Skip to comments.HOME SCHOOL: FAST-TRACK HITS STRIDE AT U OF M(EMPHIS)12 YEAR OLF FINALLY FINDS A CHALLENGE
Posted on 04/09/2002 5:40:44 AM PDT by GailA
Fast-Tracker Hits Stride at U of M 12-year-old finally finds a challenge
By Ruma Banerji email@example.com April 9, 2002
Alex Brueggeman is matter-of-fact about his genius.
"I'm different, but I'm still a person," the 12-year-old University of Memphis sophomore says, lounging comfortably in the U of M library.
This month, Alex became the youngest person ever to snare the prestigious Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. This year's award went to 309 cream-of-the-crop science, engineering and math college students from across the country. Because Alex won it in his sophomore year, the scholarship will pay tuition, fees, books, and room and board up to a maximum of $7,500 per year for his junior and senior years.
Alex has the intellectual ability of a gifted 24-year-old, and it shows when he talks about his plans to work with plant genetics and rid the environment of toxins.
But then, ever so subtly, a glimmer of youth surfaces. The freckle-faced kid enjoys being silly. Alex draws "nornors," modified stick-figure cartoons with enlarged hands and feet, on the graphing calculator he needs for calculus. He's also conspiring with a college friend on the perfect way to startle his professors.
"It's going to be funny," he says, with a lopsided smile.
"Alex has that neat mix of 12-year-old enthusiasm with the intelligence of a young man," says Jack Grubaugh, Alex's academic adviser in biology. "He's very well adjusted, socially and academically."
Alex, the only child of neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Brueggeman and professional artist Gay McCarter, has taken an unconventional path in an educational age that pushes the mainstreaming of students who differ from the norm.
His parents took him out of school when he was 6, after realizing Alex's growing educational needs could not be met in a traditional classroom. "He would come home angry and frustrated," his mother says.
"He wasn't getting enough. And when I would go to the school and talk with the principals and tell them he needed more, they would politely tell me my son was not different and that I was just one of those parents who wanted my son to be seen as different."
McCarter began home-schooling Alex. She hired tutors, subscribed to various curricula for gifted children, and enrolled him in some distance-learning programs for gifted youth associated with Stanford and Northwestern universities.
Alex whizzed through the material and needed more. He found worksheets with the home-schooling material boring. He yearned for a challenge.
"He needed that one-on-one contact with a professor and that interaction and competition with other students," McCarter says.
The family lives in Jackson, Tenn., so she enrolled Alex in Jackson State Community College. Alex was 9 at the time, and admissions officials were wary about whether such a young boy could handle the academic and social pressures in college.
The college took five months to accept Alex, McCarter says, asking for various documentation from proof of Alex's IQ to transcripts of his work for Northwestern and Stanford.
He enrolled in the college's Spanish II class, did well, and ultimately was elected as the Spanish Club's treasurer. He continued at the community college, taking biology.
Later, he enrolled in Lambuth University, where he took English composition, college algebra and trigonometry so he could rack up enough credit hours to qualify as a transfer student.
But Alex was interested in research, so McCarter approached the University of Memphis.
Gloria Moore, associate director for admissions, says Alex was accepted as a transfer student since he had at least 15 credit hours from another college or university and well over the required 2.0 grade point average.
"We didn't make any special changes for him," Moore says. "We just made sure he had the right number of credits and admitted him like any other transfer student."
Alex enrolled at the U of M last fall, when he was 11. He's a commuter student, spending three hours a day riding back and forth between Jackson and Memphis with his mother.
While he attends class, his mother works on her art projects in hallways outside the classroom. The inconvenience is a small price to pay for the independence and educational challenge Alex gets at the university, she says.
Alex is taking 18 credit hours this semester. He is a biology major and a chemistry minor and hopes to finish his undergraduate work and master's degree at the university by the time he's 16.
Until now, McCarter had been reluctant to talk about her son, not because she wasn't proud, but because she feared Alex's gift would be misunderstood.
