Oh

Yeah

Why didn’t I think being “gifted and talented” was a fun and cool thing?

Because my first teacher for “gifted and talented” classes was… not a good kind of teacher.

The activities we did in her class were interesting, most of the time, but “excitement about learning,” “creativity,” “inquisitiveness” were not really ideas she was interested in. We had a very regimented set of activities we did, and… we never really talked, I guess, is what I feel was missing? We never discussed things. We just got activities and did them according to the rules.

One of the things I remember is the periodic math tests that were put out by some organization, I don’t remember what. They tended to have the same categories of questions, if not the exact same questions, every month (or week or whatever the timeframe was). One of them was made-up mathematical operators, like, “If [triangle symbol] means multiply and then add two, what’s three triangle five?” Another was questions about clocks or schedules that would be easy to answer with algebra if we had known algebra but really hard without it– like, “if this clock runs ten minutes slow, and that clock runs five minutes fast, and right now they show the same time, how long will it take for them to work around to showing the same time again?”

Young-me thought the made-up new operator questions were ridiculously easy and was totally bewildered that any of my classmates got them wrong. I never got to ask my classmates why they had trouble with those questions or explain how I solved them.

Young-me occasionally managed to solve the clock questions by making very long tables. I never got any feedback on my solutions or any explanation of how else I could have solved them. Even though we did them every few weeks for the whole year. It was just, “do these math problems,” no context, no discussion, no learning except whatever we came up with ourselves.

This was also the class in which I was assigned a really bad research topic, then was lectured until I cried because (a) printing out articles from the internet and highlighting parts of them didn’t count as taking notes, only handwritten notes counted, (b) none of our books and in-class activities had mentioned my topic, so I hadn’t made any handwritten notes. Did she tell me in advance not to print stuff off the internet? Of course not. I was just supposed to know somehow.

That incident is one of the things that comes to mind whenever I talk about teachers assuming above-grade-level “giftedness” comes with above-grade-level informational knowledge and skills, but for some reason I hadn’t connected in my head that all these things happened in the same class.

The other big assuming-skills issue with that class was re: organization and communication skills. So this “gifted and talented” class was something I was taken out of my regular class to go to. I was expected to know when it was and take myself out of my regular class to go to it. Since I was in the school band, I also had to keep track of my own music lesson schedule once the band teacher told me when my lesson would be, which changed each semester. That’s kind of a lot for an elementary schooler to keep track of already, I think, but the real problem was that one semester, my band lesson time was suddenly changed to a time that overlapped part of the “gifted and talented” class time.

The “gifted and talented” teacher did not like this, understandably. What’s not so understandable is that she expected me to handle it, on my own, instead of her talking to the band teacher herself. “I only get one hour a week with you kids anyway, you can’t take this time to go to band. You need to reschedule your band lesson.”

When was I going to do this? Since I wasn’t going to my band lesson?

How was I, as a nine or ten-year-old (autistic) child, supposed to take the initiative to (a) go see a teacher outside class hours (b) or interrupt them during a (already very busy) music class, to (c) tell them what to do with their own schedule?

It was like a perfect storm of things I could not cognitively deal with (some of which I still have trouble with):

— interrupting people
— bringing up new conversation topics even if it’s not a direct interruption
— remembering/fully understanding things without seeing them written down
— remembering and bringing up things from one context in another context without some kind of reminder
— understanding that bureaucracy isn’t actually infallible unchangeable laws from on high, but rather a system set up by people who can change their minds and make exceptions to the rules
— having to weigh two conflicting but equally authoritative orders and decide which to follow

Anyway, this post was brought to you by Tumblr posts about gifted students. Why didn’t I feel like being a Gifted Student made me superior? The fact that in practice it was just another setting for me to get in trouble with rules I didn’t understand and expectations I couldn’t meet, is probably part of it.

 

I just remembered something

I had been thinking that I don’t have the attachment-to-objects / empathy-for-objects thing that some autistic people do (basically treating objects as if they have feelings. Feeling like you should apologize to them if you damage them, grieving when you have to get rid of them as if you were losing a friend, things like that.)

