Monday, January 26, 2009
In a week of large steps for Americans, my four year old daughter took a small one. Thursday, I drove her to the psychology department of a nearby university, where she took her first test. On her behalf, my husband and I have applied to gifted schools in the Chicago Public Schools system, hoping she’ll be selected to attend one next year when she starts kindergarten.
Of course, it’s not the first time she has been tested. Within minutes of birth, like all children born in contemporary US hospitals, she’d been given the Apgar test. She got a perfect score, and when the doctors told us she had exceptionally good color for a newborn, I felt an unreasonable flush of pride. My husband commented later that he too was amused to find himself proud of her Apgar numbers, but we couldn’t help it. After more than 20 years as students, our emotional response to tests of any sort were well primed.
All the same, last week’s intelligence test felt monumental, a significant turning point in my daughter’s life. It was the first collection of data on her mind. Until Thursday, her mind was uncharted, unrecorded, and therefore private, her own. Her teachers have told us about what she draws, how she plays, her social skills, and how she’s developing in terms of school readiness, but that’s anecdotal. I’ve written emails and letters about her to family and friends, again anecdotal. I think about her thinking, but until now, her mind has been territory solely for her, her friends, her family, and others who know her personally and care about her. As of last week’s test, however, her mind is a public enterprise. Data has been collected, and the Chicago Public School System is the first of no doubt many institutions to start passing judgment on how she ranks compared to others. Expectations are different. Her mind, in one important way, is now public.
We could “go off the grid” educationally speaking, of course, but I believe strongly in public schooling, and I want her to be part of it. The test drove home what a significant choice that is.
It felt monumental to me, at least. I’d told her that she was taking a test, and told her that she should do her best but not worry too much about it, and she followed my instructions. She was curious, interested, and proud when the tester told her she’d “done good work”, but to her the afternoon seemed to be a lark – a chance to leave preschool early and spend extra time with her mom, with the promise of a cookie later, with the chance to run along the sidewalks chasing the geese that were wandering the campus.
After the test was over, my daughter and I set out in search of the treat I’d promised. We sat at a table in the student center, and she ate two doughnuts. (Not usually allowed, but I figured there ought to be some reward for conforming to adult expectations so cooperatively.) “Mommy,” she asked, “am I done taking tests now?” “Yes”, I answered, “that’s the only one . . . well, no. No. No, you’re really not done. Not at all. I mean, you don’t have to take any more before kindergarten, but once you get to school there are lots more. Lots.” I stopped talking, rather than scare her to pieces about this whole schooling enterprise. That evening we went to a basketball game, where she ate popcorn and danced in the aisles when the cheer squad performed. When we got home, she threw up.