Gifted-Ed Guru

How to cultivate and teach talented kids.

All AP? Not for Me! Why Gifted Students Shouldn't Take the Highest Level Classes

It's a question of what benefits the whole child--mind, body and soul--that needs to be considered at times like this. Read More

All AP? Not for Me!

I was in high school...lets see, uh...16-20 years ago. I was lucky enough to have very laissez faire parents in that they trusted me to select the classes I felt were best for me. I am a reader/writer by nature so, of course, I took AP English and History courses. I doubled up on math courses to get to Calculus by my senior year but by the time I got to Calculus, I realized, like the student in this story, that Calculus was not the course for me. My parents trusted my judgement and let me drop the course and take an extra science course.

Unfortunately, parents these days have been SO overbearing since birth that they do not and cannot trust their students to make these decisions. And, on the converse, the students can't trust themselves to make decisions for themselves because they've been made for them for so long. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the pendulum will swing back the other way.

Trust...

I think the comments you made in the second paragraph are spot on. It applies both ways: parents and kids. I think it's entirely possible that one feeds off the other.

One word: burnout. I wish my

One word: burnout. I wish my parents had this article when I was in HS. I was so burned out on academics from all the AP classes that I had no interest in (with the exception like Bill: my AP comp. sci. class.) So, when I got into college, I just said "Screw it, I'm taking the easiest major that I have an interest in." Luckily, that interest was psychology (with minor in comp. sci.), and it was very easy for me. It worked out at the end for me, but that was luck. If I still listened to (or more like pressured by) my parents when I was in college, I would be so burned out on academics that I would literally hate myself and the career I would've been in. They wanted me to be in medicine. Instead, I landed in IT in the mental health field, where I still sometimes work with mental health clients doing therapy, case management, and assessments. And I'm happy doing it! I would be a very unhappy person if I went into medicine.

Some parents got to factor in burnout when they literally are so demanding on their children to excel in classes that they have no interest in. Let them be themselves. They'll be happier in the end. If they want to take the AP classes, that is fine. Don't pressure them. They'll find out what they're interested in and pursue it. Of course, it's not always realistic (little Billy isn't going to be the rock star), but let them find this out on their own. Encourage, don't pressure.

Well spoken

I think this is the very sort of comment that I sought to address in this article. I've seen it happen often. High school is.... high school! There's still plenty of time in life. I say this as an adult with hindsight. (That's NOT to say that abilities in high school are something that should be allowed to atrophy just because kids want to be lazily happy, but surely there can be a balance. Glad it all worked out for you, friend. Thanks for the comment.

My son is currently taking

My son is currently taking two AP classes and several accelerated classes. I thought he should step down on the AP US History (APUSH) since it takes so much of his time (more than anything else!), he'll never pursue this as a career and he's really not that interested. He feels pressured to take APUSH to maintain his class standing - - all in the name of getting into a good college (which I think he'll do no matter what). He said, 'the top 15 kids are taking APUSH, so I have to.' Unfortunately, this is what the high school culture is like now. Kids are taking PSATs in middle school! The pressure is insane - - and it's not always the parents.

So true...

You are so right about the pressure being pushed into younger grades--and that kids bring/feel it themselves. Many other articles aboout the state of current teen psychology and education support your claims. Good luck to you and your son!

Pressure and Duplicity from Colleges and the Culture

I totally agree with Lisa on the fact that the culture pushes many kids more than the parents. My son is well aware that he would like more time for his music, his political activism and his writing. He is also aware of what colleges say: "We don't need you to take too many APS...but we are looking for you to take the most rigorous curriculum you can...". They speak out of both sides of their mouths and smart kids GET that. They want the kids to take all APs, get 5s even in those they don't necessarily like, write an opera and look at the clouds on the side. It is an untenable position.

I went to a panel of faculty from my elite alma mater a few years ago and they encouraged kids to take gap years because they are all too stressed out from this process once they get to freshman year. They end up either stressed or partying ALOT. But I also went to an admissions talk from that school. The gap year idea is great, but what about letting kids enjoy high school for 3 or 4 years so they don't NEED a gap year? Colleges could do alot to alleviate this miserable condition among the best and the brightest.

