Column: Mother recognized intelligence, but in her own way

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 15, 2001

The oldest high school in Nebraska – established while Nebraska was still a territory-was the one from which I graduated.

Thursday, March 15, 2001

The oldest high school in Nebraska – established while Nebraska was still a territory-was the one from which I graduated. Not the same building, of course. As I recall the building was only about 21 years old the year I graduated. Some 30 or 35 years later it was torn down and a new high school built at a different location in the city.

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There was no junior high in my home town until 1920. It included the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. I was 11 years old and just entering the seventh grade so it was all extremely exciting. My class would be the first to go through all three grades of the junior high.

Adding to the excitement of having a new school was the information, carried in our daily newspaper, that each of the three grades would be divided into four parts by means of an intelligence test to be given to all entering pupils.

Since intelligence tests had been given to the troops during World War I, the concept can’t have been wholly new, but no one seemed to have ever heard of the like before. It seemed to upset most parents. Children getting the highest scores in the tests would be in the A group, an accelerated learning group. The B group would be for the above average, for those with slightly lower scores than those in the A group. For the average pupil there was the C group and for the slow learners the D group, where they could be given special help.

What the parents of my friends said to them in regard to the tests I have no idea. What my mother said to me the night before I took the test is still with me.

She was ever so kind. She told me that she and my father both loved me and it had nothing at all to do with what kind of a score I got in the test. &uot;Even if you should be in the very very lowest group, you are not to feel unhappy about it. It is not important to us whether you’re intelligent or not. We just want you to be kind and polite and get along well with your playmates.&uot;

There was never any lack of affection between my mother and me. Throughout her lifetime our relationship was an enviable one. It’s just that we always regarded each other with an amazed bewilderment.

She once said that she hadn’t really given up hope until the day she handed me a paring knife and a bowl of unpeeled potatoes and I’d set to work on them with the greatest enthusiasm but the backside of the knife.

I think, though, that her perception that I might be a little &uot;wanting&uot; came even earlier in my childhood.

We were paying an afternoon visit to one of her friends. Our hostess presented me with a little box containing seven handkerchiefs. One for every day in the week, with an appropriate symbol for each day. A wash tub for Monday, an ironing board for Tuesday and so on. I was as delighted as any child ever is with a box of handkerchiefs. If we could have left it there all would have been well, but the hostess was one of those who always add a kindly word. In giving me the gift she said, &uot;Here honey, take these and play with them while your mother and I are chatting.&uot;

I wasn’t yet five years old. If I’d have been 10 I wouldn’t have known exactly how to play with seven handkerchiefs. Obedient to a fault, though, I removed them one by one from the box, rolled each in a tight roll and put it in my mouth. I didn’t quite manage all seven. Five, I think, before I started to choke. They had to pry the handkerchiefs out of my mouth with a button hook. My mother always regarded me a little differently after that.

Oh, yes, I was placed in the accelerated group. They have learned since, I believe, that those tests don’t measure intelligence, but reading ability. My mother was quite dumbfounded when I reported the test result to her. Her exact words were, &uot;Mr. Shrader (the principal) must have fixed it up some way. I must send him a nice jar of sauerkraut.&uot;

During the years that followed I had to take numerous aptitude tests as they came to be called. I once pointed out to my mother that even with no Mr. Shrader in the wings they always turned out well.

&uot;And you always thought I had no intelligence,&uot; I teased.

She was not amused. &uot;I knew you had intelligence. I just didn’t think it was the kind of intelligence that most people would recognize as intelligence.&uot;

Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column appears Thursdays.