On Thursday, Alex finished MEP 4a, which is theoretically the first half of fourth grade math. I looked ahead in math to see what our likely sequence might be. On the pre-algebra pretest at the Art of Problem Solving website, the only things she can’t do now are multidigit divisors, operations with decimals, and negative numbers. Allowing for plenty of practice, she could realistically finish the elementary math sequence in another year. Which would put us on pace to start pre-algebra somewhere around her ninth birthday.
That scares me.
I am grateful that homeschooling allows us to proceed at Alex’s own pace. I am glad that we can calibrate her math work based on our own observations, without having to justify our case to an educational bureaucracy. And yet it’s also scary to be accelerating without a net. What if we’re missing something?
What if we’re self-deluded?
After all, one of the most common tropes in modern American parenting is the parent who overestimates her kid’s talent. I’ll admit that I’ve seen things written by other parents that have made me cringe. So it’s uncomfortable for me to talk about giftedness or acceleration; I vividly remember the scornful condescension with which an anonymous commenter once explained to me that Alex, while “cute” and “obviously well-exposed,” was certainly nothing unusual.
In general, I’m a fan of a “deeper, not just faster” approach to math; rather than race Alex quickly through the levels of a standard curriculum, I’ve sought out the most challenging programs I can find. I’ve been planning to run her through the majority of MEP and Beast Academy, so that she’s exposed to different teaching strategies, emphases, and enrichment topics. I’ve looked to add in fun enrichment and have contemplated substituting logic for math one day a week. And even though we’re doubling up on curricula, I have avoided compacting either program very much. After our experience with Beast Academy 3a-c indicated that she does fine with less intensive practice, I did approach MEP 4a with greater willingness to eliminate problems – but it wasn’t until near the very end that I dared to eliminate a few whole lessons.
Part of what’s been in the back of my mind, through all of that, is discomfort with the whole idea that she might hit algebra at ten or eleven years old. I’ve found myself assuming that “slowing her down” is inherently a good idea, without looking at that too closely. I haven’t, after all, wanted to be “one of THOSE parents.” Really, when it comes down to it, I’ve been afraid to accelerate in any significant way. It feels safer to have her be no more than a year or so “ahead.” It’s scary to be her parent and her teacher, making the call about sending her flying out there without the “net” of some official validation.