Thanks for the great article.I have read it a few times and now I have sent it to my son with the note "great questions to ponder". Not answers, but good deep questions for a kid who wants to do it all...and have balance.

Encouraging a gap year...

I did not know that any college would/was encouraging this. Nice. I think I'd be just fine with my own son doing the same, especially if I suspected burn out.

Love your last sentence... Balance is so key.

The daughter of a friend of

The daughter of a friend of mine was accepted to a college (Columbia, I believe) and they actually sent her a letter offering to hold her spot for one year - - thus encouraging that gap year. I don't think I'd want my son to get that letter.

Gap year

I think it's pretty standard for most colleges to say that once you've been accepted, you're good for the next two years. (This is in case you have a family issue or something crazy/unpredicted come up and you can't attend yiur exoected year, I presume.)

I did not know colleges, outside of that acceptance letter (see previous comment), were "encouraging" a year off.

Exactly the route we're taking

This is the approach we've taken with our son. It turns out he's really a humanities type of kid so that's where he's selected AP classes, not the hard sciences. That being said, he's also the type of kid that wants to be challenged. He doesn't do well in classes that are too easy and where he doesn't feel he's learning anything new. Finding the right balance may take some time, but he did lay out a very good 4 year high school plan that has been tweaked along the way. By the time he's done he'll have 8 AP's, but from classes of his choosing and they will have been spread out over the 4 years, not all piled on in 11th & 12th which would have taken all his free time away.

Changing the culture at home

I hope parents will be swayed by Taibbi's article enough to have the courage to back off from over-pressuring their kids. Great article!

This is a culture change we really need, and it has to start at home, if your schools are as hard-driving as ours, which means that school administrations are pressuring our kids as much or more than we parents are. I'm sure the College Board is laughing all the way to the bank (even if they ARE nonprofit) as everyone tries to game the system--their system.

Taibbi is right on the mark; AP should be reserved for students with passion for the subject or insatiable drive to learn. My son wisely chose to stay out of AP Engl Lang this year because he heard it was tedious, and while he could have aced it, it would have driven him nuts. I had to squelch the part of me that was disappointed and trust his judgment. He's focusing instead on AP history classes and enjoying them very much, and he's had a pretty happy year overall.

I have gradually backed off the GT parent mindset over the years and let our son know that community college, or even a gap year, is fine with us if that's where he can develop his interests. He ran with that idea, but is now considering liberal arts colleges. I want the vision to be his, not ours.

What a disservice we do to our kids when we create the idea that misery and tedium is the expected norm. It can produce so many undesirable behaviors I have personally seen--from widespread cheating to use of drugs, depression, to suicide. We need to come back down to earth to promote a reasonable work ethic that includes space for kids to keep discovering and developing their talents.

Don't overlook the effect

Don't overlook the effect that the current lack of unstructured time for exploration, from early childhood through college, has on kids.

There once was a time where children were allowed to be "just kids" and that freedom often provided opportunities to learn about the world, outside of parents and teachers. There were (and are) risks that come with those opportunities, but I continue to encounter both teens and young professionals that don't know how to think and/or problem solve without very specific and constrained instructions. Life tends to be more free-form than that.

Taught in a box, live in a box

Don't overlook the effect that the current lack of unstructured time for exploration, from early childhood through college, has on kids.

There once was a time where children were allowed to be "just kids" and that freedom often provided opportunities to learn about the world, outside of parents and teachers. There were (and are) risks that come with those opportunities, but I continue to encounter both teens and young professionals that don't know how to think and/or problem solve without very specific and constrained instructions. Life tends to be more free-form than that.

An excellent point

The latest Kaiser Foundation study documents this point you make. Well noted, sir.

Is AP sub-optimal for gifted kids?

Thinking also of your recent post regarding the difference between bright and gifted (and the comments above that lots of AP classes equals no free time)
Is the IB approach better for gifted kids than AP? I've heard that the IB is more focussed on learning to think whereas the AP is more about memory and regurgitating the right answer in the exam (and that the English A-level system is somewhere between IB and AP in this regard)

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Christopher Taibbi specializes in gifted education. He has coauthored several books on teaching.

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