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You Mean, I Am Not Dumb?

You Mean, I Am Not Dumb?

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Published by Jamie Baker

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Published by: Jamie Baker on Oct 31, 2008
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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12/27/2009

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You Mean, I’m Not Dumb?
At an early age, Davis’s strengths were obvious. He is a collector. He collectslicense plates, maps, bumper stickers, scout patches, bottle caps, people he has met,and facts he has heard. Davis listens intently for new information to collect. You onlyhave to tell Davis something once and he collects it, holds onto it to build it intosomething more. He uses collected information to make connections that amaze. Davis isa builder. He loves to build towers and anything with wood and tools. And, since he haslearned about Buckminster Fuller, he has been trying to build shapes like geodesic domesand dodecahedrons. One day, I am certain, he will build a dome large enough to live in.When Davis was in 3
rd
grade at Grace-St. Luke’s School, after just two weeks of school, the teacher called home. Davis was breaking down in school, she said. At everyopportunity, he was avoiding taking part in reading. During
 Drop Everything And Read 
(DEAR) time, which is 20 minutes every day, Davis would ask to build with the LEGOSinstead. If she insist that he read, the only book Davis would choose was the
Guinness Book of World Records
, which is mostly pictures. Davis had done poorly, notably poorer than all the other students, on his spelling test last week. When she asked him if he studiedthe words, he broke into tears. At the start of this week’s spelling test, Davis put his headdown on his desk. He didn’t even try the first word. She said she did not know what waswrong, but that she had seen enough students over the years to know that something waswrong. The teacher suggested that Davis be tested immediately by the school psychologist. She could pull Davis out of class for testing during the next week and haveresults the week after. I told her to set up the testing.Two weeks later, I asked the school psychologist if Davis could attend the meetingwith his dad and me to get the test results. Even though he was only nine, I could trusthim to sit still and listen. I also knew that he would have ninety-nine questions for us if hedid not have a chance to hear the test results for himself. Davis is a champion question-asker – so much so that a friend of ours nicknamed him “99” because that is the number of questions Davis can ask about any given subject, or so it felt to our friend.Davis, his dad, and I joined the school psychologist and Davis’s teacher in her 
 
office. The school psychologist recapped all the early childhood history she took, theinformation she got from the teacher about Davis’s classroom behavior, and theinformation she got from us about Davis’s eating and sleeping habits. Davis would look at me every few sentences for reassurance, not understanding completely why we werethere. The school psychologist held the papers with the results of the intelligence testsclose to her chest. She rattled on about stanines and norms. Numbers aren’t my thing, soI was struggling to stay focused. She summed up her first round of tests, “What theseseries of tests show is that Davis is actually very intelligent.” I felt that we already knewthat. To my right side, I saw Davis lean forward so that he could see the school psychologist and get her attention. “Excuse me,” he said scooting onto the edge of hischair. Quietly, he asked, “You mean, I am not dumb?” Everyone looked at Davis. It waslike we all realized at once what this kid believed about himself – that he was dumb because he could not read and spell like everyone else and that being dumb was his lot inlife. My heart ached with his pain. “No Davis,” the school psychologist answered, “Youare not dumb. Actually, you are very, very smart.”There was not time to react, really, because the test results continued. In theachievement tests, the news was not so good. On oral expression, comprehension (when a passage was read to him), and logic, Davis was skilled above grade level. But, in all of the subtests related to reading, Davis’s performance was very low to even non-existent inword attack skills. Among the fog of all this heavy information at once, I heard her say,“His point gap is 46. That is the largest point gap I have ever seen in all of the kids I havetested.”
What is a point gap?
I wondered. “Davis is dyslexic,” she concluded, “Verydyslexic.”We had a word,
dyslexic,
and a point gap,
46 
. But what did it all mean and whatwere we to do now? I was shocked. Scared. After just a few seconds living with thisnews, I felt horrible guilt. We had a smart little boy who could not read or spell and was inthe third grade in a school he loved. He had been there for four years, day in and day out.He loved his school so much, and we loved his school so much, that we moved his twosisters from the “best school in town” to Davis’s school, Grace-St. Luke’s, in order to beone family at one school. Davis was so excited to have his sisters join him that he took them as his Show-and-Tell their first week at GSL. We were thrilled that our kids would
 
grow up with shared school memories. They still talk about the time that Davis threw upin the cafeteria and the lady covered it with pencil shavings. How could I have let this kidgo to school for the past four years thinking he was dumb, hiding under the LEGO table?How many times had we told him to try harder? How scared must he be taking in all thisdifficult information? I had let him down.This news led also to a huge sense of betrayal and anger. Davis had been entrustedto GSL for four years and no one had said anything other than that he was a nice kid, asweet kid, and a boy – sometimes boys do things at their own pace. Why had no one ever mentioned that Davis was far behind the other students in the critical skills of reading andspelling? Davis even assured us about the S’s on his report card, “S stands for super – that’s what my teacher says.”GSL had loved Davis, and Davis loved his school and his friends. Davis believedthat besides home, GSL was where he belonged, that GSL had claimed him as one of their own. I had trusted GSL to be the experts in learning and teaching. As time went on, Ilearned that this blind trust was a false and dangerous assumption on my part.There was a tremendous lack of ownership of Davis’s situation on GSLs part.Teachers feared being blamed. Many of the teachers feel that GSL is a school for giftedand talented kids only, that there is a stock kind of kid that fit them. There was a sense thatDavis was not “our type” because he is learning disabled which means he must be dumb.There is deep confusion about the paradox that a kid can be learning disabled and besmart. This confusion often leads teachers to abandon kids because they are too muchtrouble, too complicated, and don’t fit the mold of the facile learner. The teachers’mindset, therefore, is a horrible barrier to a kid like Davis with the drive to work through,work with, and work around his disabilities. The same mindset can be extremely resistantto change within a school system, change that could prevent kids from making it to 2
nd
or 3
rd
grade without learning to read, and no one mentioning it. The school’s response to our crisis was to advise Davis out. In the letter from the school psychologist detailing the testresults, the school recommended that we withdraw Davis i.e.
leave the community
;
leavehome.
 My husband and I strategically divided the problem into two parts: the immediatecrisis – that Davis could not read at a 3
rd
grade level -- and the bigger problem of how this

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