Issue #5

What does a gifted house look like? As we adjust to this year's homework level, I'm creating an environment where giftedness can bloom...
Issue #5
What does a gifted house look like? As we adjust to this year's homework level, I'm creating an environment where giftedness can bloom. Picture a house where the children read all day and have interests in history, science and math. Then go next door to my house where the kids are reading comic books and playing video games and the father is printing college level tests.
From the Editor
It's time to be gifted.

The first half of fall is a good time to assess how my family measures up. It's a good time because we're adjusting to getting up for school each day, don't forget your band instruments, you have cross country practice today. This fall is an espcially good time to forgo At Home Schooling because our teachers have piled on the homework.

If my child spends a significant time on the weekend doing their homework, I'm not adding extra math. I'll add extra chores, something to get the child out of his chair, but not extra math. I consider writing a chore. Practicing the clarinet is a chore. Our routine hasn't changed much, but no one has faced a worksheet since August.

I've spent the last month pondering my ultimate goal of kicking each child out of the house prepared to do whatever it is that they want to do. Next month, we're going to do some serious extra math.

Someone else's kids

I spent 5 years researching gifted households, interviewing 100's of parents. I adopted as many of their practices as I could, as many hours a day as my kids could tolerate, which is to say not a lot. The children of gifted households spend an inordinate amount of time reading and engaged in other geeky learning activities. My kids spend an inordinate amount of time being normal.

During this time I also studied cognitive skills and this research produced methods that deliver results to the frankly non-gifted household. If my kids aren't going to spend 3 hours a day in learning activities, then they are going to spend 30 minutes a day in brutally difficult hard core cognitive skills building activities, and I'll twist any of their normal leisure activities toward something more productive.

I'm starting to see results of my efforts. It's not just that my normalies can compete with children raised the traditional gifted way, it's that I've noticed my kids bring something else to the table. Something social.

The Cost of College

College costs in excess of $220,000 are a scam. I'm not paying that much for even an above average degree. Instead, I'm looking at graduate school...

The Cost of College

I have two requirements for college. The first requirement is that my child goes. The second requirement is that he exits college with zero debt so that he can go to graduate school.

College costs, like baby toys, health care, and homeowners insurance are a scam. If you want to feel like you're a better parent by spending more money, someone will help you do it. Unfortunately, decision making and financial literacy in this country are abysmally deficient.

This scam falls the hardest on the middle class. The deal for the middle class is this:

Agree to send your child to our school at the exorbitant price of $260,000. Then fill out these financial aid forms and we'll tell you what the real price is. We will calculate the real price by evaluating everything you've spent your life saving for, like your home and retirement, and then we'll take as much of it as we can.

The secret of top graduate schools in the US - I'm talking about University of Chicago or Stanford - is that most of their graduate students did not attend Harvard. Most attended OK but not great schools. Some attended downright crappy schools but got into Northwestern by getting a masters. They're all really bright and capable. You're child will feel like a real putz sitting in his graduate class with $200,000 in student debt.

What about the experience?

I recently had a discussion with a top ranked academic dad who argued that sending your child away to college is an important experience for their character. Living independently and all of that. I don't dispute this claim, but you'd have to be nuts to pay over $200,000 for your child to learn to live independently when a) they will anyway and b) there are cheaper ways to do it if you want your child to be independent by age 17.

I'm not recommending that my child get an online degree from the University of Online Degrees. I will point out, however, that the risk of your child not being able to live independently greatly diminishes after the age of 20. One quarter to one third of college freshman completely fail at living independently, to the detriment of their lifestyle, grades, and future. 'My kids are perfectly capable of being independent at age 17', you argue. My kids are even more independent than yours (see my blog's title). That is an additional reason I'm not paying over $200,000 so they can learn to be independent.

To help you understand how to make good financial decisions from someone who has accumulated decades of undergraduate and graduate training in financial decision making and the math behind it, here are some examples to warm up for the college decision.

Insurance companies will describe all of the safety and security you need at $2,000 per year to over-insure your house. I observed that in my densely populated neighborhood that there have been zero events warranting insurance in the last 100 years. If I could legally go without insurance, I would. 40 years times $2,000 is $80,000. That's a lot of money to cover a hypothetical accident.

When I graduated from college, I took my car into the dealer on schedule. I would get my car back after paying $500 to $1,000. After graduate school, I never took my car in ever. Plus, I have bare bones auto liability insurance. I save enough to buy a new car every 15 years. I would certainly appreciate zero risk on an over-insured well maintained car, but instead I spent a few hours reading the manual and looking at my engine. That's about $10,000 an hour for my time.

