I was working out this morning amongst a chatty group of older ladies. One was saying that she was so happy because her grandchild had requested books for his birthday.
I confess I live in a small world, where the vast majority of children and adults love books, so I smiled to myself when she said, “He couldn’t have said anything to make me happier.” Really? Nothing? But maybe this was a big change for him, a reason to celebrate. Who knows.
She then carried on to say that the younger sister was “not as smart.” Apparently she does not read as much. (It was later revealed that the less smart sibling of the great reader had just turned 5.) Someone suggested—a little pained, like I was, to hear a grandmother comparing her grandchildren’s intelligence—that the younger sibling perhaps had other interests.
“She plays with Barbies,” said the grandmother, sealing the deal—clearly the younger sister was never going to be a member of the family brain trust.
I spoke up then, saying that while early reading is very often a predictor of high intelligence (however you want to measure that), not being an early reader is not a predictor of anything.
She looked back at me just as you might expect a smart, affluent grandmother to look at young, sweaty, disagreeable stranger waiting for the biceps machine, and said nothing. Another lady took up the discussion with me, thank goodness, so that I did not feel so much like a big turd in the older ladies’ flower garden.
We talked a little about my girls, my oldest, who read her first word before turning two, my youngest, now a good reader at five, but who also suffered from unfortunate comparisons between herself and her early reading sister. (Not anything anyone said out loud, of course, but people do ask me about it, and I wonder about it myself sometimes.)
As I told her, now that Victoria is getting older and expressing her curiosity more verbally, we get a little window into the scientific, engineering brain that is always observing, always thinking. She was not an early reader, and I don’t have a number to say she is “X-points smart,” but I know it is way to soon to say she is “not as smart.”
As we spoke I thought about my father-in-law, a successful and caring physician, who as far as I have heard has never been a great reader. I remembered that one of his sons, my brother-in-law, came in for some teasing because he had never been a great reader, though his wife seems finally to have converted him at least a little. He’s the chemical engineer; his wife is an epidemiologist. They are smart.
And of course I thought of myself, my children, my friends, my children’s friends, my friends’ children—Barbie players rife among them. (Well, my girls were not great Barbie players, but they do play with dolls.) I know I am spoiled by having children who actually have to be told to stop reading and go outside, but really, why should a five- or even ten-year-old child be expected to prefer reading to imaginative play? The cognitive and intellectual benefits of imaginative play are in the newspaper and on the radio regularly these days. And I think the learn-to-play window may be narrower than the learn-to-love-reading window, at least for children who live in a house where reading is valued by adults.
(I will spare you my rant about putting down traditionally girlish forms of play—it is a pet peeve I have spoken of before.)
Moving up and down on the stairstepper, I thought about my own prejudices about education and intelligence and decided to give the grumpy grandmother a break. I did not fall into homeschooling and gifted education without having to alter a few assumptions, erase some stereotypes, and even confirm the validity of some negative observations about homeschoolers.
Though don’t you wonder if there is just one awful homeschooling family out there introducing themselves to everyone? Otherwise, how is it that everyone seems to meet that rare bad homeschooler when the vast majority of the homeschoolers you know are so normal and nice?