Newton’s second law of motion defines acceleration as the rate of the change of the velocity of something.
Velocity means more than speed, but also it must specify the direction of the motion.
The law states that the acceleration of an object depends on two variables- the net force acting upon the object, and the mass of the object. So as the force increases, the acceleration of the object increases. And as the mass of the object increases, the acceleration decreases.
And with all that being said, objects that are at equilibrium, the condition in which all forces balance, will not accelerate.
Using Newton’s law, it seems reasonable that when we talk about acceleration for students, we should not only look at moving a child ahead in school, but we should look at the forces acting on the child and evaluate more than just a child’s ability to move up to the next level of learning.
We should be looking at the child’s velocity too… the speed and the direction where the child is going or should go. And where the child will find equilibrium with not only their academic, but social-emotional needs being met too.
What is the end goal? Is there such a thing as equilibrium for gifted children? Look at where you are at now, as an adult- do you feel like you are done learning? Are any of us ever done searching for meaning, for knowledge, for something new and novel to think about? Can you say with positivity that you have gone in the right direction with what you have learned and done so far? Would you like to try new things and head in a different direction now? Have you ever started something and then changed course?
So how do we set goals for accelerating the learning of a child, knowing that equilibrium will mean different things to different people, and acceleration also will mean different things to different people? And accelerating in one direction may work for a while, and then maybe the child will want to go a different way…
We should be asking ourselves, and our schools these questions:
What speed is the child currently going at, and what rate of change should we be aiming for? (What is safe? What is the child ready for? What speed would the child thrive at?)
What direction is the child currently going, and is it where the child should go, or wants to go, and does the direction even really make sense? Are there better program matches, better goals to focus on? Are we pushing too hard on the academics when the social-emotional issues are being left behind so that eventually the rate of acceleration will slow due to the child becoming less and less willing to move forward because of internal motivation changes? Or are we not focusing on specific goals enough so that the movement is sporadic and too general and the child may gain a lot more knowledge but leave the education system unaware of what they want to do with their future?
Where do we (parents, teachers, administrators, society…) want the child to go, and where does the child him/herself want to go?
Then we should be looking at the forces acting on the child. Is the child being held back at this point by the system not letting him or her go ahead to the next level in a way that is harmful? Or is the child thriving in the current situation and instead of being thrust forward to the next grade, is accelerating by going deeper into a subject area? Or is the child being pushed forward in ways that are bogging him or her down with anxiety or other social emotional issues that may be counter-acting the academic gains?
How does our current education system account for true acceleration? The traditional “acceleration” offered in some public schools is to allow students to move ahead in a subject area, or perhaps a grade. This may be enough for a child whose goal is simply to finish school early, or to access specific materials in a subject area. But usually those goals of what a child can learn about in school are set by the districts, or even higher up in the system (the legislature, or national education policy makers) whose ideas for success are not what exactly matches what the child needs or wants to learn about.
So acceleration cannot be just based on what the school system allows. All of us have educational experiences every day that are more dependent on the forces acting on us from our environments, but also the mass inside us either increasing or decreasing… the things that push us forward from within- our resilience, our moments of inspirational thoughts, our drive and our grit, are what continues to propel us forward.
Kids in the school system should be allowed to keep moving forward, regardless of what class they are in, or what peers they are forced to sit in a classroom with. Acceleration must be seen as a process of mutual respect and understanding between the student and his or her teachers. A system where a partnership is established so that the teacher becomes the facilitator and can help the child access information.
These days with computers and the internet, the world is wide open for exploration. In order for true learning to occur for this new generation of students, the system must recognize that educators (and parents) are now more stewards of how to teach their students to siphon the information that comes into their hands, than the keepers of knowledge. They are tour guides that must let the students move through the virtual world of information so that they can make sense of it and determine what route is best for them to be most useful in society.
That means that every child needs to understand their own strengths and interests first, and then find ways to meet those needs using their powers, to get to where they want to go. And they need to have the ability to change course as needed too, but with reason so that they don’t become confused and frustrated or lost. With gifted mentors who have experienced some of the questions and moments of confusion, gifted children will grow to trust their own intuition and follow their own paths. But in order to get them there, we have to give them the freedom to explore.
The current state of education with subject areas divided into different classes does not work as well for the integrated world we live in. Everyone should be allowed to learn at the pace they naturally learn at, and mingle multiple subjects in integrated ways. Learning in some areas will go slower than others due to less interest by the learner, and some areas will fly by at Mach speed, with the learner entering a state of flow and eating up the information as quickly as it is encountered because it is of high interest. To try to hold a child back from this type of experience is almost futile- they will learn and find ways to access information even if it means bugging the teacher until their millions of questions are answered, or if it means imagining all the possible answers (even when they are supposed to be doing something else in the classroom instead…)
Does acceleration require formal education? Of course not. As adults we know we do not have to go to school in order to learn about things or for our knowledge to grow. Students will access the information and stimulation required to expose them to things that make their minds expand and suck in knowledge even without the intervention of adults.
But some kids are stuck in a state of negative acceleration- their brains are pushing them to learn, but their home lives prevent them from finding the stimulation they need in the academic world. Some of those kids find the novelty and challenge in situations outside the social norms- in illegal behaviors and rebelling against the system. They continue to learn regardless of how much help they get from the adults- they learn in spite of the rules and guidelines of our communities. So sometimes formalized learning situations provide them with opportunities that children from other homes have modeled for them and provided to them outside of school.
In other words, public school is not required for anyone to learn, but it can help those kids who need a safe place to go, to learn in a safe environment, where the goals are often set at pushing them into meaningful or at least productive futures where they can give back to society in legal ways. Learning with facilitators and mentors can be much more focused and less lonely. And schools also can provide a good practice ground for social-emotional development. Learning about people who are not the same as you is a valuable experience, and learning to work with others provides students with skills that will help them use the knowledge they seek in more productive ways.
That being said, not every child (even coming from even the harder life situations) needs a formal setting like what the education system is set up to offer currently in most communities. Sometimes school becomes a gate keeping system that prevents students from moving toward their own destinies at the rate they would naturally accelerate in those alternate directions. Sometimes school becomes a horrible social-emotional experience, especially for those with gifted minds and sensititives, and they drown there without teachers who can help them because often even teachers do not understand them and have what they need to help the gifted kids grow and feel supported.
Gifted students with their different ways of experiencing the world are often the canaries in the coalmines, making it clear to their teachers that the current system is not working. They need more freedom to learn, more help with understanding their own feelings and guidance for their social-emotional characteristics, than what is currently offered in the education system. And they end up being misunderstood, misdiagnosed, underserved and held back from their own personal growth.
My favorite symbol is the symbol for chaos. Arrows all pointing outward from one central point. My life has been that way because I am constantly accelerating in multiple directions. Many gifted people have that same experience- they want to try many different things, and learn about as many different subjects as they can.
Our schools need to become forces acting along the students, while the students set their own goals so that they can find ways to move forward to where they want to be for the best contributions to society. If we remove the road blocks (standardization of content, testing, lesson plans, etc.) and ensure that educators change from merely “teachers” to mentors and information tour guides, rather than gatekeepers and lecturers, we can provide true acceleration to every student, and gifted kids would thrive better in the schools.
This is our contribution to the Hoagies Gifted Blog Hop on Acceleration (www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_acceleration.htm)