Reflections from a Gifted Program Dropout

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So this sealed envelope was sent home from Ava’s school the other day.

When you get such a letter it usually means that your child has contracted lice, is the source of the lice, or has pretended to be lice by inappropriately latching onto other children on the play yard. To my surprise, it was none of the above. Instead, the letter asked for my approval to have my daughter tested for the “Gifted Program.”

Tested? Why does she need to be tested? She is gifted.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Andrea is simply using this blog post as a platform to broadcast to the world that her child is the next Bill Gates (with better hair – much better hair).” But, lest you forget, I too am gifted. Therefore, I would never make such an egregious error as pronouncing giftedness before the gifted status has been gifted by the giftee. (I can’t even stop the cleverness.)

Okay, truth be told, I’m not gifted (please gasp in surprise out of courtesy). At least I was never enrolled in a gifted program. I was, however, tested many times. Many, many, many times. But without fail, the administrators would look over my test scores and say, “Huh. Guess we were wrong.” And back I went to my remedial math class where I was at least gifted with comfort and happiness.

“It’s far better to have love and lost, then to never have loved at all.” I suppose the same thing applies to the relentless attempt to uncover my giftedness. It is better to have been briefly considered gifted and proven otherwise, then to never have been considered at all. Maybe. But it got a little silly.

Once, in middle school, they altogether ignored the test results and elevated me to an advanced math class. Mom was so proud. I was terrified. They handed me a ruler on my first day. Up until that point I had used a ruler for two things: to construct a perfect diving board for Barbie, and as a means to deploy welts on my sister’s bum. But to measure? Please. That’s what dads are for.

As the kids around me happily measured and recorded their findings like busy little bees on speed, I felt my cheeks grow hot with embarrassment. No one would help me. The teacher couldn’t understand my hesitation – after all, I was “gifted,” right? I tried to look studious holding the ruler up to random items around the room, including the globe, which apparently isn’t a good way to measure circumference, but I never recorded a single thing. Regardless, I could barely see though the tears puddling in my eyes.

That night I told my mom that I didn’t want to be in the “smart class” anymore and she withdrew me without hesitation. Then I was the kid who couldn’t cut it, but I think I at least scored some points with the “average kids” – like I was a little bit badass for ditching “math with rulers.” Yeah, that’s me. I define subversive.

I know why they tested me. I followed the rules. I was polite. I was motivated to please. Socially, I was a Rhodes Scholar, but intellectually I hovered somewhere between Beavis and Doogie Howser.

So, knowing all that, you may wonder why I was so giddy about Ava’s letter. Quite simply, because I’m hoping that the times have changed. From what I can tell, they now measure aptitude in areas beyond I.Q. – areas that include “creativity” and “motivation” (see, I knew I was gifted!).

When Ava asked what all this testing meant, I had to restrain myself from over-exaggerating its importance, because she gets a little anxious about tests and, well, that would rank right up there with pageant moms who dress their daughters in tube tops and thigh-high boots.

“It’s just a way to make sure that everyone gets put into a class that best suits their needs and abilities,” I said, channeling the inner politician I didn’t know I had residing in me. “So don’t worry about getting the answers ‘right’, just do your best and that way you’ll get put into the right class for you. Does that make sense?”

I held my breath.

“Yes.”

Exhale. Pat on the back. And then, Did I just hear what I said?

That’s right, wherever Ava finds herself next year I need to trust that it’s the right place for her. And while it’s secretly validating to have a “gifted” kid, it’s even better if they can grow up having a healthy relationship with rulers.

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