Combined with a head start in reading, I also have a mind that is nimble with numbers. I can remember, from an early age, mentally playing with the numbers on the hymnal board, finding mathematical relationships among them. As a result, in school, I was accelerated in math as well as in reading.
Our school had about ninety children in each grade; the ninety were divided into three classrooms. We were sorted by academic competence, and every student knew which group was smart, which was dumb, and which was in the middle. In fourth grade they resorted us for math class. I remember one girl being teased because she was in the smart class for everything else, but for math she was in the dumb class. I do not think the school district meant for us to be aware of the difference, let alone judgmental about it, but children will be children.
I was one of the few who was promoted a year in math (but not in other classes). As a fourth-grader, I went to the fifth grade class for math. In fifth grade I was with the sixth-graders, then in sixth grade with the seventh-graders, and in seventh-grade I was with the eighth graders. No one had a plan about what to do with me next, so I repeated eighth grade math in the eighth grade. If someone at school or at home had troubled to get a high school book and guide me through it, I might have taken more interest in math or science as a career, but no one bothered to think that far outside the box.
On the other hand, my parents surrounded me with scientific toys. I had a telescope and a microscope, a chemistry kit, and a kit of electronic projects from Radio Shack. I enjoyed those toys, and I’m sure they helped me to well in school, but math and science remained fun hobbies. I got easy As in those subjects all through school, but I never considered career opportunities in those fields.
I followed the space program on TV, watched the Apollo missions to the moon, and dreamed of being an astronaut. I dissected frogs in seventh grade and learned the parts of the body, even the Latin names for all the bones. I took to algebra, to trigonometry, and to symbolic logic for geometric proofs like a duck to water. My senior year of high school, I took calculus, which was as far as the high school math program could take us. By the end of the year, my friend Pete and I were go-to resources, along with the teacher, to help the rest of the class understand the calculus lessons. (Pete was high school valedictorian; he is now a family physician in the Chicago area.) Some high school teachers, and some other adults I knew, were disappointed that I was not pursuing further education and a career in science or mathematics.
When I was in the fourth grade, a student teacher working on a paper for her school took me and a few other students from assorted grades out of class for testing that went beyond the standardized tests all students took. I was never told results of those tests. But, after I graduated college, I once took the privilege of visiting the school and seeing my “permanent file.” I learned that, in the earliest grades, my standardized test scores were only slightly above average. I scored well on the individualized tests conducted by this student teacher. Afterward, my test scores increased each year. In high school, I scored As in every class except some Physical Education classes and one typing class. (I graduated seventh in my class.) In college I managed straight As and was at the top of my class. On the SAT and ACT and later on the GRE, I landed in the highest percentile. But skill at test-taking does not translate to skill in all areas. I am capable of only the most basic household and car repair skills—I can change a light bulb or even replace a switch or electrical outlet; I can change a tire or a car battery. Beyond those basic tasks, I rely on professionals. I’ve done a smattering of learning in other languages, but I’ve never become fluent in a second language, and geniuses who can sense and describe nuances in the grammar of vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew and Greek or in more recent Latin and German texts blow me out of the water. I can read music and play several instruments but am proficient at none of them. It took me many years to begin to appreciate the complexity of classical music, let alone modern jazz. No one does all things well. At best, we do well in the things that matter most to us and to those who rely upon us. J.