I am amazed at the capabilities of certain people to completely revive my faith in the beauty of a given day. In this case I am thinking of an eight-year-old. Jonathan, one of my third graders, is tiny for his age, with a crooked grin and glasses. He always wears a sweater vest over his uniform shirt. His hair, when I rumple it, is sticky to the touch. He has decided my name is “Ms. Android”– he didn’t misunderstand; he’s joking. He pretends to cry when I won’t pay attention to him. He smiles at me winningly when I frown. Sometimes he tells me he thinks my shoes are ugly, and I shouldn’t wear them. Every now and again he renews his investigation into my heritage. Some days he asks me if I am Puerto Rican; other days he wonders if I am Dominican. (My ancestors are mostly English; I have blue eyes and untannable skin.)
Jonathan has a way of grimacing and twisting his fingers that made me think he was developmentally disabled at first, but my last suspicions of this were completely blown away as I watched him do his times tables today, with an alacrity I have never seen among his peers. Not only does he understand that multiples are the same as multiple additions, and have the lowest numbers memorized– perhaps two of the other twenty kids can do this– but he also understood perfectly when I showed him that digits of nine-multiples always add up to nine! Then he picked up the idea that 3×7 is the same as 7×3. I’m not sure kids his age are supposed to be able to do this. If this falls under the concept of reversability, I believe Piaget said it’s not a concept kids get until later.
“I want to get all my work done now so I can rest at home,” Jonathan told me, and stood by the platform in the play yard for fifty minutes with his workbook out. I wish all the kids would say that. I told the program director we wouldn’t be seeing Jonathan anymore. I’m going to get him early admission at MIT.
I wonder where Jonathan will be in ten years. Will he be tracked into a mechanics-skills path at school? Will he join the army? Will he be so frustrated with the slowness of his peers and the ineptitude of teachers that he plays hooky every day? Or will he be like the high school volunteer at the after school program who goes to Bronx Science and hopes to get into Cornell to study computers? Will Jonathan also discover he has passions and skills for poetry or law or architecture, and follow his heart that way instead? I keep forgetting to talk to his mother when I see her… but I want her to know her child is very special, and that I would travel to the Bronx regularly, even if I didn’t work there, just to make sure he gets through school and into college whole.