A warning for those who decide to accelerate: And why is weird so bad?

If you decide to accelerate your kid and if this information gets out through cross-examination from strangers, say, at the airport, then the conversation invariably goes like this: “I redshirted my kid, best decision I ever made, she’s so popular and she gets straight As. There’s a kid in her class who is younger and he’s just WEIRD. Just as a warning, maybe it doesn’t matter so much now, but when ze gets to the high school level kids who skip just end up weird.”

You will also get this argument many times should you post about it on your blog (“I know a kid who skipped and he was socially ostracized”).

People really don’t get counterfactuals– that correlation is not causation.

I think we got some anecdotal examples here about some kid being skipped and he was a sociopath and mean to his brother… as if that had anything to do with acceleration.  What I said to the woman in the airport was that the kid probably would have been weird even if he hadn’t been skipped (‘cuz I teach statistics).

But what I should have said (and I did not think about this until later that night), was that maybe there isn’t anything wrong with being weird (maybe even, “Bill Gates was weird”).

Maybe being different isn’t so bad, especially when the same as everyone else is pretty mediocre.  Maybe middle school popularity shouldn’t be our end-goal in life.  When kids who are different grow up, sometimes they do quite well for themselves, better than the folks who spent their entire K-12 career blending in.  What’s the t-shirt say, Well-behaved women seldom make history?

I think Sheldon says it very well in this comic.  (Weird kids out there… It gets better!)

Do you think that being weird in K-12 is the worst thing that can befall a kid?  Do you really believe that the only way a an out-of-synch kid can keep from being socially ostracized is by being kept with hir same aged peers, even when they have nothing in common?  (That last question there is rhetorical– not only is there a nice literature on the social benefits of acceleration for out-of-synch kids, we can assure you it is far worse to hang back from personal experience.)

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59 Responses to “A warning for those who decide to accelerate: And why is weird so bad?”

  1. eemusings Says:

    I’ve been in mixed stream classes (kids from two different year levels) and placed in classes a year ahead for certain subjects. Also, in the top “accelerate” class at high school where they lumped all the kids who scored highest on the entrance tests. Never skipped a year, though.

    I am definitely glad I went with the accelerated stream and not the performing arts stream (which I also got into). Our school was by no means elite, so I am glad I wasn’t in a regular stream, either, because I think making friends would have been much harder. The kids in my stream were by and large a lot more driven than me, but I felt I fit in.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      That’s a good point– sometimes by being taken out of where you fit for some arbitrary reason, like age or just the average, means that you’re more “normal” with the new group, even if they’re older or accelerated etc.

  2. mareserinitatis Says:

    I’m think ‘weird’ is synonymous with ‘different’. In that context, the only way to be not weird is to be average. There is just no way kids who are 2 SD from the norm are ever going to be anything but weird, but they may appear to be ‘more normal’ (that is, closer to average) when put with intellectual peers. It was so strange to have my older son go to a gifted school and find kids that he got along with. First time in his life he made friends. No one thought he was any odder than any of the other kids there. When we moved back to Fargo, he made a couple friends, but no one he talks to regularly. On the other hand, he still talks (or, more likely, texts) regularly with a couple friends from the gifted school.

    I think it’s more important to have positive peer interactions than to keep a kid with age mates. They’re far more likely to look weird if they’re kept away from their peers.

  3. Alyssa Says:

    I work with a lot of gifted students and, yes, generally they’re more “weird” than regular kids. But, weird in a way that adults can appreciate it (like having a wide range of interests, showing they’re interested, etc.). It’s tough for them, because they don’t fit in with their other classmates right now. And it’s hard to tell them that it gets better after high school, because that is infinitely far away for them. But, it DOES get better for most of them, and they will go on to being very successful and intelligent adults.

    In general, I think life should just keep getting better and more interesting as we get older. I am sad for the people who say high school was the best time of their life.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It really does get better!

      I remember when I was in high school someone telling me that high school would be the best time of my life… and I did feel kind of sad for her. Even if she had the best high school experience ever it’s still only 4 years long and pretty early on.

      • Debbie M Says:

        I’m not sure it’s better in high school. Most of my (smart) friends didn’t like high school and thought it got better in college (or even grad school). I guess most high schools are big enough to have some honors classes, so that could definitely help.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t think the woman in question went to college. IIRC she was the church daycare lady, but I don’t remember 100%.

      • Rumpus Says:

        Paul Graham has an article about schools…I always have a hard time digging it up.

        Let me see, is it this one? http://www.paulgraham.com/hs.html Hm, no, but that one has a great quote, “It’s that adults take responsibility for themselves.”

        Not this one either, though this one on “lies we tell kids” is somewhat similar in its focus on what are we actually trying to accomplish, rather than what is the veneer that we’re using. http://www.paulgraham.com/lies.html

        Aha, here it is. http://www.paulgraham.com/nerds.html “Why don’t smart kids make themselves popular? If they’re so smart, why don’t they figure out how popularity works and beat the system, just as they do for standardized tests?…There was something else I wanted more: to be smart. Not simply to do well in school, though that counted for something, but to design beautiful rockets, or to write well, or to understand how to program computers. In general, to make great things.”
        So some people don’t “fit-in” in school because they have more important things to do.

