Academic journal article English Journal

Repairing the Mis-Measuring of Identity

Academic journal article English Journal

Repairing the Mis-Measuring of Identity

Article excerpt

The 40 minutes that would forever change my life . . .

Capshaw Middle School, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Eighth-grade advanced reading, Tuesday, second period, late February, 1982. The dreaded words that changed my life course were delivered without emotion by my reading teacher, Mrs. Alesi: "Please clear your desks. Today we have a standardized test on reading comprehension."

For the next 40 minutes, I panicked. I stared at the wall. I twirled my pencil. My brain and body dissociated. All I could think was that I couldn't think. Scary thoughts entered my head-I couldn't focus. Waves of fear flooded my body. I saw my peers with their heads down, filling in bubbles. I took a cue, looked up at the clock; I'd already lost 10 precious minutes. With 30 minutes left, I started the test. The next thing I heard was "Pencils down. Pass in your tests." And that was it. Fate sealed.

"Mrs. Treshan, this is Mrs. Alesi. We have the results of Stacy's1 reading test."

"Oh?" questioned my mom.

"Stacy scored in the lowest percentile possible of the test. We need to move her2 [sic] to remedial reading."

"Excuse me?" probed my mom.

"Yes, I've already spoken to Carol Nickel, a reading specialist, and explained the circumstances. We are aware this is an unusual circumstance and it is late in the year, but our hands are tied. Stacy must be moved classes because of her test score. Carol has agreed that she can be moved into her 'special' class for struggling readers."

My mom did not protest. She didn't know she could. And so despite having a 4.0 GPA, being student council representative, honor society vice president, recent Bat Mitzvah, and stand-out volleyball, swimmer, and soccer player, my schedule was changed. Fate sealed. Scarred. Shamed.

-sj Miller

When a teacher forgets what counts . . .

It's like a reflex, a tap on the knee that sends my leg jerking forward. It happens when the check circulates at the end of the meal, or when I divide my students into small groups. "Forgive me," I plead, "I'm bad at math." The request is rooted in a painful memory.

St. Peter's Grade School, suburban Chicago, Illinois. I am eight years old and sitting between my parents at a conference as my teacher discusses my math scores. She circles the numbers in red pen, highlights how many of my multiplication numbers I know by heart, and then leans forward to whisper, "I am particularly concerned about Ellie's ability to solve word problems. It just seems as though she cannot untangle the story to produce a correct answer." I feel ashamed. Even when my dad jokes on the ride home, "We're not a math family, just a bunch of English majors," I still feel my deficiency. I swallow this information so that it is inside of my body, so it can mingle with my blood and my cells and reproduce until it becomes a strand of my DNA. My identity is encoded-a circle drawn around "writer and reader," with math planted far on the periphery.

I will use this information to make decisions for the rest of my academic career, steering my high school counselor away from difficult science courses after disclosing my numeric disability. I refuse courses, find loopholes in graduation requirements, bob and weave through high school coursework hoping no one will notice what I lack and, more importantly, where I am lacking. Eventually, my avoidance tactics fail me, and I am forced to take a challenging math course during the spring of my senior year of high school.

To cope, I meet with Mr. Peak in the math tutoring office every morning, and though he always arrives a little winded from his early-morning basketball game, still wearing athletic clothes, he always enthusiastically greets me, "What do we have today, Ellie?" Despite the increasingly more complex math concepts, he rubs his hands together and smiles, "Oh. This will be fun."

To my utter amazement, it is. -Ellie Haberl

Uprooting Trauma

As guest editor for this issue, sj invited Ellie, sj's graduate assistant, to read submissions and to help determine their potential fit. …

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