Sunday, August 9, 2009

Third Child, Son Shane

Shane, born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1977, is married to Lemony, a shy girl from the Latino community who prefers to keep her anonymity (and would probably like greater anonymity than I have given to her children -- but at least I have changed all names). Shane and Lemony are the parents of two children, both of whom have had some medical issues: Nathaniel and Nikolina.

Shane was our normal child between two exceptional children, or so we thought. Lizzie had been precocious, skipping two grades, but we had worked with her when she was little, teaching her reading skills, genetics, and other academic subjects at a very young age. Shane, however, we more or less ignored. He was slow to walk, not walking until he was more than two years old. We were too busy with the medical adventures of Noelle and Doah to worry about Shane. We figured he would walk eventually; there was nothing wrong with his legs. Mainly, he copied Noelle's crab-like scooting around the house and listened to her whenever she panicked when he attempted to stand up, thinking he would fall like she would have had she attempted to stand.

We first learned that Shane was not exactly as we thought when at the age of 23 months, he crawled over to me and said his first word: "Read." Not "Mommy" or "Daddy" or anything anywhere near normal, but "read" -- and he meant he wanted me to see that he could read. At that point, he proceeded to read an entire book to me. By the time he was three, he was walking and talking -- and in first grade, put there by Renboro University School of Education which ran a laboratory school for training teachers.

From that point, Shane took off flying. By the time he was 7 and in fourth grade, he was completely bored by school and would either run away or put his finger in his throat and vomit, making the nurse think he was sick, every single day. Finally, the Diagnostic & Assessment Clinic for the public schools tested him and determined that he was too gifted to be educated in the public system: e.g., in math, he was functioning at a pre-calculus level and in his fourth-grade class he wrangled with his teacher over the appropriateness of his book report. He chose to read Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, being intrigued with horses right about then and with the little boy hero who was about his own age. The teacher thought he ought to read something on her fourth-grade list, which certainly did not include Faulkner, Kafka, or any of the other intriguing authors that Shane loved.

We placed Shane into an ungraded private school for a year where he completed all the math books from fourth grade through the end of high school and after school read every book in the public library, including some adult books that I had not realized were there. When questioned, he send he found the content "curiously odd." So, some things were age appropriate, at least!

After that, Shane spent the rest of his education in home schooling where he could read all those authors he loved, including Euripedes, Solzhenitsyn, Shakespeare, Plato, and others of that ilk. His math was well beyond my capacity to teach, so I bought him books on Euclidean geometry and math theory and hired a college professor to test the accuracy and depth of his knowledge weekly. He also worked as a teacher's helper at Doah's elementary school when he was 10, trouble-shooting problems that students encountered when working in the then-new computer lab mornings and afternoons working an unpaid computer internship at the State Department (where I was employed and where my boss adored Shane); at State, Shane taught faculty and staff word-processing skills and assisted the computer consultant in getting computers of various platforms to communicate with each other. The following year, he took six months off and hiked 1000 miles of the Appalachian Trail with Donnie; they stopped in New Hampshire because Donnie fell and hurt his legs. (They were quite a novelty on the AT that year -- Huff and Puff they were called, and they were interviewed by Time and on Georgia Public Television.) AT 14, Shane entered the local community college. He insisted on waiting to enroll until he had body hair! He thought it would help him fit in better. I'm not sure that it really mattered, but since it mattered to him, that was the criterion we followed.

On several occasions, we tried to return Shane to the public school system. Once it worked. In eighth grade, as an 11-year-old, he studied in the external program, a mornings only computer-based, partially self-instructed program overseen by a former teacher of gifted education, who was pretty certain who could weave together a good program for Shane as long as we hired a college math professor to help him in euclidean geometry and beyond since Shane had already completed all of high school math and more in his home schooling program. The principal was opposed to the external program: he wanted Shane in the Gifted and Talented Program. After looking at the GATE program, Shane returned the brochure to him for recycling because "your program is not worth the paper it is printed on." He explained that he would want a program that included international literature, solid science topics like dendrology (which he had studied prior to hiking the trail), and advanced/theoretical math, not the slightly enriched regular education program that was described. The principal told Shane that only children with behavior problems were allowed in the external program. When Shane answered with "If behavior problems are your enrollment criterion, I could develop one," the principal had to accede. That year worked out well.

High school had nearly no subjects for Shane since he completed all his high school work during that external year. We enrolled him in whatever we could find -- one can always do more writing, Noelle was taking drama and Shane joined her (and landed the lead in several school plays), no math was available but the principal suggested having lunch with the math teacher to discuss theoretical aspects of math (Shane declined -- he was already the youngest and smallest person in the school; he did not want further attention brought to himself by having lunch with a teacher). Within a couple months, Shane was bored and back in home school, devouring the works of Aeschylus, Plato, Kafka, and Solzhenitsyn, among others, writing book-length essays, and working with the college math professor on things I cannot begin to understand. The drama teacher, however, would not let him disappear entirely from the high school. She would come by every rehearsal day after school and pick him up so that he could continue his roles in the school plays, and she sponsored him for a scholarship for a college drama troupe over the summer. There are some pretty wonderful people in this world!

(1) Shane's Unorthodox Internships
Since I worked, Shane was on his own to complete his homeschool assignments every day, and he always did so without fail. I would arrive home to find his assignments printed out, the house clean, and dinner cooking. There was always a “thank you, thank you for not making me go to school” that came with dinner. Back in those days, one did not worry about anyone violating a home and hurting a child. Nonetheless, we had an alarm system installed, and I was a phone call away. Donnie was sometimes home, but mostly he also worked. Looking back on it, it sounds quite dangerous, but at the time, it seemed quite normal. It was a different era.

When Shane turned 10, after his adventure with fire and other self-concocted science experiments which made me want to keep a close eye on him, he came into town with me and completed his schoolwork in the early hours of the day in my office. A couple of mornings a week, he would man (or is that “boy”) the computer science lab in the library at Doah’s elementary school, computers being a new phenomenon at the time and none of the teachers knowing how to trouble-shoot problems. Shane was good at helping both the students and the teachers, and the principal and librarian loved him and his contribution as a role model for the other children (and even teachers) in bravely entering the computer age.

In the afternoons, he worked at my government organization as an unpaid intern. My supervisor assigned him tasks such as teaching employees word-processing and graphics, and the computer consult (the highly paid guy) loved Shane and would use him to help work out untried solutions to various dilemmas in getting various kinds of computers to talk to each other, a serious problem back then, each one of them taking a different kind of computer and trying to communicate with each other. At one point, a high-ranking visitor noticed Shane working with one of the employees and asked her escort if they taught children there. “No,” replied the escort without thinking, “the little boy is teaching the big man.”

See posts about Shane.

More coming soon. In the interim, I will report that Shane, while at Stanford for the August spinal surgery of Nikolina, his and Lemony's daughter, had a ruptured appendix that he did not pay attention to for four days (high on adrenalin of a father worried about his child) and nearly died from gangrene. He is now back to work, thank God. (I blogged the information on Blest Atheist.)


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