Saturday, September 18, 2010

Apoxyomenos and the Lesson of Biomineralization

A friend sent me an email. She said she didn’t know who else she could tell, who else might not think she was being an "overprotective crazy parent".

She’d signed her four-year-old son up at a private gifted school. All seemed well until the school year was about to start and suddenly her son was not in with the expected teacher or classmates. She called them. No reply. She finally went to the school and they told her that after a twenty minute "interview" of her son and nine other children they could tell he wasn’t smart enough to be in with kids his own age and they wanted to put him in with the three-year-olds. Now they wanted to have her convince her son that this scenario would be better for him.

This is a little boy who has told me about corrosion. Because he knows ALL about corrosion (eg. I am trying to see if he’ll draw me a picture of "Apoxyomenos" because he knows all about him/it; I confess I didn’t but I now know it’s a 2000-year-old bronze statue of an athlete raised from the Adriatic Sea in 1999, the restoration of which has taught scientists a lot about biomineralization and how certain mineral deposits slow deterioration). I suspect that this little guy may have had a difficult time finding anyone else with his level of intensity or expertise about engineering among the nine other four-year-olds. Or he may have felt a little shy. Or just have been polite and let others speak. Regardless, he is one of the smartest children I’ve ever met (and I’ve met some doozies); the interviewer completely missed the boat.

Thank goodness his mom trusts her knowledge of her son better than I did mine at that stage of the game. I assumed that when I asked if my oldest might be gifted and teachers said, "Meh. He’s OK. Nothing special." that because they were "the experts", they must know and my instincts were wrong. That misplaced trust (and responsibility) was my mistake as a young parent, but my son paid for it. He grew increasingly depressed. We later found out he was bored out of his mind but trying desperately to fit in; he thought something was wrong with him. 

Fortunately my friend told the crazy school—the "gifted" school—there was no way she was manipulating her child—or that he was attending there! Good for her! She clearly understands about intentional GT biomineralization: about providing a protective layer when needed, about preserving the important things, about modifying the situation, about recognizing and advocating for her son’s needs in a difficult environment.

Part of me rises up in furious indignation at what she is going through. But at this point another part sighs, beginning to feel resigned. I know this story only too well. As angry as it makes me, I cannot feel surprised. Little has changed in the 16 years since my oldest son was that age. And precious little in the eleven since my youngest son was four either.

Except that their childhoods are gone.

They are young men. My oldest son is a graduate student now, my youngest a junior in high school. (My daughter is a college sophomore.) We arrive at this current point following years of patchwork educational experiences—largely homeschooling after we realized finding “fit” in the system was an effort in beating our collective heads into the wall (I guess we all biomineralize in our own way).

However, such unmet needs were nothing new when my children were little either. In Stephanie Tolan’s 1985 article "Stuck in Another Dimension: The Exceptionally Gifted Child in School" she noted the damage being done to gifted children who were unchallenged or held back out of ignorance, and she asked for change. That was twenty-five years ago! A generation.

I’ve been told that I expect too much. That I should be more patient. That change takes time. Well, how MUCH time? Seriously. How many childhoods or generations? Should I be patient if my children are only moderately depressed instead of mostly, due to their needs not being met? Should I be satisfied that the least-bad option has been to homeschool. That my oldest two couldn’t get public high school diplomas because the system was too rigid? Wouldn't it be better to create a safe, non-corrosive environment where learning and growing are the focus instead of forcing students, parents and educators to expend resources simply to keep children from being damaged?

Too late for my children but time is passing and it brings new, hopeful students every year. Because I wonder how in good conscious I can not do my best, having seen the damage we have, for any other mother's child if I can help mitigate it. Don't they deserve better? Instead, that four-year-old children who can speak passionately and knowledgeably about corrosion have their gifts go unrecognized, that their mothers are encouraged to hold them back, breaks my heart. Again.

So, I guess I’m not so resigned after all. I don’t want to be patient (perhaps I don't know how to be.) I want to support parents and educators like my friend, who know that a child who can get excited about Apoxyomenos and his lack of corrosion has amazing gifts that must be protected and nurtured. And I don’t think we should wait for this little guy’s childhood to pass by. He’s four and I think he’s waiting for us to catch up to him as it is.

Thick incrustation that protected the bronze and patina from corrosion (photo: Croatian Conservation Institute)

restored sculpture of Apoxyomenos, preserved under the biomineralization (photo: American Chemical Society)

1 comment:

  1. OHG, this is soo right on! You rock and continue telling the tale!