This spring I've been tutoring a bright and charming little girl (let's call her Lily) who reads with fluency, makes careful phonetic connections, and enthusiastically attempts any lesson I put before her. She has some challenges, but week by week, month by month, Lily's making steady progress. Yet even though she earns good grades on her report card, if my hard-working tutee doesn't pass the Ohio Achievement Test at the end of the month, Lily will have to repeat the third grade.
As a former teacher who knows children learn in a plethora of ways, this does not sit well with me at all. As a former student who earned honors in English and history, but couldn't break 1,000 on my SAT's (and I took them twice), it pushes on some serious bruises. I'm no dumb box of rocks, but I sure felt like it when the results showed up in the mail. And no matter how many A's I earned in college, it didn't take away the sting of feeling stupid because a bar graph intimated as much.
Mandatory standardized tests were one of the reasons I left education and it's one of the biggest complaints from instructors today. "Teaching to the test" has been the norm for over a decade and we're only seeing the tip of the iceberg of issues that will result from such a short-sighted practice. Yes, we need ways to measure a child's progress, but we also need a wider variety of avenues that cover more than a person's ability to momentarily absorb, then almost immediately regurgitate facts on a paper/pencil test.
Still, all the "test speak" this spring had me busy this weekend.
One of most interesting surprises in working with Lily is that I've been revisiting my own memories of being a student. Some of her challenges are nearly identical to what mine were, so out of curiosity, I spent the better part of last night reviewing achievement and IQ tests I had taken in school and college. Personality tests given to me by therapists and colleagues. I went online and found a few free tests that measure my emotional intelligence and conceptual awareness. I even took the Myers Briggs inventory for the fifth time...and it turned out nearly identical to my first go 'round back in graduate school.
Each test revealed that my type of intelligence, the way I see the world, the way I relate to myself and others have a common thread running through them. Every score shows that I fall into only 2% of the population. Words like "uncommon" and "unusual" and "different" popped up again and again.
I read through the interpretations, remembering the ten-year-old I used to be sitting in the Junior Great Books program bored out of my mind because I didn't want to talk about the order of events in a story we had read. I didn't want to answer multiple choice questions on a ditto sheet. I wanted to write my own book. I wanted to draw a picture of an alternative ending. I wanted to ask the other kids which character they could relate to...and why.
But of course, I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut, and sat glumly in a circle of other kids, watching the clock and wishing I could make the hands fly faster.
If you've read my memoir, then you know I've lived an uncommon life. Made uncommon choices, especially for the past fifteen years. Experienced things outside the realm of "normal" for women my age. It goes with the program of being outside the standard median, not that I didn't try to pound my square peg into that round hole for over a decade. Still, with every attempt to find a wormhole into becoming a wife and mother, my innate personality bled through and in the end, that's a good thing. (Recently I took one of those silly online tests to see how many children I'm supposed to have and of course, the number turned out to be zero.)
It's not been easy to maneuver through a culture that often values things I couldn't care less about. That sees and experiences people in a very different light. To be in relation with others who have told me to "take a pill" or "dumb down" or the one comment that's like nails on a chalkboard: "Katie...lighten up."
I often wanted to ask them all, "Is that code for 'stop telling the truth?'"
I'm certainly not saying I'm in the top 2% of the population, nor am I asking for sympathy. I'm simply saying that to recognize the reality of knowing from the time I was little that I was atypical from most people, and then find numerous sources to back that up has helped me to make sense out the loneliness I often felt. But as a friend once told me, "You can't be your authentic self and expect the rest of the world to get you...or even want to."
Yep...that sounds about right.
I recently went for a long bike ride and thought about what it means to live in a 2% world. It's often silent, but I don't mind. I know I have to sift through a lot of excess before I can discover and decipher what best resonates with me. I thought about the things I've most wanted to create that involve other people and how they've failed time and again.
Same story, different faces.
Different circumstances, same results.
Then a revelation occurred to me -- I need to stop beating myself up for being different. For being what people consider "a nut or a novelty." For being something other than what's expected. For what even I expect. I need to let go of all the tests I struggled with and sometimes failed. I need to soften around the edges and see that repeating blunders doesn't mean I'm stupid...it simply means I'm still trying.
So I may be "uncommon" or even "obscure," but I'm also tenacious and strong enough to know that despite all those tests that tell me I'm hanging out in the 2%, I'm also much more than anything that can be revealed on a pie chart.
And so are your kids.
As are each and every one of you.