A traumatic childhood experience

Cartoon picture of child struggling over test paper.

Gifted? My foot.

Now that I’ve been blogging for a while, I find I’m becoming more open with you, faithful reader, despite my efforts to use some discretion. Recently I was talking about those pivotal incidents that create a “before” and “after” in our lives. I thought it only fair that I share one of mine (other than getting leukemia, of course). Perhaps I’m trying to remind you that psychologists are human, and we too experience trauma in our lives.

I’ve previously acknowledged my unexpected admission to the School for the Gifted, a junior-senior high school in Toronto. Many people were astonished when I made the cut, including me. And overnight, I moved from the top of my Grade 6 class to Grade 7 mediocrity.

Person (hand) completing multiple-choice test

I have no idea.

My first day in Mr. Montgomery’s Grade 7 English class only served to reinforce my newfound feelings of inadequacy. (As much as I try to be discreet with names, I share this old-school teacher’s full moniker because I feel he deserves the public shaming.) Mr. Montgomery had a practice of seating students according to their performance on a multiple-choice vocabulary test that he administered on the first day of school. Guess who was assigned the front right corner desk, the seat reserved for the lowest scoring student in my class? What an introduction to my new brilliant peers: I’m the dumb one, and don’t you forget it!

Please allow me to clarify, somewhat defensively, what may have contributed to my poor performance on this test: I didn’t guess, at all.  If I wasn’t 100% sure of the correct answer, I left the item blank. (I was a wee bit cautious back then.) I believed I’d look more stupid if I responded incorrectly than if I didn’t respond at all. Keep in mind I had not yet studied statistics, so I did not consider that even were I to guess randomly at unfamiliar items, I’d have a decent chance of being correct. When I told people what I had done, I was only further ridiculed for not guessing.

And so, based on this one experience, I spent many years believing I was illiterate. It’s incomprehensible how I let my performance on one vocabulary test determine my opinion of myself on all things language arts. I’ve recently reevaluated my abilities and decided I might be passable, although you’ve probably noticed I don’t use many big words in my blog. (Maybe my low score was fairly accurate after all?)

I’ve since decided not to let one event, i.e., something one person says or does to me, have such a profound impact on my life for so many years. Why let someone else’s ignorance determine how I feel about myself? By allowing that to happen, I was indeed stupid.

And so I now say to Mr. Montgomery: I hope no other students were affected as profoundly by your public humiliation as I was. And if any were, I pray they were smart enough to let it go much sooner than I did.

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