        I believe that figuring out what one should be doing is harder than doing it. Sometimes you can follow your instinct and other times you have to stop and think hard.

  4. Historiann Says:

    Parents are often playing out their own anxieties and redressing grievances against them as children when they make decisions about their children’s lives & engagement with education. This is not a criticism; it’s just an observation. I have heard similar justifications for redshirting a child from a woman who specifically said “I was picked on because I was small for my age and I don’t want that to happen to my child.”

    I have written about the gendered implications of redshirting over on my blog. It seems like the children who are redshirted are overwhelmingly male, whereas most partents don’t want to have a girl who seems overdeveloped for her age/grade.

    • Perpetua Says:

      @H’ann – I agree with you here. I was a “weird” kid in elementary school. It didn’t have anything to do with acceleration per se, but I had gone from a private school that was alternative and intellectually stimulating to a terrible public elementary school where I was bored out of my mind, social isolated, and considered weird. It would be very painful for me to see my kids go through the same thing (even if in the “long run” I know it would be okay). But I do try to be conscious of the powerful ways their experiences provoke emotional responses in me that are about *me*, not about them. I think it’s because the experience of parenthood results in many people feeling so strongly with their kids, it’s like they feel *for* them (literally) in ways that can become unhealthy/problematic.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        DC seems to be doing pretty well even if we are projecting.

        Of course, there’s good reasons to project– and a large research base that suggests that perhaps our experiences as children (those of #1, #2, and their partners) are good things for DC to avoid for the same reason they were bad for us to experience.

        And we’ve seen our friends who took different, less painful, paths to get to the same place (or even places we envy– ah, if only we’d decided to get rich in the dot-com boom instead of becoming academics) doing well along the way. Why not try to emulate that? There’s plenty of ways to build one’s character that don’t require daily misery.

  5. Dame Eleanor Hull Says:

    Thanks to skipping a grade early and then doing high school in 3 years (my decision, with the support of my parents but in the teeth of school administrator opposition [not, interestingly, teachers, who were fine with it]), I started college at 16. It was way better being with older people. Way better. High school was better than jr high, but better yet was college and being treated like an adult. In fact, the main problem with my first year of college was that the people I got on best with were mid-20s “returning students,” not my nearer-in-age peers. When I was in math everyone was weird anyway. By the time I got into the college major I graduated with, nobody cared about age anymore. Anyway, I was always weird in a quiet girl-nerd sort of way; I mostly had some weird friends; and looking back from an adult perspective, I am both glad about how things came out and can see why my parents never cared about popularity. The “popular” kids were experimenting with sex, drugs, and drinking earlier than most of the unpopular ones, and even when they weren’t, they were much less interested in academic subjects and the kinds of hobbies that lead to interesting careers.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I really enjoyed taking university classes over the summer for the same reason, and did get along with returning students of many ages!

      And yes, everyone in math is weird and it’s all good. :)

      You’re also right about what the popular kids were doing. A nice thing about being younger than I was supposed to in my math classes was that they’d tell me about such things (in a nice inclusive way) but they didn’t pressure me to do such things. Guys would flirt with me, but not seriously!

      My parents sent my (popular) sister off to Catholic high school because she’s the kind of person who does the minimum to get an A and they didn’t think the minimum was high enough at our local public… while they were in high school all of her old middle school friends got busted for underage drinking on a school trip. And my parents felt like they’d made the right choice. My sister did too, because honestly, who drinks on a *school* trip and expects not to get caught?

  6. Mike & Molly (@MandMHouse) Says:

    Point well taken. I was the weird kid and I survived (OK, my older brother and sister had my back).
    One of my kids the school wanted to move her ahead and skip kindergarten- I chose not too, but stayed open to the possibility. We did have her in mixed classes up through 3rd grade- that worked well.

  7. mom2boy Says:

    Unless it results in being bullied, no I don’t think being weird is the worst thing that can happen to a kid. Feeling less than or alone because grown people or peers say you are “different”, even in a backhanded complementary way re being smarter, sucks. Having a similarly abled & aged friend(s) that you relate to is important for all kids I think. Gifted programs are great in that regard. At least it was for me and I am hoping the same for my child. I had been thinking that since he misses the cut off date for K, the extra year would be okay buying into the boys take longer to emotionally mature talk. However, I just watched him make a card for teacher appreciation week and he wrote his teacher’s name and love, his name all by himself totally legibly and he’s reading most of Hop on Pop now by himself. I think he could hang out in K this coming year and not go crazy but another two years? No way that would be a healthier choice than being the youngest in class. Everyone already thinks he is “weird” except other “weird” kids and their parents. I’m realizing that holding him back to keep him same aged would just make it worse as soon as he opened his mouth. I have flipped sides to become one of the frustrated I can’t get my clearly ready child into K parents.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Starting K early this year has been a Godsend for us. We don’t know the counter-factual, but given the before and after (as well as the literature on kids like DC), it seems like there’s reason to believe that some of the improvement we’ve seen in behavior etc. can be attributed to not being bored in preschool anymore. I cannot imagine hir starting K this coming year instead of this past year.

