If You're So Smart, How Come You Can't Spell Mississippi?, page 1
My dad is the smartest person I know. He is one of the busiest lawyers in Chicago, and he works hard to keep justice in our city. For the past year my dad has been getting ready for a big case.
Have YOU ever worked on anything for a year?
I’m a third grader at Westover Elementary School. My name is Katie and I’m only eight, but I’ve been working on something too. It’s called observation. It’s fun because — let me tell you — I’ve seen some strange things ....
Like the time David, a boy in my class, couldn’t resist squeezing the pudding cup that was packed in his lunchbox. He had to see how much pressure the lid could take before...
well, you know....
And the time my little sister insisted that our family change her name to Eduardo after she finished watching the Cooking with Eduardo show with Grandma. My little sister is only three years old. I guess she thought it was time for a change.
Just last week I saw Mrs. Higgins driving through town with fourteen Chihuahuas in her car... and those were just the Chihuahuas that I could count as she was driving by. As you can see, observation is a worthwhile pastime.
But the strangest thing that I have ever observed happened tonight, while I was practicing for my spelling test.
I asked my dad if he could help me with the toughest word on my spelling list: Mississippi. Usually my dad loves to help me, but this time he said, “I’m not sure. Go ask your mom.”
“How can you, Daddy, one of the smartest people I know, not know how to spell Mississippi?” I asked in astonishment.
“Well, Katie, I never have been a very good speller. In fact, I don’t believe that I have ever spelled Mississippi correctly. Actually there are a lot of words I’ve never spelled correctly,” he answered.
“This is the strangest thing that I have heard of, Daddy, even stranger than Eduardo!” I replied. “How did you make it through the third grade if you couldn’t spell Mississippi?”
“Well, it wasn’t easy. I was often ashamed of not being able to spell the words on my spelling tests.
In fact, some of my classmates even made fun of me,” he said with a serious smile.
“Daddy, do you mean that you were kind of like Mark Twingle? He sits in front of me and he can’t spell anything!”
“I guess I was like Mark Twingle,” he said. “It’s very difficult when you’re the kid in the class who works extra hard and still has trouble. I had to spend so much more time on my homework than my sister spent on hers. I would still come home with a C- on my spelling test, and that was on a good day.”
“Oooohhhhh, that’s terrible,” I replied. It was terrible — and also confusing. I mean, my dad is smart.
“Learning to read was just as difficult,” said my dad. “I was the last kid in my class to learn how to read. Sometimes I would hide my head when my teacher would ask me to read to the class.”
“Just like Mark does!” I shouted.
How could this be? My dad, just like Mark Twingle?
This doesn’t make sense...
“Katie, we have talked about dyslexia before, remember? Dyslexia is a word used to describe the difficulty that some people experience with reading and spelling, like me,” he said after looking over my math homework.
“But Daddy, how do you do your job? How can you be so smart if you can’t spell or read very well?” I asked.
“Katie, dyslexia does not mean a person isn’t smart. In fact, some of the greatest scientists, doctors, and inventors struggled with symptoms of dyslexia,” my dad said with a chuckle.
Now, I’ve observed many strange things, but could it be true that Mark Twingle is the next great mind of our time? Is this possible?
I would need to do a little investigating before I was convinced.
On Saturday, I asked my mom to take me to the public library. I’m a whiz at the library and it didn’t take long to find a book about dyslexia.
It included a list of people throughout history who struggled with reading or spelling. But I’m confused. Now that we know about dyslexia, why is this still a secret? Why hasn’t anyone ever mentioned it or these folks in school?
Like this guy: Dr. John R. Skoyles He works as a neuroscience researcher. Whoa! He researches things I can’t even pronounce! Where is the librarian when you need her the most?
One of his book reports is titled, “The Aetioloy of Autism: Neuroembryology and Prefrontal Neocerebellum....” I guess I’ll learn about that in fourth grade. In the meantime, I’ll ask some of my friends if they can say “Prefrontal Neocerebellum” three times fast...