Here are three general financial decision making principles that we are going to apply to the college question:

  • If you observe that most people do something, don't do it because it's probably the result of financial illiteracy and laziness. Most people make the wrong financial decision most of the time.
  • If someone stands to make a lot of money by offering you advice - I'm thinking universities - do not take it.
  • You have to put a bit of thought into the alternatives.

Here is the alternative

As the graph above demonstrates, you can spend less money and obtain a superior result if you forgo the traditional 4 year university (option A in the graph above) and opt for a combination of a local solution for undergraduate followed by sending your child away for a masters (option B).

How will your child be regarded by employers, peers, and more advanced degree programs? Not special? Not gifted? On the contrary, this child is going to be gritty and unique.

Fortunately, we live in a large urban area with a cheaper, local option that is equivalent to the premier state school 4 hours away in farm country. Unfortunately, I'm not the only one who has identified this solution. Our premier state university's enrollment is down, but the local version's enrollment is up 37%.

Under no circumstances am I considering an undergraduate degree at any of the top 20 universities. It's not that I don't value an undergraduate degree from MIT, for example. It's just that I value a graduate degree from MIT more, and I value having a graduate degree from MIT with no student debt even more. The pedigree from an undergraduate degree has become pedestrian - it's so 1980. I don't know anyone who doesn't have a graduate degree.

What about graduating early?

We have the option to knock off 1 to 2 years of college credits during high school. I'm not against accelerated work, but this is not going to factor into my plans.

Passing an AP History exam as a high school senior is not equivalent to taking a history course as a college freshman. The former has a certificate, and the latter an education. The best high schools in the country can churn out AP students who spend their time mastering the material on the test at the cost of learning. There's something to be said about an older student - learning takes time. A student who memorizes formulas is useless to both employers and graduate programs.

Instead, the AP treadmill is useful to push a child into more advanced college courses. I'll let my child take AP courses, but each one will defer real learning until college. Testing out of BC calculus does not mean you avoid college math - it means that college math is going to be CD calculus or whatever follows BC. (Advanced series and real analysis in case you care.)

Writing - Kanye and Fallout 4

Our daily writing has been evolving has been evolving in interesting directions. Each night, I find an interesting essay on a controversial topic, and then we argue it.

Writing - Kanye and Fallout 4

The traditional approach to creating a gifted writer is many years of reading followed by many years of writing. Somewhere in that time, probably during the years of writing, maybe earlier, the author develops some interest worth writing about. It seems to me that the ability to generate something interesting (at least to the author) is the key of writing. Why write if it's boring?

Our writing program meanders through each of the sub topics of writing such as paragraph layout, crafting a well-crafted sentence, evaluating another author's faulty logic, choosing the right word. Given the recent homework load, my teenager and I do our daily writing at 9 pm, and therefore, writing has of late been talking. Each day I search for a well crafted editorial or commentary essay on a topic that might interest either a 13 year old or his dad. Each night we read it, followed by an exercise to provide insightful and interesting commentary that proves to me a) you read and understood the topic and b) you can put together a coherent thought on this topic, articulate it, and defend it.

I'm taking the side of Kanye West

Google seems to think I'm interested in contemporary culture and video games. I wonder why? Regardless, it doesn't take long for me to find something worth debating. Earlier this week, we debated Kanye West. I'm took the position that Kanye West is right. I didn't exactly win the argument, but together we're going through the basic problem solving mechanics of putting forth and defending an argument. 4 more years of this and either I'll produce a conservative republican or a student who doesn't suffer from writer's block on his AP English essay test.

Here's what I've got so far. Kayne West has stated that Trump should ease up on his criminal policy because, to paraphrase, and you have to paraphrase to make sense of Kanye's comments, "In another multiverse I would be in jail." I will translate this into white conservatism for you: "There but for the grace of God go I." This is called empathy for the less fortunate. Go Kanye. Two points for me.

I would love the opportunity to stand next to Kanye like a signer or UN translator and translate his words into the greek philosophical tradition from Plato through John Locke. He's been accused as being illiterate. If this is true, this makes him a genius because he's nailing the great arguments (with a bit of paraphrasing) without being aware that the arguments were previously made, and he's putting it into contemporary language for his own audience. I don't allow my debate partner to contribute to my blog, but you can imagine his counter-argument with a bit of 13 year old histrionics.

Video games are fair game

We are authorities on all of the hot new video games, the companies behind them, the history of video game development, video game news, and video game blogging. That's a lot of video gaming.