It’s true that I don’t feel like that very often or very strongly now, but I just remembered there was one object-empathy-ish thing that I felt really strongly about when I was a kid.

It’s not something you would expect, like ascribing feelings to dolls or stuffed animals.

It’s balloons.

I used to think that the way balloons slowly lose their helium, stop being able to float, get smaller and wrinkled and damaged-looking, was really sad. I didn’t like having balloons in the house for parties because I knew they were just going to (I felt) die, in a few days.

I felt the same way about glow sticks. We used to get them on the Fourth of July, and after we got back from watching the fireworks and I went to bed, my mother would put my glow stick in my room “so I could see it while I fell asleep.” As soon as she shut the door, I’d get up and cover the glow stick up with something, because I hated the thought of watching its glow slowly die.

So yeah. Single-use things that run out. That’s my object empathy thing.

Ruralness

I always tell people that the area where I grew up wasn’t Really rural (and really, it wasn’t), but then I see things like what I saw earlier today, where people are like Did You Know? There are places in the United States that don’t have Critical Infrastructure like municipal water and sewer systems!

Yes, there are places like that in the United States, and I grew up in one of them, and it’s not a scary thing?

Because this is the United States, and “infrastructure” and “access to technology” encompass more than just stuff built by the government, people who live in places without municipal water systems have wells with electric pumps, and septic tanks, and companies with vacuum trucks that come empty the septic tanks, and companies that test their water for pollution, etc. etc. etc.

There are people in rural areas who can’t afford those things, but there are also people in urban areas who can’t afford to pay their water bills, or to pay a plumber when something goes wrong with their pipes, and to me that doesn’t seem so very different, but idk.

Here’s a cool thing

A principle I currently believe is important, and which I know I’ve felt the same way about for at least ten years, because I distinctly remember saying this in a discussion in my tenth grade social studies class:

Words mean what people think they mean.
Symbols represent what people think they represent.

Learning about the origins of words, symbols, slogans can really expand your understanding of the context they came from, and I think it’s really important, but that doesn’t mean the original meaning is the Real meaning. The Real Meaning is what most people currently understand it to mean.

You can educate people about changes in meaning, and sometimes you can use a word in an uncommon or non-current sense if you explain that’s what you’re doing, but you can’t make language stop changing.

I was thinking about this in response to a post about person-first lanugage, and then I thought to myself, “Wait, I remember saying “symbols mean what people think they mean” in Mr. K’s social studies class…”

Cool kids

Lots of people have had a teacher who was “the cool teacher”. Has anyone else had a teacher who thought you were a cool student?

Like, they think you’re really talented in a way that’s not just doing well with the class material but like, they personally admire what you’re doing. Or they think of you as “one of the cool kids” in the sense of having radical opinions or a cutting-edge sense of style.

I’ve had a few and it’s a little uncomfortable.

I guess what it really boils down to is them thinking you’re cool-er than they are. There’s probably some idealism involved, about young people being more energetic, creative, exciting. And probably also something I’ve heard a lot of people describe re: bullying, and which I definitely experience– having the same emotional reaction to Cool Teenagers as you used to have as a less-cool teenager, even when you’re an adult and have power over them in various ways.

Also a bit of the universal thing where other people always seem more confident and decisive than you are, because you don’t know the thought process behind what they’re doing, you only see the actions.

I don’t know. It’s a really interesting phenomenon, especially since it happened to me in what seemed like very similar ways at a variety of ages, from middle school to college.

I wish I knew…

at what age I read various books. I can “date” some of the ones I read while I was elementary-school age, because I remember reading them at school or talking to my classmates about them so I know what grade I was in at the time.

But I have zero idea when I first read A Wrinkle in Time, except that I was fairly young. Same for the first time I read The Hobbit. Except that it was early enough that I’d mostly forgotten it by the time the LOTR movies came out. Or A Wizard of Earthsea, come to think of it.