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Musings on our report card

By Hilary Dale

Ah yes, well, it's clear that he's not really gifted. Obviously it was all a fluke. It was due to his being at such a good school. Someone could even do a study - the Montessori effect. They would show conclusively that a good Montessori school could add 50, 60, even 70 or more points to an IQ score, which would then disappear. These aren't really gifted children, just products of a great education. A public school system will do its job and erase that advantage quickly!

These are the words that echo through my head these days - maybe this is just a classic case of "The Montessori Effect", even though I know it's very common for parents to feel this way. After all, he turned 7 today and he's not even in college yet - not even middle school! And now he is failing 1st grade. He was so beautifully and clearly bright when he was little, even though we didn't recognize it. We just thought he was terribly cute.

I remember him walking around a store one day, singing Kum Bah Yah in beautiful pitch. I remember a woman telling me it was like a little angel was walking around. I really didn't know that not many 20 month olds did things like that. I figured that everyone had their gifts. His was cuteness and right at that age an uncanny knack for songs. I figured it was because I'd sung to him so much through all those months of infant crying. We didn't know that other 2 year old didn't know the Latin names of plants, or know how to tell different species of conifer apart. We simply thought that they didn't know because no one had told them. After all, even most adults don't know that, but they could if someone told them. Sure, we knew he was bright, but all children are bright, right?

A friend gave me papers on giftedness in very young children (what was she trying to tell me?), and I read them, thinking, "But all children are like this." Well, all the children I'd ever raised were, so how was I to know? Her kids were like that, mine were like that, case closed - perfectly normal. And wasn't this gifted thing just a bunch of obnoxious, snooty parents, anyway? The same friend kept pointing me toward the Gifted Development Center in Denver, never pushing, just mentioning that they were there. And finally I went, and the joy of truly understanding him came right along with the incredible responsibility of educating and raising him. And just how was I going to do that? The same friend let my cry on her shoulder when I found out the truth, and I learned that she had found out the same truth, and that she had cried, too, but dared not tell any of us.

In Flowers for Algernon a retarded man becomes genius, experiences the world fully, and then falls back into retardation. Watching my son in public elementary school, where he's been only 2 months, keeps bringing this story to mind. It's like watching him tumble down a long hill, and I have this terrible fear that we can never get him back. On the first day of school, I stuck my head into the gifted resource room, and ended up chatting with the teachers there for an hour. I told them all about him, my hopes and fears, my worries. I was told not to worry, because many scores come down over time. Now I am beginning to see that they probably do - what a great school! What happens when you knock the spirit out of a spirited child? Where does it go? Is it like having a lobotomy? Last month, he was leaping through EPGY math at an alarming rate. When we went into school this week to see how he was doing, the teacher had him put his portfolio together. And his math showed pages and pages of coloring, showing all the sums to 10. He read it, woodenly. It was, apparently, his best work. Most of his pages were blank.

I sent him off to school in September with hands wringing. What would the future hold for my little guy? I cried a few tears on that first day, but they were not the normal tears of separation, of a major life event. No, these were tears of anxiety. Would the teacher love him for what he was, or try to normalize him? My worst fears have been realized there.

It's been 2 days since we got the report card. You have failed, they said, but we're not worried. It's just that you don't try hard enough. We know that now you'll try harder, so that your next report card will look better. Failed. Socially inept. Unable to follow rules. Messy. Doesn't try. My beautiful, interesting child, who makes up some of the best jokes I've ever heard, who asks questions more probing than many undergraduates, has failed his first quarter of first grade. At what has he failed, though? He has failed to be what they want him to be, or think him to be. He has failed to "produce" meaningless work in the time allotted. He has proven to them what they wished to know, "You see, we don't think he's really all that smart. Those silly tests are meaningless."

Those last words echo through my head at night, haunting me. It is true, from their perspective. An IQ score this high is surely not a predictor of first grade success. And success, doing things the right way, is what they are all about. If they succeed at their plan, it would one of the greatest tragedies ever.

Oh, I so feel for Charlie Gordon and his descent from brilliance back into retardation, but that was only a story. He could never have existed. But my son is real, and I will not let them shred him. This will not happen to us. No, it cannot happen to us. I will not let them do this to him.

Personal note: I was re-reading the GDC report today, and gained strength from it: "He appeared to be a very friendly, polite, and compliant child. He displayed no apprehension about the testing, but immediately agreed to go with the examiner to begin. He was outgoing and talkative throughout the session and appeared to be putting forth his best effort. Because of his advanced vocabulary and mature conversational style, he appeared to be quite a bit older than he actually is."

Only 8 months later, his 1st grade teacher marked him below grade level on 9 of 11 social skills.

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