It's not video game playing, however. It's video game research. It's video game research at the graduate thesis level because a certain parent got involved and raised the bar.

The hot new game that little kids don't play but are nonetheless experts on thanks to videos and blogs is Fallout 76. Reddit is full of essays proving that the Brotherhood of Steel could in fact have been present in 2076 despite 5 game releases of canon that make this unlikely. Reddit is a great source of well articulated logic - both sound and faulty. When a video game topic is the subject of debate ('is this author correct when he asserts that Bethseda has violated their cannon?') our adult level discussion usually goes an extra hour and requires additional wiki-ing and other research.

In both all cases (Kanye or Fallout), I'm subjecting the future AP English writer to we crafted arguments by various authors as the subject of our nightly reading. In a few weeks I'm going to change the rules a tiny bit - instead of telling me your argument, write it.

Does God matter?

So far, I'm losing this argument, but I've got about 4 more years to research and prove my position. The title of this argument, supported by whatever essay I can muster, is this: If most of your friends and their families do not practice religion, and they are doing quite well in life, both parents and child, do we really need faith, or religion or God?

Does anyone have good argument to share?

The daily effort rule

Once again, we're following the rule that whatever you spend a little time on each day, you will eventually get a lot better in that domain. 30 minutes a day will likely lead to the 99.9% level. We found this out doing a little math each day in Kindergarten. I think this rule originated with me. It's like the 10,000 rule for kids.

This rule is magic. There is no need to hurry, to focus, to practice, or to worry. It just magically happens. In writing, we meander from one sub-skill to the next and back. Eventually, all of the pieces will be in place. The Bronte sisters famously parlayed story telling into classics. We are going to parlay debate into something. I'm not quite sure what yet.

Managing Homework

I'm fascinated with the type and level of involvement of parents in their children's homework. Is this fair the child or his peers?

Managing homework

At a friend's school, parents complain each year about a certain student's science fair project. Her parents both teach chemistry the university level, and each project features expensive equipment and a graduate level thesis. This student always wins first place.

I have no problem with this. What fun the parents must have working with their child. Of course it's not fair. But we all have our specialties.

Some parents do their homework with their child every night. The homework is flawless, and it counts for a sizable percentage of the grade. Is this fair the child's peers, let along the child? What is the right level of parent involvement in homework?

The answer is heavy involvement

If you can get away with it, do as much of your child's homework as you can. By 'doing as much' I don't really many doing anything. You can help by reviewing and raising the bar. If your child answers a math problem, ask them to describe 3 ways to do it better or faster. If your child writes a sentence, encourage them to work on it until it would pass for a quote from the New York Times.

Thanks to this approach, my kids won't let me see their home work, share it, discuss it, or let me know what subjects they have at school. I suppose this is a victory for independence, but when I was allowed to 'help' with homework, their work quality was much higher and they learned much more.

The teachers in our program make a concerted effort to wean the parents from doing their children's homework during 5th grade, and by 6th grade the teacher effectively blocks parents from the homework process. Unfortunately, this doesn't work for my schedule. Homework doesn't matter before 6th grade, and by then I feel guilty allowing my child to turn in sloppy, incomplete, mistake ridden work that pales in comparison to the flawless homework completed by the parents of his peers.

The homework killer

A large percentage of high school students will fall apart physically and mentally during high school AP exam because of the homework killer. They get their homework off of chromebook, do their homework on chromebook, and spend 5 extra hours doing homework because chromebook has social media and chat apps. 2 am bed time is followed by morning coffee - in high school - which is followed by the general disintegration of their life, not to mention the pressure of falling grades.

My youngest has friends across the city, country and world. He opens something on his computer - like a game or programming application, then dials up his friends on Discord and away they go. Can I say 'dial up' and not come off like I'm born in the 19th century? He's been using one of a dozen email accounts for 3 years.

The Chicago Public School system gives every child a gmail account in 5th grade. As expected, the students undergo a year of frequent misuse, abuse, and overuse of email. We went through this with the older child. Not the younger - the younger got through his first year of email use and over the hurdle to mature use without mishap. I know this because 9 year olds are sloppy with security and I read much of it. Here is an example posting: emoticon, emoticon, 20 exclamation points, why aren't you online emoticon.

To manage technology, I set certain ground rules in preparation for high school.

  • I lectured them on why technology is the homework killer.
  • If I catch them misusing technology, I will threaten to ban them from life from all forms of technology, which I have done 53 times and counting. I will also lecture them further, which is worse than the unfulfilled threat of ban.
  • All devices must be charging in my bedroom when I go to bed, which is getting earlier.

