely morning of reading and historically appropriate baking, and ensure the books they will be reading are downloaded onto their Kindles. It’s a week of excitement – looking forward to the new year ahead. 

In the midst of the excitement, A came home yesterday to let us know his friend was moving away at the end of the month. Luckily, his friend is not moving far away, but this has been the older friend who A loves to play with outside, or at each other’s house, since his friend’s family moved in down the street a few years ago. This is the first friend A made on his own, and he has managed the relationship by himself. While we have met the family several times, the relationship is primarily the boys’ own. Although he understood the reasons they were moving, A was devastated by the news.

A and his friend played together for one last time yesterday afternoon, down in our basement playroom. While they will still likely see each other, they won’t be down the street from each other anymore, able to pick up and play at a moment’s notice. The two boys yelled and ran around as they always do, but with a little more vigor – and anger. I heard the usual Nerf guns firing, sword fighting, and noodle wars. After a few hours, the two boys then said goodbye as most boys do, with a simple “see ya” as they went to their respective houses. I’m not sure if they will see each other again for a while. 

This morning, I went down to vacuum the basement, and picked up the carnage from yesterday’s play session. Normally, I’d have A pick it up, but this time, I’m glad I didn’t. As I picked through the blue and orange Nerf darts (I’ll never get them all!), the foam and wooden swords, and spent Nerf guns of various types, I realized this is how they said goodbye to each other. While they played and fought pretend wars, they connected one last time, and let go of this phase of their friendship. 

I came up from vacuuming crying, and at that exact moment, A came down from his room to get some help with a math problem. I hugged him, and he stared back at me bewildered and confused. He’s already started to move on a little bit – fall soccer started last night, and flag football starts later this week. This fall, I’ll know what to do when he gets lonely for his friend who moved away – we’ll have a Nerf gun fight in the basement. 

The Boys of Summer

empty_pool_001

“Nobody on the road /
nobody on the beach.”

– Don Henley, “The Boys of Summer”

There’s an interstitial period at the end of summer that I always forget about until it’s on top of us. Suddenly, the lines vanish, the traffic subsides to a manageable thirty-mile-per-hour level, and the sonic content of indoor activities drops to a whisper. Pools glass over, and deck chairs are abundant.

The Boys of Summer are gone.

For intense kids like ours, it’s a double bonus. Mine wear out eventually, the din of daycare camp kids running roughshod in the museum dulling their interest, the nineteenth Nerf football that errantly dings them in the head bringing pool days to a close earlier than they otherwise might. But when the Boys of Summer have gone, they’re given this magical two-week window of free rein, and I am blessed and lucky to see it.

What games might they play in an otherwise empty pool? How long would they stay to read museum placards explaining the trilobite’s role in the Devonian? What would a day look like for them in a world that – there’s no other analogy, really – has been neutron-bombed to their benefit?

The Boys of Summer depart at precisely the right time, too. It’s been a long summer of spinning plates for me – trying to give my clients exceptional service while giving the kids a summer of adventure and fun, both while not allowing the house to fall into utter entropy. That’s involved some sleight-of-hand in places – responding to an email or two* with a hand over my phone in the museum IMAX theater, or overseeing a pool day from the second-floor gazebo that happens to sit right atop the WiFi router. (Thank God). By this point in the summer, I’m usually tired, and what’s facing me down is the fact that we’re getting started in two weeks. Am I ready? Do I have Vonnegut’s voicing and character development predilections under control for E? Do I remember where H left off in sixth-grade math, and what her challenges were? Am I really ready to swapwrite about A’s Dungeons and Dragons character for months on end?

At precisely the same time this weary level of concern arrives, I pass the Boys of Summer on the way out, and I am reminded of why I do this: the pure fire of curiosity and passion that emerges in the quiet the Boys gift as as they go. Absent the pool din, the need to queue up to look at a model of a Titan IV rocket, the path-sharing on hikes and the raw entropy of Jump Street at its rainy-day worst, I can hear them again. Their questions, their discussions, their endless love of learning why and how.

