The Gift of Testing

I guess I’ve tested over 4,000 children, teenagers and adults. Each has entered my office in varying stages of anxiety or resistance or antipathy, each in due time relinquishing the protective armor of caution, perhaps because each learned early on that I was not to be feared.

In 1969, I tested my first person, a 13 year-old boy, undistinguished, a “typical” early teen guy. But he bothered me. He didn’t do what I expected, didn’t answer the way he was supposed to, became uneasy at easy things, excited by other more difficult things. He had “average” intelligence. But he still bothered me. Something wasn’t right.

This morning, over 40 years later, Noah walked in, a big undistinguished-looking, gawky 12-year-old, shy, circumspect, smiling a wan little smile that quickly vanished when I began to speak to him. His hair looked like it was painted on his head, symmetrical, flat, smooth.

I asked him where he went to school. He said, “Uh, that’d be 7th grade!”  I repeated the question, calmly, reassuringly (as if I’d made the mistake) and he rolled his eyes to the left and said, “Oh, I thought, well, anyway, I go to Midvale.”

Right away, he bothered me. Because I started to think; it’s a habit I’ve never dropped. The questions began: “Why did he misunderstand?” and “Did he misunderstand at all?” and “Did I slur the question?” and “I wonder if he just was distracted for a moment.” and “Does he have a language disorder?” and “Was  he anxious?”

I glanced at his school test-records, his Stanfords; they were “average”, some low, some high but all in the “average” range. His grades were fair to good.

And so he bothered me. After 40+ years at this testing stuff, after meeting with each of the 4000+ for three hours and examining their histories, school records and biographies and talking to their parents and more, you’d think nothing would bother me…or very little. You’d think it’d all be prosaic by now, old-hat. But no. Noah bothered me.

To be more precise, he intrigued me because  he extended to me an invitation to come see what his world was like, what marvelous intricacies constituted his singular version of humanity.  I got a glimpse of his ineffable complexity, right there because he gave me a “wrong” answer.  And as time passed, I began to discover  more: hidden avenues of competence and deficit, a personality that waxed more complex as we proceeded, a presence that transformed itself from the everyday to the exceptional. He presented himself as a gift. He bothered me beautifully.

In future posts, I will describe Noah’s – and many other’s – extraordinariness. And I hope I can convey to you my great fortune in finding the work that I do and the gifts of human uniqueness.


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