Last night we went out for dinner with the idea that since older son was getting home too late for dinner, we’d meet him half way out somewhere and have a family meal, anyway.
Those of you who are from Colorado or know Colorado will know what comes next: we got slammed with a surprise-blizzard and crept back home at 20 miles per hour on the expressway.
Needless to say, this threw the night/evening off. Though the reason we came home instead of going across the street to an hotel for the night is that son wished to do the next chapter of the fantasy novel he’s been making progress on. So we all risked our lives so he could put down another few thousand words on a work in progress.
This is relevant in the same way it is relevant that when I wen to bed I fell asleep to husband and older son debating how to measure the snow fall, because the weather site was wrong, wrong, wrong. Earlier on they’d had a civil argument over the theory of prime numbers which started by older son saying mathematicians are as mad as poets.
It was relatively civil and quiet, because younger son didn’t make it up from the Springs. If he had, it would have been louder and more vehement, because once you add three of Us you know what it gets like.
So what is “Us”? Who are “We”?
We know each other, if not on sight, not far off. Some of us are harder to tell because we’ve learned to fake it better. I could pass off fairly well when I was young, aided by the fact that I was not only attractive, but liked to dress well and fashionably, which is an odd characteristic for Us and camouflaged a multitude of sins, allowing me to date fairly normal people (it’s not worth it.)
The other day we were sitting around with a group of friends talking and we decided the best way to identify Us, other than assiduous participation in the comments at According to Hoyt (apparently) is to go to an elementary school and find Us in embryo. The kid walking forlornly along a ledge, back and forth, during recess is probably one of us. Depending on the grade, he or she might also be hiding in a recess somewhere reading.
IQ tests are so-so at identifying us.
I was reading a defense of IQ testing yesterday, and they are right and it is defensible… for one thing: predicting success in college or in a narrow range of intellectual professions.
The person writing the article seemed to think it was a measure of superiority though, and that’s where the wheels came off. Reassuring comments like “People who don’t perform well on tests and don’t qualify for higher education might still lead fulfilling lives” made me roll my eyes so hard they almost fell out.
We have somewhere, and plan to frame it once he achieves something, younger son’s first IQ test, given by the school in kindergarten.
The disaster starts with the fact that the kid didn’t realize there was more questions in the back or maybe decided he was bored and didn’t answer them. It continues with the fact that has sensory issues (as I suspect does all of my family in the paternal line. None of us was ever able to jump rope or ride a bicycle (a problem for dad in a time when that was the best way to get around at least for a young man of no wealth) we’re INCREDIBLY slow at writing till about 14 for girls and 19 for boys (but fast at typing, if we can get a typewriter) and our handwriting has driven teachers to despair. We usually read fairly fast, but only by dint of getting bored and only having that as an escape. Sometimes we have speech issues.) which in kindergarten means he could write in a line or fill in the right square to save his life. To make things even more disastrous, younger son had a rather bizarre approach to answering questions, in that he assumed the people asking him things were doing so for nefarious purposes. When he took a test on the Great Lakes at 10, for instance, he refused to answer because if the teacher wanted to know those things, she could study as he had. Only when he told me this did a lot of his tests throughout his school career make sense.
Anyway, that test gave him an IQ of either 65 or 70 (can’t remember precisely. I really should find it) and the results letter assured us with care and patience he might learn up to a 50 word vocabulary, and be able to look after himself in semi-independent living some day. Even at the time I couldn’t be alarmed by this, considering this was the child who, the year before had gone mute at his pre-school teacher for six months because she “patronized” him (his word) by treating him like an infant. Same child who pulled out Shakespeare quotes for every occasion, even if he had to fit them in with a shovel. I knew his vocabulary was probably bigger than his teacher’s, he could make explosives that made craters in the backyard (with common household chemicals, too), had made a bizarre contraption of lego, k’nex and wood pieces so he could turn his room light from his bedside (we were in a Victorian then and only switch was by the door) when he got tired of reading my mystery collection (which I only knew he was reading because he both shelved them not alphabetically (he didn’t know the alphabet, being a self-taught reader) and because I’d found them under his mattress. Why he thought reading mysteries was something to hide from me, I don’t know.)
