Rushing whiz kids to college early not always bestI read...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

May 30, 1998

Rushing whiz kids to college early not always best

I read the article "A college scholar at 11" (May 13) with interest and reflected on past articles that have been published almost annually on other bright children who have entered college early.

Each year I read about the parents' dilemma on what to do and sympathize because I, too, have been there.

My son, Matthew, taught himself to read by the age of 4 and was reading "Hardy Boys" mysteries in kindergarten. He scored 1,240 on the SAT at 12 and was fully capable of college work. Unlike the parents of the featured gifted children, my husband and I did the less newsworthy thing: We sent him to Howard County public schools through 12th grade.

He is now 18 and a first-year student at the University of Chicago.

Of course, we were always wondering if we were doing the right thing. Balancing his intellectual and social growth was a real concern. Would he be getting a better education in a private school? We decided not.

We had moved to Howard County because of the school system, and here he was happy and thriving. With extra classes in math from the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth Program (now the Hopkins' Institute for the Academic Advancement of Youth), he remained challenged.

By the time Matthew reached high school, we had been redistricted to Oakland Mills High. People asked what we were going to do. Oakland Mills M is one of the original Columbia villages, which is inner city, Columbia-style. It is still a reflection of what Columbia set out to be; a place where all people can co-exist. He found acceptance there, with many different niches, and a place for everyone. He found peers.

Most of his teachers were among the best. He learned what my husband and I had learned in college, and by his senior year he had taken eight advanced placement classes, getting the highest score possible on all but one.

He became a leader through involvement with the math team and the "It's Academic" Team, which won the Baltimore-area championship his senior year. He placed nationally in several math competitions and almost made the 1997 U.S. Math Olympiad team.

His senior year turned out to be the year he grew the most socially. He started dating and developed real teen-ager traits, like pushing the limits. By graduation, we all knew he was ready to move on. With the issues of college life he has experienced this year, I'm thankful for the maturity that the extra year has given him.

Matthew has found college easy. With his advanced placement credits, he will be able to earn a master's degree in math in four years, by the time he is 21. He surprised the University of Chicago math department by placing 16th on the Putnam Math Exam, given nationally and dominated by Harvard this year, so he will probably be able to pick whatever graduate school he wants to go to. He is on the road to a lifetime of learning. Looking back, I wonder why we ever thought of rushing him.

So, I read your annual "whiz kid" articles with interest and sympathy, but also with a small amount of sadness for the kids. I wonder how things have worked out for those who are older now. It is a hard decision, and every parent does what he feels is best. I'm just glad we made the decision we did and would like other parents to know that early college is not the only or necessarily the best answer.

amela K. Gealy

Columbia

Charity should oppose California proposition on payroll deductions

I was very pleased to see that Jack Germond and Jules Witcover recognized that charitable organizations would be adversely affected by Proposition 226 in California ("Anti-union Proposition 226 stays ahead in trend-setting California," May 18). However, it is unfortunate that they did not describe the hardball politics being played by supporters of Prop 226.

Californians realize that workplace charitable giving programs could be affected by Proposition 226, and there is a good chance that the initiative will lose. After all, few people want to force United Way organizations and other charities to choose between contributions or the right to advocate on ballot measures.

Maybe that is why the powerful arm of conservatives and corporations -- all supporters of Prop 226 -- have tried to put a stranglehold on charities such as the United Way. Their main target is organized labor, and they don't want people to realize that they are willing to also harm charities if it serves their ends.

The article notes that United Way of America (UWA) first raised serious concerns about Prop 226 but then said it had no position.

Proposition 226 would create significant barriers and burdens for charities, not the least of which is an imposition on First Amendment rights to speak on important public policy concerns. Because of the complexities of compliance for employers and because employers could face significant financial penalties for noncompliance, they could decide to discontinue the voluntary giving programs they now operate.

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