      • mom2boy Says:

        I picked montessori so I could check out of teaching him reading, writing, arithmetic, etc. and not worry about it. The school itself was so not a good fit but clearly he learned a ton and developed a positive attitude about learning while there. Poor kid wanted to do addition and talk about fractions on the drive to school and all I did was confuse him talking about four and a half versus half of four. He’s writing words (who knew lol) and the pre-school class he’s with now just finished learning to trace the letter Z and is done for the summer. But oddly enough he loves the extra playground time so much he doesn’t seem to be getting into any trouble there unlike at montessori. So I just don’t know.
        No age waivers in our state through first grade.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We need at least an hour of running around and an hour of thinking and we’re good. The rest of the time is pretty flexible.

        We’re doing private for K and 1st since public won’t talk to us until 2nd grade (or at least that was the plan…). It’s really only costing an additional year if we move to public (which we may not if things continue to go well for DC– why fix what isn’t broken?) since we’d have to be paying for preschool anyway.

  8. Cloud Says:

    The lack of logical thinking in the general populace is disheartening. But that is maybe a rant for another day!

    I think that as long as the parents are genuinely trying to do what is best for their kids, it usually works out. Even the redshirting thing, although I am personally annoyed that the reaction to that phenomenon in my state means my younger daughter (who has an early October birthday) will essentially be redshirted by state dictate. Forcing us to endure an extra year of two drop offs/pick ups. Now it could be that when we got closer to the date, we’d think “gee, she’s not really ready for kindergarten” and would choose to wait another year. But CA is taking the option away from the parents, partially because so many parents were gaming the system. (Once we find out what school we’re going to, we’re going to start talking to the principal about how strict this rule really is.)

    But that’s not entirely relevant here. I think different makes people uncomfortable, particularly when they see it in kids. Which is too bad, because if we could learn to be more accepting of differences, I think we, as a society, would advance faster. People who are different often see different solutions to problems, etc.,etc.

    I also think, though, that learning how to either be OK with people’s responses to your own differences or “hide” them well enough to blend in when you want to is a useful life skill. One I’m still working on, really. So I do plan to try to help my daughters learn that to the extent that the need it. I do NOT think, though, that it is their responsibility to blend in so that they aren’t miserable. It is the adults’ responsibility to make sure that no kids are being made miserable by their peers- i.e., to teach the other half of that equation, that someone’s differences aren’t a reason to pick on them. I obviously plan to help my daughters learn that, too.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      The reason for the change in K in CA isn’t people gaming the system– it’s all about temporary cost-cutting to get through the current budget crisis.

      The fact that rich people (who vote) red-shirt and low SES people want to get their kids into public school ASAP may have something to do with it. And some people are worried about the widening gap between the haves who have read Malcolm Gladwell and the have-nots who need the free child-care when they’re at the same school.

      However, the education research specifically shows that the low SES kids do better getting into public school earlier because it tends to be better quality than their alternative care, starts early interventions earlier, and results in kids being more likely to graduate from high school (mainly because of mandatory age laws).

      Re: hiding abilities– not a message I want any daughter of mine to hear and one that I’ve fought most of my life. “You would be more popular if you didn’t always know the answers” … that’s a reason gifted girls often get lost. They blend in too well.

      I also think it’s right and good that one of DC’s classmates moms says she keeps her older son in our private school because he can be a total nerd despite the color of his skin. There are grown-ups who are total nerds of every color and ethnicity, even if public school says they need to hide those tendencies.

      Really, I can avoid bored and/or insecure women trying to drag me down in the comments on other people’s blogs. (That would be the only group that seems to have a problem with me being “different” these days.) Being self-confident, intelligent, somewhat risk-taking (calculated risks mainly), and awesome helps me in my career and doesn’t hurt me making friends with people I would actually want to hang around with IRL. Being awesome provides all sorts of opportunities to hang out with who I want to hang out and work with people I enjoy working with. If I’d stopped being at the top of my class so that one of the boys could assume that rightful place, I might not have met my husband or #2 or gone to an awesome college and I definitely couldn’t have gone to a top graduate school.

      IRL people don’t seem to find me as irritating as random commenters (mostly only on mothering blogs) who think women should be self-effacing at all times. (Or if they do, they’re professional enough to keep it to themselves.) I feel sorry for them but don’t actually care what they think. I do not feel like I have to bend over backward to soothe their fragile egos, nor is it necessarily in their best interest for me to do so… it might be enabling. The best thing many of them could do would be to say, find a fulfilling career, get marital therapy, or maybe just read Mindset by Carol Dweck. No need to lash out at other people if you don’t feel like a rat in a corner. In any case, I’m not a trained therapist, so I’m not really qualified to help them. Best I leave them alone. We blame the patriarchy.

      In terms of dealing with idiots and jerks in real life, all one needs to do is learn professional codes of conduct and that usually handles the “suffering fools gladly” part. And of course, have the ability to leave or change a truly toxic situation. Middle school doesn’t generally focus on that kind of training (though oddly, our preschool did). It’s a skill that is much more easily applied as an adult when people’s responses to professionalism don’t involve homophobic (or other) epithets.