When he was 12 we had to have him extensively tested by a psychologist because of issues in school (which had a lot to do with depression) and they estimated his IQ in the mid 180s. Estimated because above 165 it’s all meaningless, more or less, and also because he’d hit his head on the top of every test they threw at him.
But other than that rather specialized test, his tests that denote IQ aren’t particularly shattering. Mostly probably for the reasons that kindergarten test was bizarrely low, only less so because he’s learned why he must answer questions. But he still gets bored, or gets strange ideas or whatever. The IQ tests are not calibrated for him.
He’s not alone. I know any number of Us who have so so (or disastrous) academic careers and many who bounce between failing and top grades depending on how interested they are. Then you throw in test anxiety and some of us can achieve bizarrely low scores, while not fooling anyone they’re actually stupid when talking about a subject.
IQ tests might be good predictors of college. Or not. If the schools are administering them you run into a lot of things, like how the “set” is selected.
Older son ran into this in first grade. His teacher apparently had a history of picking on a child a year, a child she perceived as “miscegenated.” We didn’t know this, and if we had we probably would not have thought about it, since it didn’t dawn on me till a decade or so later that people not only perceived me as Latin but often added their prejudices to it, to the point of imagining I spoke with a Spanish accent (no, seriously!) or looked Mexican. (Honestly, in Portugal they’re more likely to peg my husband as a native than me. They will approach us and speak TO HIM in Portuguese.) So we missed that until we talked to other people about her, years later. And I’ll confess we had it way easier than the parents of Robert’s first crush, a young woman who was Black/Cherokee/Irish. This teacher called her parents every other day to tell them she was mentally retarded and they should put her in an institution. (She was almost certainly of Us, and not at all slow.) Oh, the teacher was very left, to no one’s surprise, I’m sure.
Well, this teacher decided Robert was slow, couldn’t read, would never learn to read, and must be put in special ed. … Our son whom I’d found out could read when he was forty pages into a biography of Julius Caesar written for scholars, at 3.
Without telling us the school had him tested, and called me to inform me he was dull-normal (107 IQ) and we had to have a staffing meeting for him, to decide what we could do to ensure, yes, that he could lead a semi normal life.
This was just before Christmas, and the meeting was set for the start of Spring semester. We spent $500 we didn’t have to have him tested (difficult, because to be valid we had to use a different test from the school’s.) We were fortunate because he shocked the socks off them, so they gave him another battery of tests wholly free, including one that was entirely musical, and one that was all math.
He was diagnosed as profoundly gifted (and I use diagnosed advisedly. It’s as hard to get the schools to do a good job with that as with profoundly mentally retarded. — yeah, I know politically incorrect terminology, but it was the one used 20 years ago by psychologists) with an IQ around 165.
All of which mans that, yes, he does relatively well in school, at least if he’s studying something he’s interested in, and is fully engaged.
But the point is, in the course of the would-be staffing meeting, which did NOT go the way the school expected, we found out that the psychologist was the teacher’s best friend, and also that they have to pick what set they used for testing, and she’d picked the one that MAXED at 107, because her friend had told her our son wasn’t smart enough to ever learn to read.
What I’m trying to say is that IQ tests are very useful, to an extent, but they’re not, as the writer of that article seemed to think, the be-all end-all of prediction for how well people will do, or even of a certain type of mind.
For instance, I test nearly mentally-retarded on visual reasoning, math depends on the day, but verbal and auditory is through the roof, which compensates, given strategies. At some point, at a test for other purposes I was told I was a visual thinker with impairment (i.e. being very premature and a couple of concussions damaged my visual area, but I was designed to be a visual thinker. Which would make sense, since both boys are. Also, my illustrators always say I’m a very visual writer. You couldn’t tell it by IQ tests, though, because damaged.)
I have relatives who just test really badly. Yes, it’s predictive of school work, because they test badly at any tests. Tests are such an horrendous stress they shut down. You could give them a test for eating candy and they’d fail it.
So…. what makes Us is not exactly IQ, it’s something else.
