`I Have Faced Age Discrimination All My Life' (Says Little Justin Chapman, the Six-Year-Old Doing His Duty as an All-American Prodigy)

By Dejevsky, Mary | The Independent (London, England), February 17, 2000 | Go to article overview
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`I Have Faced Age Discrimination All My Life' (Says Little Justin Chapman, the Six-Year-Old Doing His Duty as an All-American Prodigy)


Dejevsky, Mary, The Independent (London, England)


For normal parents of normal children, one of the more galling aspects of living in a big country with an aspirational and highly competitive culture is the regular emergence of child geniuses. The fascination with such children, and the resulting pressures on everyone else, were bad enough in the age of television, but in the age of the Internet they are compounded. Their prodigious attainments do not have to be validated by even so much as a television researcher; they can promote themselves.

The latest such prodigy is Justin Chapman from the city of Rochester in Upstate New York. Justin is six and-a-half, or 6.5 as he puts it on his website - www.geocities.com/chapmanjm/ - and he is not entirely happy with his lot. To be sure, he has been spared the regular school curriculum, and is taking correspondence courses at secondary school and college level at home.

He is taking additional courses, pioneered by Stanford University, tailored to gifted children, and he is now taking an introductory college-level course in ancient history - the Iliad, Herodotus, Thucydides and others - at his local university, which will give him university-level credits towards a final degree, if he passes. But Justin would like to do more. His complaint is that he is barred from all manner of activities that appeal to him, solely because of his tender years.

"I have faced age discrimination all my life," he says, "it is very frustrating not to be able to benefit from schooling or activities because of being too young." So, being a can-do American child, Justin is setting out to do something about it.

He is using his website to campaign against "age discrimination" via an "End Age Discrimination Club". "All children," he says, "deserve the right to learn at their own pace and have their education paid for until they reach the age of 16", at whatever level. Some college tuition, he points out, is cheaper than the sort of private correspondence and Internet courses his parents are paying for him to follow.

He would like to have started school well before five, and says that he tested at equivalent to age eight when he was three, but the local education authorities would not allow it. He wanted to join the Scouts, he says, but they have a minimum age of seven. An exception was finally made, and he was given special permission to join the Scouts before his seventh birthday.

In sentiments decidedly beyond his years, Justin appeals to other precocious children (and their parents) with a swipe at the school boards that set local schools policy: "Did the school officials tell you that it was more important to work on social skills and learn to get along with students of the same age? You know, socialisation. Or did they promise to provide enrichment? I feel that these are excuses that schools use for not providing appropriate education to over 30 per cent of their students. This practice needs to end."

Justin's argument is that if super-bright children were able to progress at their own pace, there would be a "dramatic improvement" in schools. Standards would be raised and students would not feel "trapped" in 13 years of formal education.

Of his packed academic timetable Justin is exuberantly enthusiastic. "Basically, I love it," he says. His teachers - the few who deal with him face to face - sound a little more reserved. The ancient-history lecturer John Arnold told the local paper, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, that he seemed to be following what was going on and his first essay looked good, although it attracted only a B. In another observation - characteristic of observations about highly gifted children - Professor Arnold said that his young pupil is "very businesslike about what he's doing".

Whatever his talents, Justin does not lack maternal support. His mother, Elizabeth Chapman, is the one who teaches him at home, and last year she accompanied him to a college course in physics, when he was allowed to sit in but not to register.

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