      • Cloud Says:

        I’m not thinking about hiding that you’re smart, and I’m pretty sure I’d teach a son the same thing if I had one. I’m thinking more in terms of choosing not to let certain quirks of your personality show in some situations. For example: I used to play fiddle in an Irish session with people from all sorts of backgrounds. Some of my geekier quirks would make it hard to relate to the people I played with. So I actively suppressed those quirks, because I liked playing in the session. It was not realistic to try to build a session out of people who wouldn’t mind them, so I just hid them. I want my girls to have that option- because it lets you be a geek without giving up non-geeky pursuits.

        I do something similar with my book club now, but I’m thinking I just need to stop going to book club, because the reward isn’t worth the annoyance of suppressing the set of quirks that bug them, and finding a group of people willing to talk about books who don’t react negatively to my quirks is a lot easier than finding a bunch of good trad musicians. Also, the quirks that bug the book club folks are a lot harder for me to suppress than the ones that made it hard to relate to the Irish music crowd, and the negative response is much stronger. So the cost-benefit ratio is skewing towards saying “screw it” and quitting.

        I thought the CA school start change was initiated before the budget crunch, but I don’t have hard data on that. However, the budget crunch is threatening the public pre-K that was promised, so yes, the lower SES people are getting screwed.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        They’d been talking about changing the start date for decades, but only acted on it when it became necessary from a budgetary standpoint. Primarily because changing the start date later hurts lower SES kids. That argument became less important when faced with a huge budget deficit.

        There’s enough peer pressure pressuring people to become people that they’re not, that I seriously doubt that anybody not on the spectrum needs extra help learning how to suppress their quirks. Especially not women. That’s a reason there was such a large push in the 1980s for all that “it’s ok to be yourself” one to grow on tv programming. Given how most human beings are, I would imagine that’s the message that needs more pushing than “assimilate.” (And yes, there’s some interesting research on brainwashing that shows that some people are more naturally susceptible to being brainwashed, so some of that assimilation stuff is apparently innate or at least determined young.)

        And geeks can socialize each other too. Being surrounded by other imperfect and different people was much better for my personality than the Lord of the Flies situation that one sees in say, Mean Girls (or really, most middle schools). Especially when one realizes that an irritating trait in another person is possessed by oneself. In that situation the person in question is the one getting to choose what traits to change, not some arbitrary, “You don’t drink enough or put out enough or act dumb or mean enough” pressure from peers.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        And to clarify: Not that we have anything against someone wanting to be able to be agreeable to everybody, but we don’t think that everybody needs to want that. It should be a personal choice.

        Because the world does need different kinds of people, and there are enough people in the world that we don’t have to hang out with people who irritate us (or who we irritate just by being who we are) if we don’t want to and if we’re lucky enough (and smart and hardworking enough) to have those options.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Additionally: It’s important to note that anti-social characteristics can be incredibly important to society. I don’t know if you’ve ever met a surgeon, but they don’t tend to have the sweetest personalities…and there’s a good reason for that. They’re in a profession where they can’t hesitate, can’t have second thoughts, can’t introspect. And in general, they seem pretty happy even if they’re not generally people one wants to spend large amounts of time socializing with.

        There’s good arguments to be made for Aspergers to be considered a way of being rather than a disability because it has certain advantages to creativity and thinking paths, even if many behavioral patterns don’t fit mainstream societal niceties. Sheldon wouldn’t be Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. He’d be more like Leonard. It’s controversial, of course. But maybe normal doesn’t have to be an end-goal for everybody.

      • Cloud Says:

        I don’t disagree with any of your arguments. But I’m not sure you’re really seeing mine. I don’t think we all have to aim for normal if we don’t want to. But sometimes, something I want to do is easier to do if I morph a little bit to fit into the culture around that activity. I choose to be a little more “normal” for that group of people (which might, like in the Irish session case, be quite abnormal for the rest of the world).

        I see your point about the surgeons, but there’s a place for people like me, too, who can bridge different areas because we can see which parts of our personalities work better in some areas than others. I choose when I want to fit in and when I don’t. There have been times in my career where that ability led to more money and responsibility (which made me happy) and there have been times in my life when it has made things that I like to do easier to do. So I don’t feel bad about having that awareness and I want to show it to my kids, even if I agree that in a perfect world, everyone would just accept everyone else as they are- quirks and all. But that’s not the world we have, and I am not going to bring it about in my lifetime, even if I teach my kids that value, too (and I will).

        I’d be a lousy surgeon, but the morphing thing is part of what makes me a good project manager- I can adapt to the culture of the teams I work with and also fit in OK with the management types who have oversight on the project. A less flexible personality type would (1) hate this job and (2) suck at it. The world needs both of us.

        I think I’ll explain it to my kids and let them decide what they want to do on this front. Just because they have/are aware of the skill, they don’t have to use it. I don’t always use it, either. I get that doing this would make some people very, very unhappy. But being able to do it has made me happier in many situations, so I see it as a positive thing for me.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Sure, you can do that. But not everybody has to.

        And I would much rather my children make that decision on their own than have to go one way or the other. Let them decide if going to book club is worth stopping whatever it is they do that irritates other people at the book club. They can do the cost-benefit analysis themselves. We all can. And we are naturally wired both by genetics and by culture (culture more for the girls) to assimilate (assuming no behavioral disabilities), so I’m not sure that that message “learn how to assimilate” is the one that needs to be sent, at least to most girls. Rather the opposite. There are many gentlemen I could name who probably could use more of that message, but culture has different expectations for them and different pressures.