I turned the page to read about Martin Archer, a chemist who won the Nobel Prize in 1952. Fortunately the librarian walked by.
“Mrs. Meeks, can you help me read this? Some of the words are a little big,” I asked quietly.
“Sure. I love to see children reading on the weekends,” she said.
“Let’s see here,” said Mrs. Meeks. “Martin Archer’s experiments include the discovery of a method for detecting pyro-electricity by...
“...observing the attraction of a metal plate of crystals that had been immersed in liquid air. Katie, do you need this information for a book report?” she asked with a puzzled look on her face.
“No, no, Mrs. Meeks, I am just doing a little bit of investigating.”
Detecting pyro-electricity in liquid air? Is anyone following me on this one?
“Do you want me to keep reading?” Mrs. Meeks asked.
“Oh yes, please,” I replied with my most polite voice. I needed help to get through this book.
“Helen B. Tausig was a doctor in the 1930s. Many women at that time didn’t even have a chance to go to college, but Helen Tausig studied to become a pediatric cardiologist. She helped discover a new way to help babies who were born with heart problems. She was the first woman to become a full professor at Johns Hopkins University and she was elected president of the American Heart Association.”
“She was really smart!” I said.
“I have to go help some other children now, Katie. Do you think you can take it from here?” asked Mrs. Meeks.
“I’ll give it a try,” I replied. “If Helen Tausig had trouble reading and writing and she could become a pediatric cardiologist, well I guess I can try to read this book on my own.”
Let’s see. William James was a psychologist — one of the greatest psychologists of all time. It looks like he had a lot of interesting things to say. A few of them are right here, in this book. Hey, I think Dad has a few of his books at home!
“I don’t sing because I am happy, I am happy because I sing.”
“Act as if what you do makes a difference. It does.”
“Every good worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort.”
Hey! My dad has this quote framed; he keeps it on the wall for everyone to notice...
There are so many names in this book... It would take a long time to read them all...
I guess a lot of people who have trouble with reading and writing go on to become great things: actors, artists, athletes, presidents, doctors, lawyers, writers, scientists, entrepreneurs, inventors, and even teachers.
I wonder if my teacher, Mrs. Peterson, knows about dyslexia and all these great people... I have a feeling that most of these great people had someone to help them through the tough times, when they might have been feeling frustrated or sad.
Maybe their parents were patient and supported them.
Maybe they had a teacher who could see how smart they were anyway.
Now I know why my dad likes what William James had to say so long ago...
“Do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty.”
Is this what people who struggle with dyslexia tell themselves each day before school?
Did my dad say this to himself through the tough times,when he was trying his best to learn to read and spell?
I can’t wait to go to school on Monday. I think Mark Twingle needs to know how great his mind is and what incredible things he might accomplish one day...
Maybe, I’m just the right person to tell him.
From Dr. Edward Hallowell,
New York Times national best seller, former Harvard Medical School instructor, and current director of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health...
Fear is the great disabler. Fear is what keeps children from realizing their potential. It needs to be replaced with a feeling of I-know-I-can-make-progress-if-I-keep-trying-and-boy-do-I-ever-want-to-do-that!
One of the great goals of parents, teachers, and coaches should be to find areas in which a child might experience mastery, then make it possible for the child to feel this potent sensation.
The feeling of mastery transforms a child from a reluctant, fearful learner into a self-motivated player.
The mistake that parents, teachers, and coaches often make is that they demand mastery rather than lead children to it by helping them overcome the fear of failure.
The best parents are great teachers. My definition of a great teacher is a person who can lead another person to mastery.
To read Dr. Hallowell’s full letter, go to our website! Check out what ALL THE OTHER EXPERTS are saying about The Adventures of Everyday Geniuses book series.
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Esham, Barbara, If You're So Smart, How Come You Can't Spell Mississippi?
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