My Son’s Gifts Sent Me Back to School

This post was written by Donna Y. Ford, Ph.D., a professor of education and human development at Vanderbilt University and a BE Smart contributor. 

Early in my son’s life, I knew he was advanced. He reached developmental milestones earlier than others his age.

[Related: Young, Gifted & Black: High IQ Student Gets the Services He Needs]

Because he was so advanced, I decided to pursue early entrance into kindergarten for him. 

The day he was assessed by a white, female school psychologist was a career changer for me. In a separate room, he was given a battery of tests that seemed to take forever.

When the room door finally burst open, he came running into my arms in tears. As he sat weeping on my lap, the school psychologist, collected herself. I will call her Dr. White.

Dr. White: Ms. Ford, I can tell that you have been preparing your son for school, but I am torn about what to recommend. He is pretty smart but lacks social skills and social competence.

I was dumbfounded. However, I hid my anger, feeling vulnerable because I wanted her to admit him to kindergarten. I had run out of ways to challenge him.

Me: Dr. White, what does that mean? (My son is still clutching me.)

Dr. White: There are things he should know in order to be in kindergarten. For example, he called an outlet a plug. He did not know what a pasture is.

Me: I call an outlet a plug. We don’t have pastures in this community. I have never seen one, except in books. (I am still containing my anger.)

Dr. White: I have two options for you. Option one: You can enroll your son in school next year and he will be the top student. I know you want that. Option two: You can enroll him now, but I think he will be one of the lowest performing students. I know you don’t want that.

What a choice! I chose “option one.” My son did well the first year but became disengaged as a first grader. He even talked about hating school and dropping out. All of my years of nurturing his gifts were being undone. He was becoming a gifted underachiever–and quickly.

For me, this was a career changer. I went back to school and switched my major to education counseling and earned a doctorate in educational psychology. My dissertation focused on gifted education.

Had this school psychologist been culturally competent, my son would have been admitted early.

I dedicated my first book to my son and all black children who have had their gifts denied.

My son is now a 36-year-old husband and father who owns two businesses.

Black families must learn more about tests, policies, and procedures in order to advocate on behalf of their children.

Editor’s Note: You may want to consult Donna Y. Ford Ph.D.’s book, Reversing Underachievement Among Gifted Black Students.