        Though my children do need to be polite. But polite is different than assimilating. There’s a difference between chewing gum with one’s mouth closed and say, quietly listening to women trash talk people who aren’t there.

      • Cloud Says:

        But I didn’t ever say that we all have to learn how to assimilate. I said that I think learning how to either be OK with people’s responses to your differences or how to hide those differences WHEN YOU WANT TO is a good life skill to have, because it increases my happiness. And as such, I will teach it to my kids. Note the either/or there. It seems like you’re focusing only on the second part. There are some parts of my personality that I would never be willing to hide, and for those parts, I need to learn to be OK with how people respond. Otherwise, I’m going to be unhappy more than I need to be.

      • Cloud Says:

        Also: are you mad about what happened on my blog? I did step in and tell the anonymous commenter to stop it, and was ready to delete any further comments along those lines. Handling that sort of crap is hard, and I’m not sure I did it right. I am sorry if you feel I did not step in soon enough.

      • Cloud Says:

        And actually… the first part of my either/or is the part I’m working on personally- i.e., being OK with how some people respond to my quirks. I got distracted by replying to your comments, and forgot to mention that. So I think we agree there: assimilation is not required, and at least in my case, not the hard part. I anticipate that teaching my kids to be OK with how people respond to them is going to be harder (and more important) than giving them any tips I might have on “fitting in,” too. I frame it as a choice, though, because those are the only two options I see. I can’t control how other people respond to me. I can only control how I react to their response.

        Anyway, I’ll shut up on this now, because I think it is derailing the conversation you wanted to have.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        @Cloud

        I was thinking about some cross-communication here and I think we don’t actually disagree here. But the communication big difference part is: I’m from the Midwest, and in the Midwest we don’t lie, we don’t dissimulate, and in the Midwest one of the rudest things a person can do is say someone is lying (without proof). So when someone accuses someone of lying, especially when that person is not there, I don’t really feel a need to be nice to that person. That’s why people who say that parents who say their kids are gifted are liars are not welcome to say such things here. And we’re not happy when people make statements that they know people IRL who pretend to be happy or pretend to be balanced. Those are horrible bitchy things to say, especially if you don’t have any proof. And they’re worse when you’re from the Midwest where lying is taboo.

        I’ve also lived in SoCal and I know that saying things people want to hear is more the social order and there isn’t as big a taboo on bending the truth. There was a period of adjustment for me learning that. Of course, I didn’t change myself to start bending the truth (when I said, “Let’s do lunch,” I really meant it– especially if I said it 3 times), but I learned the social cues that put truth probabilities to people’s statements so I could figure out what was actually going to happen and what people thought might be nice to happen if the stars aligned. That sort of thing.

        I didn’t actually read any of the comments since last posting– I haven’t been back to that thread, so however awful they were, I didn’t see them. I’ve been anemic and very busy and we’ve both been having to cut down on our internet time for work and hobbies outside of work (as you will see in tomorrow’s post). So no, that’s not it. But I am angry (yes, I know, women aren’t allowed to be angry– that causes the bitches to attack too– but whatevs) with mothering blogs and how many of them have reacted to Sheryl Sandberg’s statements and with how feminist blogs (such as Blue Milk) have been super bitchy about the idea that maybe women could figure something out how to move forward rather than wallowing in their misery and that women have to be attacked when they claim to be happy or when they suggest possible solutions to problems. A confluence of posts, many of which I did not comment on. And, like I said, a realization that my being happy just allows people to see what happens to women who dare to be happy or balanced– bitches attack them. So why should a woman dare to be happy? I wasn’t doing any good, so why not go back to my universe and be happy there. And it’s not like this isn’t a big reason I’m not on mommy forums anymore (the last one I left because people were saying nasty things, specifically that they were lying about their kids, about people I didn’t even know– who needs that negativity?). There are a lot of very bored people who like being miserable and like drama and they take up time that I could be spending talking about IRAs, if I want to be spending time online.

        And seriously, I’m tired. I am pregnant. I have a grant proposal due on Friday. Finals are next week. We’re meeting weekly to go over the finances for DC’s private school so they don’t get into fiscal trouble next year. All the end of the year parties are happening. The internet is a relatively small part of my life and needs to become a bit smaller in the near future (same with #2). I don’t *need* blog drama. I don’t have time to fight the patriarchy. Sure, I’m nicer and more willing to explore why people are acting like jerks in a way that makes them think I don’t realize they’re being jerks when I have time, but right now I really don’t. So much better to leave them alone, they will be fine without me.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Perhaps a briefer way to put things: I don’t fit in with mommy blogs (or mommy forums). I’m different. Out of synch. And that’s ok, because I don’t have to fit in with them unless I want to. And right now I don’t want to spend the time. Maybe another day.

        Or to loop back to an earlier post: I’m not bored right now. No need to be getting into trouble.

  9. First Gen American Says:

    It’s so hard making these kinds of decisions when you remember being bullied and you want to minimize that for your own kids. Most decisions come with pros and cons and you have to pick what is right for your kid. You realized that boredom in school may be a much bigger issue than whatever social disadvantages being younger may bring (either by the teachers, other parents or their classmates).

