by Mary Lovell
For parents, the advocacy process in gifted education is like a board game. It involves strategy, creativity, perseverance and a little bit of luck. Parents, well-intentioned but naïve, think this journey should be like Candy Land.
In one corner is the educational ‘system’ (or its representatives). Teachers teach the curriculum to the whole class. This is no Trivial Pursuit. Policies, procedures, real and perceived, create a Labyrinth. States, school districts, schools, principals and teachers are evaluated on how well their students perform on whatever ‘high stakes’ test is required. If a parent asks for a child to be given more advanced reading, or to accelerate their child’s math lessons, often the answer is “Sorry.” These parents are considered Busy Bodies who need to be Torpedoed. Administrators seem more interested in preserving ‘the system’ than in meeting the needs of the student. Sometimes there are no State requirements that the schools must accommodate gifted students. As the game advances, it morphs intoBattleship, navigating uncharted territory while trying to avoid pitfalls.
In another corner is the parent/caregiver/advocate. Functioning from the perspective of N=1, it is relatively easy for the Monopoly of a public school system to put up various barriers to frustrate the parent. Parent-advocates must Acquire knowledge about policies, procedures. Getting information can be a Cakewalk, or can Boggle the mind. Often parent-advocates must adopt different communication styles, and not create an Outburst. Blunders, once made, are difficult to repair. Parents sometimes get referred to other departments in an effort to Pass the Bomb.
In another corner resides the child/student. Sometimes aware, sometimes not, of the not so Funny Business going on between the other two corners. To an informed, objective observer (if such an entity exists) the child is spending too much time watching other children learn, and there are consequences. The child is complaining about being “bored” or starts acting out. It becomes a Risk to show what they know because either the teacher or other classmates rebuke, embarrass them. How can the child be Sorry for wanting to learn? After all, in The Game of Lifethere is an expectation that if one wants to learn, one goes to school. Maybe this is The Wrong Game?
But there is another corner – the corner of N=many, of the kindred spirits. When N=many, the reaction of the school administration can shift. It is more difficult to ignore a group of informed, thoughtful parents. Many have had the same concerns, unaware or afraid to mention them. Some have traveled the path before. Mobilizing many takes a commitment, my in my experience, really not that much more energy than is required to follow the path of N=1. The coordination, teamwork, fellowship provides support, reinforcement and resources. When kindred spirits combine to achieve a common objective, the task becomes less intimidating. After all, this approach is what allowed the children to conquer Jumanji!
Mary Lovell – After a successful business career in the energy industry, Mary Lovell is now applying her leadership and management skills to inspiring educational causes. She is a three-term president of a parent association for the gifted in Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Texas. This public school district is an acknowledged leader in serving highly gifted and gifted students in an ethnically diverse population. She is the proud mother of a highly gifted and inspiring daughter. She is a contributor to the Texas Association for the Gifted’s publication, Tempo and has presented on effective parent groups at conferences on gifted education.She has led fundraising efforts as a board member of an international adoption agency in Dallas and as a grant writer for several successful community based organizations. She is instrumental in the local AAUW chapter’s annual career conference in math and science for 7th and 8th grade girls. She continues to provide consulting services to the energy industry. Mary earned an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BA in Communication from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee.