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To Accelerate Education or Not?

When I was in kindergarten, I remember my parents whispering in the kitchen at night shortly after the start of the school year. I remember hearing my name and the name of the teacher and thinking that I was in trouble. I snuck off quietly so as not to attract the attention of my parents. The next day, I overheard my father tell my grandmother that the school wanted to have me skip ahead at school. My grandmother reacted immediately, asking aghast if my parents were actually considering it. My father quickly responded that they were not considering it; they believed it would have been harmful to me and would have made me "different" from my peers.

The irony of my story is that I was "different" from my peers throughout my entire educational career. I was bored, often disengaged, and I looked constantly for other ways to learn. My parents thought this was odd as well. I remember being only seven years old and borrowing a cassette tape of Spanish from the public library and listening to it at night while I slept, because I had read that you could learn while you slept. When I was 12, I remember walking over a mile each way to the public library to get a stack of books on a variety of topics including books on WWII and archeology, along with a detailed book on paleontology. This type of behavior was completely normal for me, but notably different from my peers.

While I was not accelerated during grade school, I sought out my own ways to accelerate myself as I got older. In high school, I took time off of high school to go to school in France my junior year to learn French. Not a formal exchange program, I did not receive credit for this time, but still graduated with my class due to my acceleration of other classes, including taking college classes in high school. I graduated undergrad with two BA degrees in five semesters. I completed a doctoral program in 4 years (typically a 5-7 year program) while also working full time with two small children.

My own experiences have led me to wonder whether acceleration is the appropriate option. I've wondered secretly whether there are parents pushing this in the latest race for their child to get ahead instead of based on the best interest of the child. However, looking back at my own experiences, I think I would have benefitted from acceleration much earlier.

The latest research continues to support that acceleration is an effective way to meet the needs of gifted children, despite adult concerns for the child's psychological health. A new study published in 2020 looked a three different groups of people who were accelerated 35 years earlier. It found no cause for concern with acceleration and found these gifted youth were thriving psychologically at or above the levels of their same-aged peers.

Ultimately, I suspect that this topic will continue to be of interest and debate for some time. In reality, I am certain that the best interest of each individual child will vary based on that individual child. However, I am happy to see research that encourages reflection on this!

Research: Bernstein, B. O., Lubinski, D., & Benbow, C. P. (2020). Academic acceleration in gifted youth and fruitless concerns regarding psychological well-being: A 35-year longitudinal study. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication.


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