Saturday, March 21, 2009

Smarter than the Other Kids

During a recent conversation with my father I mentioned something about the Gifted Classes I had attended during my middle school years and he commented that he never thought that identifying a child as 'gifted' was a good idea because (his words) "It's not good for kids to think they're smarter than other kids." I don't know whether or not he's right, but I had to laugh about his comment, because it didn't take me until Grade 7 (when I began attending weekly Gifted Classes) to figure out that I was smarter than other kids. It happened in Grade 1. Here's the story.

I was in Grade 1 in 1981, in a little country school that housed only one class each of Kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. The Grade 1 and 2 classrooms were side by side, with no wall dividing the two rooms, although there was very little interaction between the two grades. As was typical of the times, the students were separated into reading groups based on ability level, and whether the group was called the Blackbirds, the Sparrows, the Blue Jays or the Crows, we all knew which one was the smart group, and which one was the dumb group. I wasn't in any of the groups~~I did my reading activities as part of a group in the Grade 2 room, so I already knew I was ahead of the other Grade 1s. But that isn't the whole story.

I specifically remember that we were reading out of leveled readers. The reading assignments were printed on glossy card stock and kept in a big box. There were approximately 20 levels and each level had its own colour, with maybe 10 little assignments at each level. The lowest level had stories in big print, only 50-100 words long, with just a few short questions based on content. The harder levels were much longer and had more difficult questions, requiring the reader to make connections and predictions and to do some critical thinking and analysis.

I recall that I was assigned to complete the readers in the middle of the box. We were required to read all 10 readers before moving up to the next level. One day when my work was done, I went to the box and plucked out the very last reader at the highest level. I took it to my desk and read the whole thing, answering the questions in my head. It was about Mozart, and the colour of the level was silver~~such details I can remember!! When I was finished, I put it back in the box and waited for an opportunity to talk to the Grade 2 teacher. (Remember that I was only in Grade 1, but doing my reading in the Grade 2 room.)

The Grade 2 teacher was someone who I really liked. She was an older woman, near retirement, and she had taught both of my older siblings. Not only that, but she was also my mother's brother's wife's mother, making her the grandmother of some of my cousins, so I kind of felt like she was almost family, and she and I should have some understanding of each other.

"Mrs. Adams, " I said, "Do I have to finish reading all the readers before I move up to the next level?"

"How many have you finished?" asked Mrs. Adams.

"Only 2," said I, "but I can already read the readers at the highest level."

Mrs. Adams spoke words that I will never forget. "You. Can. Not."

She didn't believe me. It wasn't just that she wouldn't let me skip ahead. She actually didn't believe me that I could read the highest level reader. And she didn't ask me to prove it. And now that I know a lot more about how schools work, she probably didn't want me to be able to read that well. In her opinion, it was probably enough that I was reading at the Grade 2 level when I was in Grade 1. What would they do with a 6-year-old that was able to read 2 or 3 or 4 grades ahead of her peers? In 1981 the concept of 'gifted' was just coming into existence, and the teeny-tiny country school I attended certainly didn't have a program for a kid who was smarter. Makes me wonder if anyone ever said I was too smart for my own good.

Anyway, suffice to say that I didn't need to be told that I was smarter than other kids. I had it figured out pretty early. I still think I'm smarter than most other people. People who know me well, know that I think I'm smarter than most people. And it's no surprise to me that many people who figure out that I am smart are not able to be friends with me. I'm not embarrassed by being smart. Some people are good artists. Some are musically talented. Some wear great makeup and some are good listeners. I'm good at learning new things.

The cornerstone of my relationship with Partner-Guy is that he gets it that I am smart. And when he forgets it once in a while, I have no problem reminding him.

I hope my dad now thinks it OK that I know I'm smarter than other kids. Although maybe not smarter than his other kids.

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