In California there was a (now largely defunct) program called the Highly Gifted Magnet. Over a period of six years I attended two; 74th St. Highly Gifted Elementary and the Highly Gifted Magnet at Eagle Rock High. The requirement for getting into this program was simple; unlike GATE (Gifted And Talented Education) which required that child accepted showed an unsual creative spark or a knack for learning, all the HGM required was a score of 145 or higher on either the Weschler or Stanford-Binet intelligence tests as administrated by someone licensed to perform the tests.

Ideally, the Magnet would be an interesting cross-section of people from different socio-economic backgrounds and ethnicities; and it was that, however because the requirements of the program neccessitated an unusually high Intelligence Quotient (roughly one child in 200 meets the standards) the children who were in the program were children who were noticed enough for someone to conduct the proper testing. Magnet students, in my experience, seemed to fall into four rough patterns of behavior, with a great deal of overlap between them; Overachievers who fretted about B minuses, poorly behaved underachivers with repeated patterns of acting out, genuine oddballs whose behavior and thinking was nearly alien to most people they encountered and the rare sensitive soul who was largely introverted and quiet but occasionally displayed sparks of Genius in some of their classroom assignments. Although the Magnet was designed to meet the needs of "exceptional" children, it invariably failed, because a class designed to challenge and stimulate a bored hyper-intelligent underachiever may only stress and confound an overachiever and may not interest the sensitive soul at all. But worse than the classes being an odd fit for a large portion of the students was the social stigma and ostracism that came with being a magnet student.

In elementary school it was less noticeable because elementary students typically spend their lunch breaks and recesses with their own classes, and students from other classes are not always aware of any differences in equipment, treatment or class size in the other classes.

But Junior High was different. There were only four Magnet classes offered; Science, Math, English and History. The other two classes (usually an elective and P.E.) were taken with the "regular" students in the host school. The regular kids responded with varying degrees of hostility; ranging from uneasy jokes ("Maggots" instead of "Magnets") to minor harrasment, and in one memorable case, a nasty beating (not me, I strenuously avoided violence in Jr. High and was quietly and devoutly religuous). Some magnet students exacerbated the hostility by being haughty and intellectually arrogant (these students were typically from the overachiever group). Other either tried to downplay any difference or pretend they weren't in the Magnet at all, of course and subterfuge on the part of the pretenders was discovered immediately following their first absence; unlike "regular" absence slips, Magnet student Absence slips were marked with the word "MAGNET" stamped in vermillion in the corner and looked completely different than the other absence slips.

Since socializing with non-magnet was kids made difficult; magnet students tended to form little cliques of weirdness. And of course, even among the outcasts there were outcasts. Kids so strange or withdrawn that they didn't fit into any conventional niche. My intense religiousness, my voracious reading, my habit of trying to write everything into a short story and my unfailingly polite but somewhat absent manner manner made into one of those; not really shunned, per se.. but certainly not sought out for company. Unfortunately I think the Magnet was the worst possible place for me to hone social skills, and when I attended a Catholic High School without even a real honors track, I became increasingly withdrawn, embittered and frankly weird.

There were some definite benefits to a Magnet education. The enhanced classes and the large budget allowed for the most up-to-date textbooks and a smaller class size. Fields Trips were frequent, and frequently fantastic (other kids went to Farms to watch cows being milked; we went to artis studios and learned how to make mixed-media sculpture). The kids enrolled did come from a wide variety of socio-economic, ethnic and cultural backgrounds and for many of us, race never really became an issue. But beyond that, after talking with a few of the people who attended Eagle Rock with me, many of us were ill-adjusted socially when we left the Ivory Towers of the HGM and were thrust into general society. A few of the overachievers I knew found out the hard way that being smarter does not neccessarily make you more creative or kinder or somehow superior, it just means that you'll probably get a better grade on tests. It was an interesting experiment, but one whose definitions of Genius as something based on IQ scores doomed it to failure.

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