As a child, I was diagnosed as having “neurological impairment” based upon “history, delayed milestones, and minimal suggestive neurological signs.” After this report was sent to the elementary school that commissioned it, my parents were sent a letter that read “A copy of this report has been sent to your physician. He will explain the medical seriousness of the findings in the examination. Would both of you please make an appointment with my office to discuss the educational implications of the report ?”
The recommendation was to have me removed from the school and institutionalized. “Why try to teach a child if he has no capacity to learn ?” the experts argued in the ensuring battle between the school board and my parents. My parents prevailed and I was kept in school but socially promoted from year to year by teachers who sat me in the back of the class, never called upon me, and treated me as if I had no potential.
Finally, in junior high school, I decided to prove the experts wrong and show the world that I was “smart”. I noticed that in junior high school that the smart kids took algebra. Where I went to school in New York State, the state gave end-of-the-course exams called Regents exams which were made public after their administration. Over countless hours, I proceeded to secretly and methodically memorize Regent exam questions and their solutions. Finally, on the first day of school, I strode up to the algebra teacher and declared boldly that I knew algebra. The teacher humored me by sending me to the principal, who himself was a former math teacher.
The principal then proceeded to administer a Regents exam whose questions and answers I had already memorized. I said nothing and dutifully took the exam. I scored a 96 on the exam. “Where did you learn algebra ?” the principal queried. I shrugged my shoulders and said “I don’t know. I guess it just came to me.”
All of a sudden, teachers treated me like I was some sort of misunderstood genius. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I was still the same person and still struggled with learning the most basic things. Worse, I had to keep up the front that I was smart.
To make a very long story short, I went on to get a PhD from MIT in pure math, all along suffering from nightmares that I would be exposed as a “phony.” I also went on to run a successful major textbook publishing company. Later, I resigned my position as its chairman and took a 90 % + paycut to pursue a lifelong passion and desire to become a public school teacher and to honor a promise to myself that if one day I “succeeded,” I would preach the message that all students, no matter how they may be “pegged” in their early years, can succeed far beyond anyone’s expectations if willing to work and if treated like they have no less potential than anyone else.
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