"People don't know what to think about people like Alex," McCarter says.
"Most gifted kids become underachievers, not because they lose their talent, but because they're forced to stay in an environment that's not giving them what they need.
"Alex is an example of what can happen if you believe in a profoundly gifted child's ability and let him or her explore what they can do," McCarter says.
Alex sat quietly and listened to his mother. He says he has little to add, except that he's grateful the university accepted him. His mother hopes Alex's story increases the public's awareness of the needs of gifted children, but Alex has another goal in mind: coaxing his mother into letting him live on campus.
For Alex, it's a somewhat frustrating tug-of-war for independence.
McCarter gently tells him no, his "judgment isn't fully baked" and he's still "a child."
"Don't call me that," he says.
"OK, sorry, young man," she adjusts.
"It's hard to let him go," she says softly. "There aren't a lot of parents who'd be comfortable letting their 12-year-old child go off to college."
"Can't"? I lean towards your opinion myself (as another HSing father), but isn't that part of the point of HSing? That decisions like this be made by those who know and love the child best?
And you have to love the part about the "experts" trying to pat the parents' little heads and disabuse them of their delusions. I've not had that lecture, but I've had that tone. "Yes, Mr. Phillips, we are aware that at one time [i.e. back in the Cenozoic era, when you were a child] school was viewed as a place to learn academic subjects...."
I'll bet the little bugger's a RACIST JERK! < /sarcasm >
"Don't call me that," he says.
"OK, sorry, young man," she adjusts.
When I read this I remember one of the things my son's pediatrician told me when we found out how gifted he was. She said "He's going to be smart enough to want to take control of everything...even your lives. You need to set the rules and stick by them or he'll walk all over you." So kindness, humility, courtesy, and self-sacrifice have been just as important as grades. Correcting an adult is a big no-no.
Bumping home schooling!
However, we decided not to fast track him and give him a normal childhood instead.
We were quite put off by the behavior of some of the parents in the gifted program and didn't really appreciate their elitist attitude.
Also, we figured that it would be better for him to have his childhood WHEN he's supposed to be a child than for him to try to regain it down the road. There's plenty of time to develop his intellect.
I guess that's a relative issue, isn't it? There was a time in this country when adulthood began at about this kid's age. Anymore we expect so little of our youth--and we get it. It's refreshing to see someone not bogged down by the sorry expectations of this culture.
I, too, was put off by the local school for gifted children. Arrogance is not a virtue. I prefer this beautiful goofy (sometimes intense) little boy who comes in so filthy from playing in the garden that all you can see is the whites of his eyes!
I feel bad for exceptionally gifted children. There is so much pressure on them to do something spectacular in adulthood, like becoming the next Bill Gates.
I don't see anything wrong with beginning college at 16 if the child is mature.
He now spends at least 6-7 hours a day sometimes more practincing and we drive him to Chicago for lessons every week end(6 hours away from where we live). He is so much happier now that we have freed him to persue his dreams.
Our son's giftedness is in math and music. It was astonishing to us when he hummed tunes of whole songs when he was 8 months old in perfect pitch. He taught himself to read at 2 and was reciting math tables to us at 2 1/2 years. When at 3, he began a discussion with me one day about the skeletal structure of the human hand, I got down on my knees.
My husband and I prayed a great deal that God would lead us what to do with this child. So, we are here at home working on his whole character. And he is perfectly happy conjugating his Latin verbs, learning his theorems, composing his pieces on the piano and challenging himself on difficult violin pieces.
On top of that, he is earning his Scout merit badges, acolyting at church, and learning to be a cantor.
He just became a teenager, and so far, praise be to God, he is blessedly free of that youthful angst so prevalent in today's teens. Plus, we have other children and it would not have been right to have focused all our energy on just one child's pursuit of excellence.
By the time he's 16, he will probably be at the local university taking calculus and music theory classes. In the meantime, we try to enjoy him and his siblings because they truly are a joy to us.
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