Technology in action

I place a heavy emphasis on learning and effort. I place zero emphasis on grades before 6th grade. For us, grades count in 7th grade toward high school selection; your grade may vary. 5th grade is a special year because it falls between the rigorous At Home Schooling program in grades 1-4 and the new level of seriousness we give school in 6th grade. It's a blow off year for us.

While my older son was more than happy to turn in blank math homework on his way to a D, my 5th grader refuses to take me up on my offer. My competition, his teacher, is unusually inspiring. Last night, he couldn't find the word 'dispersion' in the book he is reading at school, and not just because he didn't bring the book home, but because the google books search couldn't find the word. We switched to google books because I'm sick of having to find words in his books so he can finish his homework before 9 pm.

He pulled up his friends on Discord, friends who actually brought the book home, and they couldn't find it either, probably because it is an inane time wasting homework exercise. Then he emailed the class and none of these kids could find it either. By the way, he doesn't use his school gmail account because it is monitored.

Finally, he emailed his teacher complaining about the issue. I strongly warned him not to explain how he couldn't find the word, but he wanted to prove his case. So you're basically telling your teacher that you are cheating? 'No, I'm demonstrating the thoroughness of my result,', he said. He's about to encounter learning experience number 1.

Choosing your child's major

One of the goals of parenting is to encourage your child to leverage their talents in following their dream. You just can't let on that you are doing it.

Choosing your child's major

One of the iron clad rules of parenting is that you can't encourage your child to pursue an interest or choose a major because they'll either fail at it and blame you or pick something completely different to spite you. This rule is well documented in parenting books and also by veteran teachers in gifted and talented programs.

An inspiring teacher will hook your child on the wonder of whatever topic they teach, be it science, reading, history, or math. If a parent tries this with any topic, that topic is immediately branded as lame and the parent is pressuring the child, in the eyes of the child, to follow someone else's dream.

Is it possible for the parent to stay out of their child's choices, even if they've known about the above advice for the last 9 years? Not in my case. I've been able to refrain from sending my child to a space camp because they've shown an interest in space, but when my child shows an obvious talent, I can't not point this out in an encouraging way.

First it was math

My first foray into gifted giftedness was to help my 5 year old conquer Every Day Math Grade 2 before 1st grade. At school, he was branded the math guy. Great, I have a math guy. You're the math guy, I said.

It was at this time that he developed a strong interest in advertising and media, specifically the ability to make people do things they don't want to do, like spend a lot of money on a dubious product. 'Look dad, in this commercial teenagers are playing with a toy for 6 year olds and they are pretending to be really excited about it.' Why are they doing this? 'To make the 6 year olds buy this stupid toy!'

Want to do some math? I asked. 'No', he replied, 'I hate it.'

Then it was advertising

There is an ad crafter down the street who is spellbinding when he comments on the weather, his word choice is amazing. My son turned down my offer to go down the street and talk about crafting copy. One friend makes about $1.5 million each year designing a few ad campaigns. Not bad for a few weeks of work. So my wife offered to broker a meeting.

'I'm not really interested in advertising. I say I am because it's more interesting than my real interest.' What is your real interest? 'I want to dedicate my life to finding the galaxy that is shaped like Yoda,' he said. And pass up a rewarding and lucrative career making kids buy toys they don't want? Not on my watch. My response was to switch from math to the daily writing exercise for this child.

We're back to math

Recently, I offered to do my son's math homework for him. Really. I think it's a great plan. The 5th grader refuses to take me up on the offer to get D's in 5th grade in preparation for 6th grade. I'll write an article on why next month. That got me thinking. My older son is going to be a writer of some type in some media, but he's currently working on passing out of Algebra II before high school and now is thinking that he might knock off Geometry as well. That would put him in Trig as a freshman. I could do his homework for him, we'd have father and son time, he'd get good grades, pass AP exams in BC calculus, then ignore math for the rest of his life. Everyone wins.

'But every field now needs math in college, you said so yourself'. I was talking about statistics. Statistics drive advertising and political thought.

Yeah, but astronomers need physics, and physics is based on math, so I'm going to need math.'

A career in politics

I should have paid more attention when he told me he joined the competitive math team at his school. But I see a way forward.

Between our arguments about Kanye West and Trump (see related article), I see some opportunities in politics, especially for a child with a talent for manipulating social settings. Yeah, you need statistics for that, but not trig. I'll have to encourage the astronomy thing until it becomes lame. Or, more likely, I'll make him run for a school office and arrange some casual lunches with politicians until he signs up for summer trig to get it out of the way before high school.