    Being an engaged parent in your children’s education is probably the most important step. The other stuff will and should sort itself out eventually if you just pay attention and make small steps to fix things. My kid had some social issues earlier this year and it’s amazing what a couple of play dates can do to fix that stuff.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Technically, the literature and our own experiences say that for DC’s type of person (given he was already socializing with the older kids in the Montessori room and not with the younger kids), that there are more social disadvantages to being with the same age than with being accelerated.

      That’s obviously not true for all kids, but in our case it wasn’t a, “hir academics will do well but is social life will suffer” it was a “all hir friends are going to K and ze’s getting bored.” The research says out-of-synch kids do better socially with older kids than kids their own age (assuming there’s not a large enough population to be with other out-of-synch kids).

      We’re thrilled that hir best friend in K is also skipping first. They’re a hilarious and adorable team.

      I definitely agree that adults can help with problems. I’m glad that there’s an anti-bullying focus in schools right now. If all kids had the same kind of cultural environment that DC’s Montessori had, the world would be a lot more civilized and pleasant place!

      • First Gen American Says:

        Parents can not only help with problems, but they can also be the problem as well. Most decisions do have some downsides and even though your decision was the best for your child, I don’t think it’s totally downside free socially as you state. You yourself said you’re regularly getting flack about making your kid weird by accelerating and you probably wouldn’t have even been able to accelerate him at all in a public school setting> if nothing else, it’s very costly to do what’s best for your child. If your kid didn’t go to a school that actually embraced that stuff, the other parents and teachers might have actually been the bigger part of the problem, declaring your child weird either out of jealousy or because of their own beliefs which inevitably filters down to the kid level.

        As an aside, thank god that a child only needs one true like minded friend to be able to get through childhood intact. They don’t need the whole class to be in love with them, but having at least one person to buddy up with is so important.

  10. femmefrugality Says:

    Who was it that said, “to be great is to be misunderstood?”
    Boyfriend didn’t skip ahead, but he did sneak into his grade a little early. Most of the kids were a year + older than him. Socially-awkward is the exact antithesis of what he is. They don’t let people do that anymore in most areas, though.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Generally I think people don’t notice if someone is accelerated but fits in, like the boyfriend. It’s only the odd people that are noticed… but, at the same time, what’s odd is an interaction between the person and the person’s circumstances. Plenty of folks who didn’t fit in in middle school fit in just fine elsewhere.

      (Being popular in college was a bizarre and unexpected experience for me!)

  11. Ree Says:

    Well, since anecdote=evidence, I went through middle and high school with an accelerated kid. He wasn’t weird, dated within his assigned year in high school, and went on make a bucketload of money at a dot com. He is now happily married. So there, naysayer.

  12. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I skipped first f*cken grade, and look at me now!!!! WHEEE!!111!!1!11!!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Let’s see… Happily married: check. Rocking career: check. Famous on the internet: check. Lives in amazing city: check. Eats amazing food: check.

      Yeah, I think things may have turned out pretty well for you in the end there. Maybe if we’d been able to skip grades we wouldn’t be living in small towns in red states!

  13. Anandi Raman Creath (@anandi) Says:

    Interesting post to ponder. I skipped K and 4th, and socially, life was pretty awful until I got to college, and the academics were still too easy (until college). Obviously everything worked out from there (college really was AWESOME) but I was really, really unhappy from 5th – 12th grade. I was too smart (and too brown) to blend in and I wasn’t self-confident enough to not care, despite my parents telling me all the right things about how popularity in school means nothing later on, etc etc.

    It turned out to be true, of course, and life is SO good now, but man, I would think very hard about inflicting that on my own child. I think I’d explore a lot of other options before acceleration unless she really was able to easily relate socially to the older class. But that’s just me, and like one of the other posters said above, I’m sure I’m projecting a lot of MY experience onto this and maybe I shouldn’t. but it was really, really rough, and the adults around did nothing about the teasing, etc which did border on bullying.

    I don’t think there’s any blanket solution, though – each kid is so different.

    • Anandi Raman Creath (@anandi) Says:

      Also, I was so excited to hear that there were 4 other kids in my college freshman class (out of 225 or so) who were also 16. That’s how I knew I found my people :)

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      So: counterfactual: Would you have been LESS miserable if you hadn’t been accelerated, or would you just have been miserable for another two years? Would you have been any less smart or less brown?

      ‘Cuz I can tell you (and the research shows) not being accelerated results in just as much misery when you’re smart. Perhaps the problem is you weren’t accelerated *enough*. Did you know Colin Camerer at Caltech? He was ultra-accelerated and apparently pretty happy about it. Worst case scenario, you spend very little time in middle/high school.

      • ARC Says:

        I think the ideal situation for me would have been a classroom that could accomodate accelerated work while keeping me with my same-age peers. I actually was really, really happy in 1st-3rd grade (before the 2nd skip). I distinctly remember feeling “too young” a lot of the time after the skip and that didn’t sort out until college. I know this isn’t the case with a lot of gifted kids who actually relate better to older peers. I wasn’t one of those.

        Haven’t met Camerer in person but heard great things about him. He’s Economics, right? (I’m ashamed to say I’ve NEVER taken an Economics class, ever.) What’s his story about acceleration?