They never left. They’re still the same passionate learners I said goodbye to, at some level, when I threw the switch into full-on Summer Dad Mode at the end of May. They’ve just been submerged in the summer chaos itself, their voices the bubbly blurble of shouting underwater at a pool under clear Colorado skies.

The only MARCO I hear now is theirs, and while I might not have said it even a week ago, as I sat in construction traffic, I am, indeed, ready with a POLO of my own.

Let the fall begin.

Soon.

But first…let me enjoy this.

Because the Boys of Summer are fun, but they’re raucous and exhausting, and by mid-August, I’m not sad to see them climb into their Deadhead-stickered Cadillacs and go.

_____________________________

* Five hundred fifty-seven

Intensity and Buzzards

Mesa_Verde_National_Park_Cliff_Canyon_2006_09_12

Our family finally finished The Weddings (both my sister and Dave’s sister got married in the first half of this year), and, after the last one was completed, we decided to go on a much-needed family vacation to Southwest Colorado. Dave and I lived in Cortez, Colorado for a while during residency and graduate school, and it is one of our favorite parts of the state; we were excited to share it with the kids for the first time. We started by visiting Mesa Verde for a few days – a guided morning tour of the mesa top sites, which finished up with a ranger tour of Cliff Palace. Watching our kids see the archaeological sites for the first time was wonderful – they were as awestruck by their majesty and intrigue as we were when we first toured them.

In the afternoon, we ventured over to one of the self-touring sites for a look around. Life with intense kids is a waiting game – the intensities can only be held in check for so long before they start to flourish again. Vacation with intense kids is no different. After everyone kept it together during the morning tours, Dave and I figured an unscheduled afternoon would work best. That way, the intellectual conversations, emotional exchanges, and predictable discomfort with clothing and shoes could happen on a backdrop of our own schedule, and be adjusted as needed.  After we finished the self-tour, I suggested we might consider a short (read: leisurely) hike into the canyon. We scouted the two hikes that can be done from the canyon floor: the Petroglyph Hike and the Spruce Canyon Hike.

The kids read about each hike on the sign, and E and A begged us to do the Petroglyph Hike. H was non-committal about either. Dave and I had previously done the hikes 20 years ago, and we hike a lot around Denver. It was around 90 degrees, but we had packed water for our trip into the canyon that day, so we committed to the hike, and H agreed to go along for the ride. The hike was supposed to take two hours round trip, and we only needed to be out of the canyon within four hours, so we figured we could make it easily. Plus, between the three of them talking incessantly and bouncing around, I thought an outlet for their psychomotor intensity was warranted.

We started up the steep climb of steps, H vanishing into the distance (her strategy was get the hike over with as soon as possible.) E and A hiked along at a brisk pace, exchanging conversation about video games and soccer. Dave and I followed behind, carrying the water in a pack, and marveling at how 20 years could go by. The hike was steep up and down, and went a long way into the canyon. By the time we reached the Petroglyphs, the kids were doing fine; Dave and I were hot, tired, cranky, and wishing we were 24 again.

We stopped and took a rest under the shade of an overhang. H had come back to the group, and the three kids were now running around, talking very loudly, and deeply immersed in an imaginative world of their own making. It’s one of those moments where I saw them for what they truly are: intelligent, complicated, intense humans that the universe produced into a society that isn’t quite sure what to do with them. Out here, though, in the expansive canyon, they could be themselves without restraint.

So Dave and I hiked – and grumbled – behind them. The climb from the top of the path up onto the canyon rim is a free climb up a rock face, with some strategically placed foot and hand holds. I tried not to think about what would happen if we fell. Once we were on the rim, we began the long, hot hike around the canyon rim back to the parking lot. Turkey vultures circled constantly overhead in the heat, reminding us to continue on. (More than once, we  joked that the kids should just leave us for the buzzards.) The kids encouraged us, engaged us, pulling us along with their words and questions. We finally reached the car, about two hours after we started. Air conditioning had never felt so good.

