My nineteen year old daughter just came home from her compostion course. Her instructor read her essay to the class as a positive example. As I listened to her I realized that once again my daughter was teaching me the lesson that she has been trying to show me since I’ve known her. That is, that she is inelligent, and inelligent in ways that reach beyond test scores and reading ability. Her intelligence is about perseverance, strategic self disclosure, using effective socal skills, and an ability to shrug off insults.
From the moment she and her sister were placed in our arms on an April midnght, in a nearly deserted Omaha airport, I have under estimated her unique intellgence. This should have been apparent from the start. From her first days with us, she flashed this huge, endearing smile. I think she had learned, after ten months in an orphanage, that an open-mouthed smile, may make someone pause by your crib, and give you and your sister a life saving second look, smile or touch.
She grew. She learned new skills. Her smile became genuine. But still, not convinced that this girl was uniquely intelligent, I worried. She loved being read to and I thought she was learning words. Then it dawned on me that she had memorized The Giving Tree and Go Dog Go. She didn’t know the words at all. I thought this might destroy her.
She began school and was identifed with significant learning disabilties. She was placed in the lowest reading group. I watched her struggles to read, memorize her numbers, tell left from right. In fourth grade, a speech therapist told us confidently, that she would absolutely, never go to college, not even a community college. And I watched one day in fury, as another girl in her brownie troop, called her,’stupid’. And I thought this might destroy her.
But she was not destroyed. She simply ignored her brownie colleague, telling me later that she did not care what she thought. At the beginning of eighth grade, she told me that she had gone to each of her teachers and aksed them not to call on her unless her hand was raised. When I asked her, ‘why?’, she said that she did not want to be called on unless she knew the answer. Her teachers began to tell us that she was their role model for behavior, especially in her ‘special’ classes, filled mostly with troubled boys. And she told me that she always sat just inside the door of her classrooms, where no one from the hallway could see her. She knew how to manage each situation. In fact, just like her big smile, she knew how to take care of herself, even in less than perfect circumstances.
The speech therapist had been wrong. And the brownie had been wrong. And I had been wrong. She was fine. She was going to do anything she wanted. And if denied that, she would find something else to do. I am now convinced that it is this type of intelligence that matters most. The type that includes tenacity, emotional resillience, creative problem solving, and the ability to see what one needs and to ask for it. I beleve in her intelligence. And she has been showing that, from a crib in India, to a brownie troop in Nebraska to a student at a community college. This I believe.
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