My friend Dave Freer who is a biologist and knows a bit about primate populations says that we’re “outliers” or perhaps “goats.” In every band of primates there’s some who don’t fit, who see other things, who act differently. Primates (and we’re that) whose thinking/acting ranges from “I see the box, but why are you thinking inside it?” to “What box? There are no boxes?”
Depending on how stressed the band is, these are either known as “dead” or “the primates who find a new berry to eat, or who learn to pull up ants with a stick, while everyone else is starving because the berry we ate went extinct in this region.”
That “dead” part is still mostly how normal people react to us. There are evolutionary reasons for that. You get too many strange offspring in a band, and soon the entire band is strange, i.e. not of the species. Remember most mutations are harmful. So normal creatures are trained to resent and eliminate, most of all, weird ones of their kind. It’s some kind of uncanny valley, pink-monkey effect.
Don’t judge the other primates too harshly. First of all a band all of Us would be funny. “Hunt? But I found these interesting reeds and wanted to weave baskets. What do you mean starve? I don’t care. You’re not the boss of me.” multiplied by a hundred or so. There is a reason most of Us have small friend groups, many of us have rocky marriages, and a not irrelevant portion of us has problems with extended family.
At any rate, humans do it too. They cut out the goats quite neatly, particularly before any kind of higher processing/reasoning sets in. There’s a reason for most of us the early years of schooling were hell on Earth. (Yes, I hated them too, though I coped by being a one-girl avenger who beat bullies and protected the helpless… most of them Us.) And even those of us who could fake it into the “cool kids” at some point (for me it took till college) we never felt like we fit, and weren’t particularly well liked.
What I mean is, IQ tests are lousy ways of figuring out who we are. (And to an extent lousy ways to organize schooling, unless you retest every three years, have far more complex tests than the schools administer and learn to observe for things like “bored out of gourd.” Schools are very bad at this too. Most people they identify as “gifted” are high-normal highly compliant kids.)
But we know who we are, an can usually identify each other on sight or shortly after.
We’re people who go out in the middle of a blizzard to measure the snow on the trash can lid. We’re people who can have knock-out drag out fights about prime numbers. We’re people who can get hot under the collar discussing Roman monopoly laws at the breakfast table. We’re people who read everything. Yes, even the stuff everyone tells us is trashy. Yes, even the high brow stuff that’s actually good. We’re the people who can pursue an interest exhaustively for three months, then put it aside as if it had never been.
Conversations between two of us might range all over creation and back. Most of us aren’t rich because a) we could never get that worked up about money b) have never figured out what we wanted to be when we grew up, and bounce over professions and interests like loons for most of our lives c) had to spend all our money to learn something obscure that no one else could figure out why we cared about.
We’re lifelong learners, you can say that. Mostly because we can’t figure out how not to play with our minds. But the way we learn and what we want to learn might be the despair of any and all teachers.
We bore easily. Two days ago I had to rinse hair dye, set my alarm, and found out that I don’t do well for even 20 minutes without story or movement or SOMETHING. I swear it was subjective hours. Hell for us is having to sit (or stand) and do nothing for more than about five minutes. Purgatory is doing some boring, repetitive physical thing for a day. (Usually I use this time to plot, but there are nuances. If I can leave the task, I’ll just walk off. Without audio books, my house would NEVER get cleaned.)
The internet is very bad for us. We can spend hours going down rabbit holes, reading about things that are only loosely related and that no one else not a specialist would give two minutes thought to. (Lately? Reconstruction of historical skulls. Sigh. I’ve become aware after a while it’s for a novel. Time travel mystery/romance. How am I going to find the time?)
Those of us who have a “true vocation” (sometimes for strange things. I’m fairly sure younger son was born to be an engineer) can become amazingly good at whatever our field is. The only issue is that we often can’t complete a college degree on it (not younger son, thank heavens) because we get sidetracked by amazingly weird sides of the subject that interests us. Also, we don’t do well with group/group paced instruction. (Some of us. Others excel at it.) And if we are in the popular entertainment business the best we can aspire to (unless we’re very, very good and also good at publicity, and you know exactly which of my friends I’m talking about. There are half a dozen of them, the lucky bastages, who understand publicity and all) is high-mid-list because we are just a little too weird, and also we tend to jump around instead of doing one series and staying on it, locked for life. (Mind you in indie, high mid list, or even mid list can feed you quite well. I need to go more indie, in my copious spare time.)