For Dave and I, the strenuous hike served to scrub off the grime from the first half of the year. We went from wrapping up our first full-time homeschooling year right into two family weddings (and replacing a broken dishwasher), all while keeping up both of our jobs at a brisk pace. Our own intensities were worn down, beaten under the heat, with buzzards circling overhead. The hike was a turning point, a rallying cry for the year. We both finished the hike, and the vacation, with a renewed feeling of intensity and purpose, thanks to our intense and resilient kids.

 

Unification

Rockford_MergeSign_WEB

So we’ve been a bit busy, as you can probably tell from the Gap That Was April. In that month, we had one out-of-town wedding, prep for another, taxes for home and business, two kid sports starting up, and the abrupt death of our faithful dishwasher. Forgiveness? Thanks. We’ll do better over the summer.

And speaking of, we looked up to find three weeks left on our homeschooling calendar. Just a double-dozen days of fitting everything in and we’ll be into the lazy – and welcome – days of summer. As I turned the calendar over, I started looking for a theme to the year – an overarching sense of mission, or purpose, or accomplishment, that I could find anchorage in. Was there something that tied it all together?

There was. But it was different for each of them.

For A, our five-intensity flathead V-8 made flesh, it was de-institutionalization. He’s had a workshirt and a nametag on for far too long, compared to the girls, and it was starting to show in a hundred little ways. But the most heartbreaking of them was his tendency to lean back, to wait for knowledge to be inserted or dispensed or otherwise given. He’s never been a taker of knowledge, and that changed this year. Slowly. Almost imperceptibly. But it changed. He’s looking now – for information, for inspiration, for meaning. He’s leaning forward, willing to participate, willing to work for his outcomes, rather than waiting for them to be served up – and it’s been wonderful to watch. I can’t wait to see how this plays out next year.

For H, our 2E emotional-intensive, it was comfort. For the entirety of her educational life, I’ve wished H a year to learn when she wasn’t concerned about hiding her disability, or worrying where it was going to surface next. I’ve wished her peace and unconditional support and the time and space to find what she is truly passionate about. This year provided all of that, and more, and it was a thing of absolute beauty to watch her learn to love history, to grow to want to improve her writing meaningfully, and – perhaps most importantly – to find a place to sit with math in comfortable silence, if not friendship. H needs space to find herself, to build something up from beneath her that will provide a platform for her to grow atop. She was never going to find that in a traditional school setting. It’s warmed my heart to see her find it here with us.

For E, our host child from the Crab Nebula, it was focus. E’s been guesting in the local GT program for the past two years, leading a split existence: two hours a day with me, on intensive writing and math and passion-project work, and then over to our local GT center school for some time being nine and ten, respectively. I wouldn’t begrudge her that time, looking back on it, but she’s grown more serious about having the time to pursue her passions, free of recess lineups and heat-lamp tater tots. This year was her opportunity to stretch out, to read everything she wanted to (even if – ahem – it was under the covers by flashlight), to stargaze the Perseids and sleep in the next day and work in her robe until noon. It was the year to show us the fire. She showed it to us, and its flame is beyond comprehension.

For me, it was spacing. Hockey coaches preach it like a mantra: motion, dispersed, active, aware. I learned to read them much better this year, to understand what it was they needed at any given moment. Sometimes, that was routine – the secure safety of the knowledge that tomorrow would parallel today, that what was asked of them on Tuesday would be asked of them on Thursday, too. Sometimes, though, it was disruption: that precisely the opposite was true.

So what do we do next year? Find a new theme. New focus. New energy. New tasks and architectures and ways of working. We build on what we found, keeping the best, discarding the rest. We move forward with a sense of passion and purpose.

But first, it’s time for a break. Because passion derives from the spaces between things – and it’s time for some between.

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