Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Burden of Genius

When I was in the 5th grade we got tested. Who knew what type of tests, it was school, there was always some sort of test.

So it was without question that each day for about a week, I was called to the office to sit with a very nice lady and answer a bunch of questions.

The tests would have been fun if they'd made any sense to me. I mostly thought the exercises must be trick questions, they couldn't really be asking me that many stupid questions, could they?

Everyone in the class got tested individually. One day, after all the testing was done, we were lined up outside our classroom to go to lunch-- grade school involved standing in a lot of lines-- when I overheard some of the 6th grade girls (I was part of a mixed grade class) talking about me.

Big whoop. The girls were always talking about me, loud enough that I could hear them, saying mean things-- I was used to that.

These girls were eyeing me suspiciously and were discussing in incredulous tones that "...but she's so stupid! I can't believe they want to skip her ahead..."

For once I figured they actually weren't talking about me.

After lunch my teacher called me outside and told me that I had tested higher than anyone else in the class. I looked at her like she was speaking Chinese and shrugged my shoulders. Yay? I guess?

I mean, I had NO IDEA what that meant! Who cared?

Well... I didn't get skipped ahead a grade. Some years later it would seem that the subject had been brought up to my mom who nixed it without consulting me. Let me just stand on record that I firmly believe you should consult with your child about making such decisions.

By the time I got to the 8th grade I was so over the G.A.T.E. program that I could have puked. It didn't help that I was a social leper and had been in classes with the same kids since kindergarten. My classmates most definitely did NOT believe I belonged in their precious little smart kids club and none of my friends were in these classes.

So I began petitioning to GTFO of the G.A.T.E. program.

First, I appealed to my mother. Who didn't really seem to care one way or the other if I was in honors classes or not. So she appealed to the school. The school, on the other hand, was dead set against it.

I cannot believe how hard the school fought to keep me in honors classes. Looking back on it now, I figure they must get extra money for smart kids.

After meeting with the counselor, the assistant principal, and the principal, I landed in sessions with the school psychologist; a fairly nice man who bore a striking resemblance to John Stossel.

I spent about a month meeting with him to defend my request and mostly being hassled about what I planned to do with my life.

Really? At 13 years old I'm supposed to know which college I plan to attend, what I will major in, and what career I will choose to spend my entire adult life working in?

Well I didn't.

Somehow, my not knowing exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up meant that I absolutely must not be allowed out of the honors program because, apparently if you are not in the honors program you will have no hope of getting into college or getting a decent job.

I finally came up with a plan for my future: I would work at McDonald's and live at the Y for the rest of my life.

They were not amused. But they also couldn't argue with me. I mean, so I start working at McDonald's in my teens, move up to management, end up owning a franchise... the possibilities are endless.

So then they wanted to know why I wanted out of the program. I tried to explain that I had several close friends who would have benefited from the honors program much more than I. Bibliophiles who would have thrived on the extra reading and writing assignments, and that I was nowhere near as "smart" as several of the people in the classes already and that I was only holding back the class.

This is where I learned the difference between intelligence and achievement.

This is when John Stossel pulled out the records... and I learned that those ridiculously stupid tests back in 5th grade were I.Q. tests.

Eventually I got dismissed from the honors classes for the second semester of 8th grade-- only to get thrown back into the program as a freshman. Which is where the REAL trouble began.

I should have just skipped high school altogether. Seriously. But I didn't. I didn't have anyone in my life who was savvy enough and paying enough attention to notice that high school was oh so not going to work out for me. Except me, but no one listens to a 14 year old girl unless she's saying she's been molested by a Satan Worshipping stepfather-- which I wasn't so anything I said pretty much went unnoticed.

Long story short: after 3 3/4 years of being accused by school personnel of being 1. on drugs, 2. a thief, 3. having a lesbian affair with my best friend and 4. a satanist I'd had enough of high school and finally walked out.

Two weeks before my 18th birthday, in the final quarter of my senior year. We had to cancel the order for the cap and gown.

By that time, even my mother-- my think-inside-the-box, color-inside-the-lines, because-that's-the-way-it-is, mother-- was fully supportive of my decision.

No diploma. No GED.

I applied to the local community college the following year and proceeded to start racking up college credits. To date, I think I'm a sophomore now.

I actually love college. And I'm good at it. Damn good.

However, school is not my Zen. I have a lot of issues with the way our educational system-- from preschool to graduate school-- works. Mostly, I'm a grown up now and I have to work for a living.
I realize many many many people do both. Hazzah for them. I also know a great deal about who I am. And I do not multi-task well.

Also, I love my job. I cannot adequately express how much I love what I do. Every time I try, I am accused of being defensive of it. I can be defensive of my job-- but not my enjoyment of it. It's just very difficult to express to someone who has so little knowledge and understanding of what is truly entailed. Certainly, it is difficult for anyone to comprehend who has not also experienced great satisfaction from their work.

Nevertheless... looming in the background of my history is the shadow that my i.q. falls well within the 98th percentile that MENSA requires for membership. And yet, I have failed to become a rocket scientist, pen a symphony, or develop a vaccine for West Nile Virus-- which apparently are the types of achievements expected of geniuses from those who will never know what it means to have such expectations placed upon them.

I do nails.

I work with advanced polymer adhesives as an artistic medium. I paint really tiny pictures on canvases that I must first create from dust and liquid, sculpted directly to a living-- moving-- model.

And I routinely find myself having to define common words to college graduates who managed to spend $80,000 on a piece of paper that didn't improve their vocabulary past the 3rd grade level and they still can't differentiate between "their," "there," and "they're" while they end sentences with prepositions daily, "where you at?"

But I'm the uneducated slacker-- because I can't see the point in paying to take a test that will somehow prove I'm at least educated enough to work for the post office.