Also, no matter what we do, and unless we find ourselves inexplicably, by random chance, in a workgroup of Us (my husband had that for ten years. They were miracle workers.) we’ll find that some people inexplicably really hate us (even though we weren’t even aware they existed before they brought themselves to our attention by trying to sabotage us.) Like older son’s first grade teacher, some people hate our guts. Though it might have side-lights of her being a rotten racist, the truth is that every kid I knew of she went after was also Us. Which leads me to believe those were the ones she talked herself into actually acting on. Because we annoyed the living daylights out of her. I’m sure most of you have met with this in jobs and gone “WHY does this person hate me?” The more paranoid of those not-of-us not only hate us but are convinced we’re conniving master minds and have it out for them. (Even though, again, we might never have noticed them.) I think it’s because these are manipulative people who live and die on manipulating others, and they can’t read Us, which identifies Us as threats. (Oh, btw, we couldn’t master mind our way out of a wet paper bag, since the only people we can sort of read are Us, too.)
And possibly worst of all is having strangers identify us as “so smart” (or total morons, nothing in between) and decide we MUST be rich and also need no help at ANYTHING including learning things we’ve never done.
So, how can you tell Us? We’re the goats, the outliers, the Odds. Those no one understands but some others of us. Those most people consider a threat, though to be honest we’re mostly threats to our own confused selves.
We’re the nail that sticks up and most of society snags on us, and devote themselves to pounding us down to match people not like us.
America, to an extent, more than other countries, has a tolerance for Us. This post is already way too long, but there are reasons for that including probably genetics (people who live or get thrown out their birthplace are not usually conformists), the automobile causing the spreading-out and mobility of people, so that you’re probably not near “tribe” of the genetic kind, some more innate flexibility than in older societies.
This is why the future, by and large comes from America. Because our Odds invent it, and people put it to use. It’s also why Europe is stagnating. They’ve been kicking out or losing their Odds for a long time. It’s also why our vast normal population (they’re still way in the majority, even here. Or as my mom puts it of younger son “the world will never be built for him.”) envies Europe so much. They instinctively feel Europe has way fewer goats to deal with, and those they do have keep under deeper cover. (Bah!)
The truth is that without us, the human race stagnates.
Sure, most of our brilliance often translates into wearing our underpants on our heads, forming incredibly bizarre cults, (Yeah, guys, sorry, Marx was probably Us. He had the stigmata. Including being absolutely convinced he understood economics, without actually bothering to learn them), creating the strangest theories of everything (and mustard), and generally being godflies.
But when the berry bush the band depends on dries up, if there’s an chance of finding an alternate food source (there often isn’t) the one who finds it will be a goat. Metaphorically speaking, world without end.
You’re smart, though probably not in the conventional way, you’re creative, though you might devote half your time to sculpting belly lint, you’re insatiably curious, though you might spend your time reading up on a planet you know never existed and become the world’s foremost expert on belly lint sculptors.
I don’t think it’s possible to cut out the weird and concentrate on the useful. That’s not who We are. But if we apply ourselves even half-way to the useful, we transform the world.
Yeah, kids in school picked on you. Ignore them. It’s not that none of them are smart enough to understand you. It’s that they’re boring. You get back in touch twenty years later, and they’re doing exactly what you knew they’d do in elementary.
Build under, build over, build around. Be yourself, underpants on head and all. Shine on you crazy diamond. The continuance of the species will probably depend on one of you when things go pear shaped. And if not that, the survival of the group, the village, the profession, probably will at some time or another.
Learn, build, be. Be not ashamed. Question. Ask them who is going to make us? Them and whose army. Go build that weird reed basket when everyone else goes hunting. You might find out it’s pretty good for catching fish in, and have supper ready when they come back empty handed because the mammoth moved on.
Say it loud, say it clear, and never be afraid of saying it: Bah!