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Nov 14 2011

Book review–Making the Choice: When Typical School doesn’t fit your Atypical Kid

Well. If there was ever a book that would describe my life, here it is. The very title supports what we have known for a long time (and confirmed by a teacher last year): that traditional public school just isn’t set up for this kind of kid. The kind of kid we have.

How could it? Traditional public education was designed to educate large numbers of children at the same time, at the same pace, by one teacher. I learned very quickly that teaching was like herding cats. Wet, angry, vengeful cats. Full of carbonated hormones…though that may be a characteristic of middle school only.

My kid was described as marching to the beat of his own drummer by his preschool teacher when he was three. So it really shouldn’t surprise me that school has been such a challenge. I guess I just expected that it would be different, since Tom and I both have teaching degrees and teaching experience. How wrong I was.

Making the Choice by Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson was recommended to me when it first came out several months ago. I made note of it, didn’t buy it; I already had two shelves full of books on gifted kids that I haven’t read, I really couldn’t afford another. We moved. School started. Things started going a little south. Things went south a little faster. I ordered the book. I stared at the book. I picked up the book, I put down the book. This went on for some time.

I was afraid of the book.

I read the book.

If it weren’t for the fact that this house barely holds the four of us plus the OMG she got skunked again dog, I’d be entirely convinced that Corin and Mika were living in my front closet. The description of a 2e kid in a traditional school and its punishing effect on home life is spot on. Frighteningly so. At one point I was crying while reading. In public. It hurts to read what you’re living, even though you know others have survived it. Big reason why I have two shelves full of books on gifted kids that I haven’t read. I’m also a stress ball of queasy anxiety these days, so it really doesn’t take much to set off the emotional fountain.

Then the book moves into the transition from traditional schooling to homeschooling and how it might benefit a square peg child. Like ours. And it gave me…it gave us…hope. Knowing that other parents have not only gone down this road, but have cleared the brambles and are providing guidance on the path less traveled, has brought us a small manner of peace. Knowing that A could advance at his own pace, accommodating his disabilities while challenging his mind…it’s what he needs.

Tom finished the book before I did, turned the last page, and said that this was probably our best bet at this time. I never, ever expected to hear that. We don’t have the educational options here in IL that we did in CO; it’s either tough it out in public school, sell a kidney for private school with no guarantee things would improve, or jump into the homeschool pool knowing that it’ll be a shock but that once acclimated you probably won’t want to get out. We can’t imagine continuing on the path we’re on right now; the stress we’re under is literally making us ill. We also know that some friends and family will be shocked and concerned and will try to talk us out of it. Well…though I’m pretty open here about Life on the Chaos Front, unless you’re living it you have no freaking idea what it’s like and how agonizing a decision like this is. Nothing has been decided at all, not by a long shot, but this book really clarified some of the confusion we had about making such a change.

If you have an atypical kid, or a unpleasant school fit for a gifted child, I recommend this book as a starting point to consider your options.

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Full disclosure: While I bought this book of my own accord, Corin is a friend of mine and someone whose opinion I’ve sought on several occasions. She had no idea I was writing this review, only that I cried in public while reading the book. She is also the founder of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, of which I have recently joined. Beyond that, she’s just a damned fine person and someone I can’t wait to meet in real life.

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  1. The Casual Perfectionist

    It sounds like you’re on the verge of making a decision, and I can hear the hopeful lilt in your voice. If this is the path you choose, I have NO DOUBT in my mind you can do it. GOOD LUCK!!

  2. sooveverything

    Jen –
    To homeschool or not to homeschool has been a recurring question in our house for a LONG time too. We continue to go round and round with our district in regards to our 2e darling. It is frustrating and there are no words to describe it to someone who doesn’t ‘get it’.

    I admire you and Tom for weighing all your options and ultimately you will make the decision that best fits your family. Always know you have lots of support here in cyberspace when you need it.

  3. Corin Goodwin

    Dude – I’m sorry we made you cry in public. Or maybe I’m not. It can be so cathartic 🙂

    If you’re going to review my book and then say nice things about me in public, please let me know. I literally stumbled over this post this morning. Fortunately, it was in private, so I could turn beet red without an audience.

    Jen, you can totally do this. I know homeschooling can seem like a crazy choice. It’s not what you had planned. It’s not the life you wanted. It’s not Italy, or Holland – more like the cantana in Star Wars (http://www.giftedhomeschoolers.org/articles/hollandresponse.html) but if anyone can handle it, you can. And yes, afterward you’ll wonder what took you so long to come to it, because as challenging as it can be to homeschool a 2e child, it’s nowhere near as frustrating as trying to make the stars align for your 2e child in a school that doesn’t get it.

    Thanks for the kind words. 🙂

  4. Mona

    Have been where you are far too recently, staring down something that – on some level – I think I’ve known was coming at me for a long time but I have never wanted to do. I’ve been walking around for 5 years saying, “I could never homeschool – we’d kill each other.” And I really think that if we’d tried earlier we might have (killed each other). Daddy would have come home one day to a scene of wholesale slaughter and the cat sitting on my cold, stiff body trying to get me to pet him, and drooling – because he is prone to drool.

    But now that we’ve made the leap, the whole family is more relaxed. No more wondering what I can do before I get The Call from the school. No more stomachaches and crying on the way to school. No more fighting over homework (after all, he’s done with the whole thing by noon most days).

    And the cat is thrilled to have us around more.

  5. Marie

    Sounds like a book I need to put on my recommend list for friends struggling with school issues. We’ve done homeschool, regular school, virtual school and alternative school. Each of children has had different needs at different times. It’s good to know you have options.

    By the way, I LOVE your description of middle schoolers–you hit the nail right on the head!

  6. Myrinda

    ME TOO!!!! I still don’t know for sure if Butter is 2e, but she’s so obviously not the “typical gifted kid” (whatever THAT is supposed to be). This book CHANGED OUR LIVES and continues to do so! I think anyone who is struggling with their child’s school environment should read this!

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