Saturday, January 21, 2012


I am telling this story how I remember it. The first part is my take on what my father told me many years ago.

My family went to a normal, suburban, public elementary school. Each year every third grade student took a standardized test (not an IQ test but similar) evaluating their intelligence.  Students that scored above a certain number were invited to participate in an accelerated learning program the following years. At our school this program was called TEC, which I think stood for The Enhanced Curriculum or some such. The TEC students, who were also called "gifted", would meet at various times each week to do special activities, instead of attending their regular classes.
My two oldest brothers were in TEC. When my third oldest brother took the standardized test he missed the TEC cut off score by 2 points. My father went to the school and requested that his third son still be allowed into the TEC program. The principal and Mr. Rothstein, the TEC teacher, both denied my father's request, with the reason that the test scores are the test scores. Mr. Rothstein thought that by making an exception he would open the doors to other exceptions and it would lower the standards of his class. My father argued that it was only two points, and felt since the older two boys were in the program, the third son should be given some credit. It was not like the third son missed by 5 points, that, my father could understand. He claimed that by admitting the third son he would be surrounded by, not only his brothers, but also, the brightest kids. This would be a positive influence. My father also stated that by denying the third son admittance could have an adverse effect on his desire to learn. My dad suggested a retake of the test. Mr. Rothstein would not budge, it was strictly numbers.

My dad was upset by the fact that they did not take other aspects of his third son's personality into account. The third boy learned faster, was more curious about how things worked, had a better disposition and was more patient than the older two boys. All qualities a teacher should want. From that point on, none of my dad's other children were permitted to take the TEC standardized test. Maybe his view was that all of his kids were all special in their own way and he refused to let the school, or Mr. Rothstein test his other children. Or maybe he was just being stubborn, but the younger five children never took the test. The older two were allowed to stay in the program since they had already invested time and energy, but none of the rest of us would be allowed to get involved with TEC. I remember, 20 years later, my dad talking about this situation and he was still annoyed with the school.

Fourth Grade was the first year that my best friend Bob was ever in my Home Room. Home Room was the class where we started the day, had lunch together, had recess time together, Gym class, library time together, and ended the day. Miss Stein, the Home Room teacher took a liking to us and I knew it was going to be a fun year. Then Bob was accepted into TEC. Being in TEC meant less homeroom time, less free lunch time, and less recess time.  Instead of Library time the TEC students would go to TEC. The TEC room was right next to the Library. I could hear the kids laughing and having fun while I sat on a whistle pillow reading James and the Giant Peach.  It seemed like Bob was always in TEC. I ended up being jealous of his TEC friends and really resenting TEC in general. Not being in TEC made me feel inferior. I always assumed I was just not smart enough to be admitted.

I vaguely remember at that time having a talk with my dad about TEC. My dad said something to the effect of "you are better off without TEC."

At that time the TEC class was putting together a theatrical production of Peter Pan. Bob, who was cast as a lost boy, had many rehearsals which kept him after school. One day I stayed with him in the Gym/Theater during his rehearsal. I watched from the gym floor as Sally Senderling, cast as Wendy, was having a difficult time doing the scene where she first meets Tinkerbell. She did not know where to look. Mr. Rothstein (it may have been Mrs. Senderling, Sally's mother who was helping with the show) asked if I could help shine a flash light on the wall to represent Tinkerbell. I said yes. They realized they were going to need someone to do this part for all the rehearsals as well as the show.

I remember a brief discussion about whether a non-TEC person could handle the task of being Tink. They may have been discussing whether a non-TEC person would be allowed to take the part, due to class obligations etc. but I took the whole conversation as a dig at my intelligence.  I insisted that I do the part. The school allowed it.

I recall telling my dad about the part I had in the play. I remember he was not too pleased, possibly because I was involved in TEC and possibly because I was very excited to be playing Tinkerbell. I went to the rest of the rehearsals and perfected hiding behind pieces of stage sets to be Tinkerbell in each scene. I remember feeling somewhat out of place hanging with all the smart kids. I eventually did the two to three shows (uncredited) as Tinkerbell. I was even invited to the cast party at Mrs. Senderlings house after the last show.

By default Tinkerbell gets the most applause in the show Peter Pan due to the whole "clap your hands if you believe" stuff. I pretended that the applause was for me and my flashlight. I know at the time I felt I was not smart enough to be part of the TEC class but hearing the applause made me believe that maybe I was.

I was smart enough. Gifted even.

Either that or I was the best damn Tinkerbell ever. Which I knew would make my father proud.


Molly Ruggles said...

This is a great post! My problem with 'gifted' programs is not their impact on the kids who are in the programs but their impact on the kids who AREN'T.

But it is interesting that your dad went along with TEC for his 1st two sons. It wasn't until he felt the sting of exclusion in his 3rd sone that your dad pulled back.

It's human to do this. I would have probably done the same thing.

But there's food for thought there.

Anonymous said...

If you're psychoanalizing......Tinkerbell is a fairy! A GIRL fairy at that! Do you have a hidden agenda?

Anonymous said...

The Enrichment Class.

Bunch of hocus pocus.

They still do it. It is called DEEP. My First two missed it. Your Goddaughter is in it.

Murr Brewster said...

I love this, all of it. Back in the day, and probably even now, most dads would not in fact be all that thrilled with you being a good fairy. But other than that, it rang true.