I’m an advocate. So are you. You may not believe it, but I do.
Advocacy seems to scare people. Sometimes I think it’s not the actions of being an advocate, it’s the word. Parents tell me all the time that they’re glad there are people like me who are advocates, because they couldn’t do it. These parents who tell me they aren’t advocates don’t miss a single parent-teacher conference. They volunteer in their kid’s classes. They communicate regularly with their student’s teachers and principals. They’re working hard to make sure that their highly capable student goes to school and has the opportunity to learn something new every day. Maybe they’ve tried all the options they had available and have elected to home school, pursue early enrollment, or try an on-line alternative. Maybe they’re reading contributions to this blog tour, looking for some new option to help their own child. Whatever the exact situation, they are champions for their kids.
Often they’re so busy looking out for their own student that they can’t even begin to think of the world outside that one classroom, that one school, that one district. It’s perfectly understandable. Parenting a gifted kid means that sometimes you’re just treading water, hoping that someone or something is going to come along and offer a lifeline. We’ve all had those days. It’s why blog tours like this exist. But if all we can do is tread water, we’re never going to be in control of our own destiny. We need to take some of the energy we have devoted to being champions in the classroom and become advocates for the classroom.
You’re the expert on your student and your parenting experience gives you an advantage over most of our policy makers. You’ve seen what works for your child. You know what doesn’t. Maybe you’re still trying to figure out what works. That’s valuable, too. Share your experiences. Write an e-mail. Make a phone call. Talk to a school board member or attend a school board meeting. Go watch a legislative hearing — maybe even testify yourself. Too much? What about a parent version of the Gifted Education Outreach Corps? Highly capable kids are everywhere, so our outreach and our advocacy needs to reach everywhere. Who can you talk with to find an ally?
In Washington State, highly capable programming is now a protected part of basic education. Our legislators have recognized that for these students, access to highly capable programming is access to basic education. What they haven’t yet done is stepped up to fund it. Why not? In part, because they haven’t heard from enough of us — from enough of you. Our legislature is comprised of citizen legislators. They aren’t full-time politicians and they aren’t experts on every subject that comes before them during the legislative session. They still believe the myths of gifted education. Tell them your stories of what happens when your student isn’t challenged. Compare that to when your student is challenged. Our students won’t be “fine” without appropriate opportunities, but many of our legislators are actively avoiding talking about serving the needs of these kids today, because they’re convinced that the needs of our gifted students can wait.
I’m an advocate because I believe that we’ve already waited far too long to provide these students with an education that meets their needs. I believe we’ve overlooked too many students that don’t fit the stereotype of what a gifted kid looks like, or acts like. I believe that we need to give all of our educators better tools to help them identify those students who might benefit from highly capable services, and better tools to serve those students once they’re identified. I believe we need to put more resources into our youngest students to see which of them will find highly capable services a good fit, especially for those students who have parents who for whatever reason aren’t able to be their champion.
The voice of one advocate isn’t enough. Our kids need all of us to be involved. It’s when we all speak as one that we make the biggest difference. Let your legislators know that you care and that you’re involved. Be the same champion outside the classroom that you are inside the classroom. Don’t let the word scare you.
I’m an advocate, and so are you.