Sunday, January 29, 2006

More Backstory - My Sister

Most people that know my brother, my sister and me think that my sister runs third in the intellect department. This may be true, but there can be no question that she was the most prodigious of the three of us.

She taught herself to read by age three. This was discovered when she started asking strange questions about what certain words or phrases meant. At first, everyone thought she was just repeating things she had heard. And then they caught her reading the newspaper. While it was clear a lot of it was over her head (Hey, she was three!), a lot of it wasn't. While I'm sure my parents and all her other relatives had been doing the normal stuff to teach a small child letters and numbers and such, no one had taught her to read. (Here's a crazy idea: My brother, five years her senior, may have taught her. It's the kind of thing he would do.)

But this wasn't the end of it. My mother liked to be involved in small local theatres. Theatres often have need of small children for their plays, and my sister fit in naturally. She started picking up acting and dancing quickly. In fact, a local Russian couple (refugees, naturally) wanted my mother to send my sister to New York City to study ballet at one point. My mother resisted this at the time, but I often wonder how things might have gone if she had taken them up on the offer. My sister also became very adept at various forms of Polynesian dance. And with her dark hair and her amazing tan, she was often mistaken as Hawaiian by other Hawaiians.

But back to the theatre. My sister had an amazing capacity to absorb information. She would not just memorize her lines, she would memorize whole plays. All of this by age five! I still can't fathom this. She knew every line of several Rogers and Hammerstein plays at that young age. I couldn't do that now, although maybe I could have before turning twenty.

All in all, my sister had remarkable "verbal" abilities. When she was set to start school, my mother went to meet with the principle and teacher. She told them all about my sister's talents, and of my mother's concerns about how school would handle my sister. The answer was classic: "Don't worry. By Second Grade you daughter will be reading at the same level as all the other students." My mother was not impressed by this statement! But there was nothing she could do, and so my sister entered the public school system.

School was tough for my sister for entirely different reasons than it was for my brother. When my brother would bring home his horrible report cards, it would cause HUGE problems. While Mom and my brother would be in his bedroom, with her giving him what-for, my grandmother would be telling my sister to keep her report card, with its straight A's, out of sight and out of mind. I have no idea where my sister ranked in her class, but if it wasn't right at the top, then she was holding back.

But my sister was a more traditional student than my brother. She was involved in all kinds of extra-curriculars, on top of the all the dancing she did, and was popular to boot. Unfortunately, she did not go to college. I'm not sure why, other than the family's poor financial situation, but as far as I know she never even considered it. I can't blame the school system for this. At least not on current information.

My only problem with my sister's story is that the public school system wanted to reduce my sister's abilities rather than increase them. This idiotic desire to homogenize students' abilities instead of encourage them is something I've observed again and again, personally, from the stories of people close to me, and in every story I've read.

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