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        He’s written up in the books as a success of multiple grade skips. (He’s also a nice guy and surprisingly well-adjusted for an economist!) I was surprised to come across him in books on gifted kids as a case study.

        Your same-age peers might have been pretty mean to you even if you were able to be differentiated in the classroom. It is actually not a whole lot of fun to be the only person in the class doing one thing while everyone else does something different. When you’re not in that situation they don’t necessarily know that you’re different (so sports and summer camp experiences it’s easier to get along, especially when they don’t know you’re the nerd), but when you’re in the same classroom all day, they do.

        Differentiation generally works best socially when combined with clustering– but that requires more kids that are like you in the class to cluster. Sometimes that’s available and sometimes it isn’t!

        Also, kids often don’t start putting such a negative premium on differences until later grades. Middle school is especially bad in that respect. Social ostracism started with me hardcore in 4th grade (with hints in 2nd and 3rd, but still invited to birthday parties and play-dates), but even earlier for #2. And that’s with no skips. (Though K and 1st we lived in a city and I was single-subject accelerated during reading or math.)

        Personally, my birthday is pretty late in the year, so I was about as close in age to people in the grade above me as I was to the people in my year. And I did tend to get along with them better– once I got to middle school and high school I did extracurriculars and math with them (well, with the older nerds) when I was in the younger cohorts at the school.

        Ideally we’d get to go to gifted schools and hang out with kids our age or of all ages… Tracking works really well for gifted kids even if there’s evidence it isn’t as good for non-gifted.

        I think the books in general suggest:
        Track
        Differentiation with clustering
        Acceleration (single subject or whole class depending on need)
        Single differentiation
        Pull-out

        For us, tracking isn’t available. Differentiation with clustering doesn’t start in the public schools until 3rd grade and would not be enough at this point. So acceleration is next best, especially since DC hits all the suggested points for when it is a good idea to accelerate vs not. (And again, hir birthday is relatively late in the year so it’s a difference of 3 months… except now with the 1st grade skip it’ll be difference of one year 3 months, but we can always move back if that becomes a problem. One year at a time.)

  14. jacqjolie Says:

    I don’t think Bill Gates is just a little unusually smart – he likely has ASD. Or is twice exceptional.

  15. Kingston Says:

    Re: accelerating early in the educational career, here is how it has worked out for my son, now 17. He did 1st & 2nd grades in one year, as he was miserable with the younger kids (i.e., kids his age) and beginning to act out in the classroom out of boredom. All was well for a few years, but when he hit adolescence at about 13 his brain seemed to scramble, he rebelled against all school, began hanging out with still older kids and undertaking some extremely risky behavior. He basically screwed up his first 3 years of high school, trying to fit in with older kids who did, in fact, accept him, but around whom he just seemed to lack confidence (e.g., while very handsome, athletic, bright, etc., he is painfully shy with girls and has not dated at all, not even on a friendly basis. He has attended 2 proms solo, and good for him for being comfortable enough with himself to do so). We have just been through the horrible college-application process in which, in spite of stellar SATs and SAT IIs, DS was rejected by 9 of the colleges he applied to and was waitlisted at the “safest” of the schools he applied to. Unless that pans out, he now has the choice of doing some community college and trying again as a transfer applicant, or working for awhile until he figures out his next step. And I’m not opposed to either of these, in fact, financially speaking they are what I might have hoped for, but they are not what HE wanted, and I wonder, if he still had another year of high school ahead of him to repair the damage he did during his early HS meltdown, whether he would not be able to just go directly to the college of his choice, be less worried about his difference from the other kids (at 6’2″ and very physically mature he is accepted and even admired, certainly not bullied, but he is not as emotionally mature as the other 12th graders and seems to feel this deeply, as if a hidden shame). He recently told my mother that skipping a grade was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. I am not writing this to say you should not let your kid accelerate, I also know some who did and never looked back, and all was great. All I can say is, for US it has not been a perfect solution, and if I could do it over again I would probably not do it IN HIS CASE. I would probably have looked for a more challenging school at all grade levels. But there are not many educational options where we live, and he so much seemed to want to be in the higher grade, so it was a tough call. I just wanted to point out that sometimes it is not as simple as just being looked at as “weird” — even for a socially popular kid it can be a deep internal feeling of not fitting in at an age when life experience is not yet there to provide perspective and when one is not inclined to listen to the supportive words of parents.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Again: What is the counterfactual?

      Chances are he would have been JUST AS MISERABLE and JUST AS WEIRD not skipping and would blame his middle-school experience on not having skipped (sort of like we do). And there would have been an additional year of misery. And, research shows, a greater chance of dropping out of high school.

      The research that looks at treatment-control situations, in fact, does find that acceleration helps rather than hurts social outcomes for accelerated kids. However, because of attribution bias and the availability heuristic, people don’t think about the counter-factual.

      Another year won’t make a girl who is interested in math and social justice but not pop culture interested in Justin Bieber and make-up. She’s still not going to fit in. Same with the boy– middle school is miserable for most kids no matter what age group they’re with. It’s not like not having skipped would have suddenly turned him popular. Most likely he would still be a social outcast.

      So unless he has an identical twin raised in a parallel universe that wasn’t skipped and turned out happy… the anecdote doesn’t prove anything. It is quite possible he wasn’t skipped *enough*.

