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Smarty Pants

Photo by Thad Allender

It was always about “smart” when I was growing up. Of course, my brother, five years older than me, was the one who set the bar pretty high.

Back in those days (do I have to say the year?), the Indianapolis school system handled bright students differently than they do now. Instead of creating enrichment classes or small sets of honor students in the same school, kids took an IQ test and were interviewed at the end of third grade to determine if they could handle “special classes” in a school usually outside their district.

The kids who qualified for these schools were driven to them by their parents (like a private school) or, in the case of families like mine whose parents worked or didn’t own a car (my mother didn’t learn to drive until I was in high school), we took a public bus everywhere.

Usually, it was the teachers in the smaller elementary schools who recommended students for these programs. In my brother’s case, he passed with flying colors and was transferred from our small, low-income School #10 to School #1 in the wealthier northeast corner of the city. He went from one success to another, whether it was science or math or music. Needless to say, it was my mother’s intention that I would follow in my brother’s shoes.

However, there were a few complications. First of all, since my birthday was in October, I was a “mid-termer.” This practice has been discontinued as well in which children who have not reached five must wait and begin kindergarten in January. No problem until my second grade teacher figured I was bright enough to skip part of second grade and bumped me up to third. And then my third grade teacher thought I was bright enough to skip part of third which meant I had to take my IQ test and competitive interview when I had just turned eight.

I didn’t pass. In fact, the interviewer said outright that I wasn’t ready. My mother was furious. She insisted I be enrolled in the program. I will never forget that conversation which ended with the man saying, “Fine. But, you must understand, your daughter will be at the bottom of the class.” Great.

On the contrary, it’s not great being at the bottom of a class of geniuses whose IQ’s probably ranged from 174-225. Did it kill me? No. Did it make me work hard? Yes. Did I fit in? No. Did I envy smart people? You betcha. In fact, smart is still one of the sexiest things a guy can bring to the table.