      • Kingston Says:

        I hoped that my comment made it clear that I wasn’t trying to prove anything, just to describe the nature of the difficulties my accelerated son has faced, which I think are something different from being labeled “weird” (it’s more like he labeled himself as being weird) and which may or may not be a result of accelerating. (He seems to feel it is related, but who knows?) I do not judge a parent who chooses to allow their child to accelerate, and I tried to emphasize that in my comment. For many people it’s just fine — I have a good friend who went to Sarah Lawrence at 16 and was completely happy. But in our case, let’s just say it hasn’t solved my kid’s school problem. I certainly don’t know that keeping him with his age group wouldn’t also have resulted in misery — though maybe at a more challenging school he would have been happier with the kids his own age, but we didn’t have such a school available and I’ll obviously never know if that would have made a difference — but accelerating has not solved my son’s problem. Again, who knows? Maybe he’s just a kid with a school problem, no matter what. Maybe college will be better? Maybe he’ll turn out to be an autodidact? With all my heart, I’m just hoping he’ll be fine in the end, and that seems a likely outcome.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        No no, we’re not saying that you were judging us. The anecdote hit on something one of us spends a semester teaching in her stats class so the response was automatic.

        Specifically, we’re saying that attributing your son’s difficulties to acceleration (or, as you said, your son attributing them to acceleration) is not necessarily correct. He may have been MORE miserable without the acceleration, but he can’t know that and doesn’t know that. Acceleration may have solved some problems even if it didn’t solve all of them. He may have been happier with more acceleration (skipping middle school or some of high school, for example– some kids need multiple skips because their rate of learning is faster). Without a control group the counterfactual cannot be known.

        Yes, finding better schools is great, but we know that’s difficult, especially when you’re far away from an urban center.

        On average, out-of-synch kids are more miserable without the acceleration. However, the anecdotes people hear are the ones where acceleration didn’t make everything perfect, so they attribute the negatives that would have occurred anyway or would have been worse to the acceleration itself, when correlation is not causation. There’s an omitted variable of “being different” that caused both the initial acceleration and the negative school outcomes. It’s the “being different” that’s the problem, not necessarily the acceleration.

        As in: people argue:

        acceleration -> bad school experiences

        when, in fact, it is:

        out of synch -> acceleration
        and
        out of synch -> bad school experiences

        And these anecdotes are really common (and scare a lot of parents) but they’re not supported by data and research that take into account endogeneity. That’s why we need research. People have all sorts of biases that psychologists study that cause them to make causal attributions that are not necessarily valid.

        And yes, he will probably turn out just fine.

  16. Kingston Says:

    So I guess the upshot of my comment is — since I am NOT trying to make you second-guess your perfectly reasonable decision to accelerate your child — that you might want to be extra-vigilant around ages 12 or 13 for behavior that could indicate problems related to being younger than one’s classmates and if it appears, address that behavior right away. We were blindsided (naively, maybe, but whatever) and have had a very turbulent experience.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Definitely. We’re taking it year-by-year every year.

      But again, the 12-13 thing happens even when you’re the same age or older than your classmates (in fact, a gifted boy I had a massive crush on who was red-shirted had precisely the same problem your son had only worse, dropped from any gifted tracking in 7th grade, eventually started smoking in high school, got caught by the police slashing tires,… and then dropped out of multiple colleges and now runs an erotic photography studio after being a manager at TGIFridays… just for an anecdote in the other direction). Perhaps just skipping middle school entirely will be a better solution. Middle schoolers suck. Seriously, they’re assholes.

      And it’s weird because apparently when kids those ages are in a K-8 environment rather than a school that separates them from elementary students (5-6, 7-8, 6-8 etc.), they are less of assholes. There’s a somewhat large literature on the topic. (My mom was on the school board and had to research these kinds of choices for planning purposes.)

      • Cloud Says:

        Really? There is research on K-8 being better? Huh. Now I hope even more that we get into one of the language immersion schools, since they are K-8. Not that it matters what I hope! Ah, lotteries…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t remember if they do better on all dimensions, just that middle schooler behavior is a lot better. There’s a lot of theories as to why… IIRC the big one is that the older kids feel like they have to be more mature as an example to the little kids, and they feel protective about the little kids.

        In the end it didn’t work out logistically to change back to that model. But there were definitely good reasons to consider it.

  17. PQA Says:

    I would just like to add the point that recently I found out from my father that when I was in elementary school the teachers recommended to him that I skip a grade. He decided against it for the whole ‘weird’ thing discussed here. I was shocked to learn this as an adult because at no point did anyone discuss it with me :( Granted I was a child, but I was a very smart child, and incredibly bored bored bored in school. I would have *loved* to skip a grade, was already being bullied and ostracized, something my father did not know about. So my addition to this conversation is regardless of what parents think is best for their kids, don’t forget to ask the kids! There is a lot that happens at school that we as parents don’t know about and a discussion about skipping/red-shirting etc should include all parties involved. I was savvy enough to know and see how much smarter than the kids in my class I was, and that this made them very uncomfortable around me, and that I wasn’t willing to play stupid. I think skipping would have taken me from exceptional to average in the classroom and actually made me less weird. But sadly know one asked me, so I never had the chance to advocate for myself.


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