Wednesday, March 31, 2004


So last night, when I got home from my meeting and spending time with my little protégé talking about eyeliner and casual sex, after a long day of unaccustomed number-crunching at the office and elliptical machines at the gym, and was so tired I couldn't hold my head upright but was nevertheless sitting here in front of my computer reading email and burning files onto a CD so I could take them to work, I followed an email link to (formerly E-Mode) and took their fancy new Super IQ Test.

Though there were a few hairy moments where I had to work something out on a piece of paper or add a couple of numbers on the calculator, the test wasn't that difficult. And, according to them, even when my brain is running on two cylinders in the middle of the night and I'm too stupid to just get in bed and sleep, I am some kind of low-end genius, with an IQ of 141 (the norm is 100, with standard deviations of 20, so 140-160 would be genius-level while over 160 is supergenius and extremely rare).

Furthermore, Tickle informs me that my "thinking style" is Complex Intellectual: "This means you are highly intelligent and have extraordinarily strong verbal and math skills. Compared to others you are a highly conceptual and complex thinker and are able to understand information in an abstract form. You also show great attention to detail. In fact, it's hard to find something you're not good at. Only 6 out of 1,000 people have this rare combination of abilities."

They even followed up this information by sending me an email telling me that "Complex Intellectuals tend to intellectualize a situation or muse about its layers of complexity and make grand-scale associations." And of course they want me to spend $14 on a multi-page report fully detailing my brilliance... it's what they're there for, to sell reports and matchmaking services. Oh, wait, a pop-up window tells me that, for a limited time, I can get my Super IQ Report and a free seven-day membership to their Matchmaking Service for only $9.95! Tempting...

When I was in the fifth grade, I had my IQ tested. My teacher, Mr. Polton (who was gay, though I didn't know it at the time... but I idolized him), wondered if perhaps my inattention in class was caused by intellectual boredom and so signed me up for the IQ test that would allow me to take advanced instruction. This very nice young woman dragged me off to a quiet corner of the library and asked me all sorts of puzzle questions and gave me some wooden beads and blocks to futz with. It was a lot of fun, and I came out with a score of 98 (which is just below the mean for an adult), meaning that at the age of ten I was already as mentally capable as the average college senior.

My score was two points below what was needed to shove me into the Advanced Instructional Module (or AIM... this was in the days before Prop 13 decimated California school funding, and elementary schools were just rolling around in cash while elderly people lost their homes to escalating property taxes). But Mr. Polton got me in anyway with some sort of business about my catching up as soon as I was ensconced among the intelligentsia. So twice a week, I went to another room of the school in order to enjoy advanced intellectual stimulation with the rest of the school's smartasses.

The whole thing was very interesting but a bit of a waste of time. We did a lot of entertaining science stuff, played word games, and had discussion groups, but I don't remember there being any kind of literature or art involved. It wasn't instruction, per se, it was just stimulation... I don't remember learning much of anything specific, so I suppose it was more geared to creating thought patterns, setting up the information conduits our brains would require to process vast amounts of information in our no-doubt-college-bound futures.

I discovered fairly soon, though, that my inclusion in the AIM program raised a lot of expectations in my teachers and my family, expectations I could not live up to. Mr. Polton expected that, once exposed to the magical intellectual stimulation of my twice-weekly AIM sessions, I would suddenly perform better in regular classes. But I was still bored to tears by the repetitions of basic math and the asinine adventures of Dick and Jane, as well as still completely antisocial (being in the AIM program did little to endear me to classmates who already viewed me with suspicion and horror, and my sense of superiority over them made me resent them even more) and so continued to perform poorly in class. My parents expected that as soon as my genius was discovered, I should never do stupid things anymore, and were dismayed when I continued to neglect my homework and forget my chores and make clumsy attempts to pilfer sweets from the pantry.

The worst part of the AIM class was that it was filled with geeks. And by "geeks" I mean optimistic and extroverted overachievers who dress a little too neatly and become obsessed with science-fiction very easily. And so there I was, an introverted and deeply troubled underachiever who dressed eccentrically but sloppily and who fell asleep in the middle of Star Wars and had no interest in seeing it several times. They were know-it-alls, like me, but actually knew more than I did because they'd been going to the same school all their lives (I was on my twelfth by then) and getting advanced instruction longer; and like me they were social misfits, but they were able to socialize with and conform to each other. The Advanced Instructional Module was just another place for me to not fit in.

Nevertheless, I was labeled as Intelligent, and so was saddled with Advanced Instruction of one kind or another for the rest of my schooldays. I'm glad of it now, as I got a better education than most of my fellows, but back then I found it burdensome. And if I had a nickel for every time I heard "Robert is very bright, but he just doesn't apply himself," I'd have enough money to buy a new fur coat.

So here I am, a low-end genius, and what good does it do me? Where are the cash and prizes? Sure, I graduated with honors without trying terribly hard, but my diplomas are from imprestigious schools. Sure, I can figure out complex bookkeeping records and software when I have absolutely no background in accounting or math, but I don't get paid extra for doing it. Sure I can watch a film version of a Shakespeare play (or a surrealist drama, or a complicated thriller) without ever once having to wonder what on earth the actors are nattering on about, but that just means that I end up explaining the entire plot to whoever is watching the film with me.

In the final analysis, IQ is just one of those things you have or don't have; and while it may have its advantages, it also has its drawbacks, like everything else in the world. It is ultimately meaningless.

Which leaves us with the question: What does have meaning? Hmmm... I think I'll bend my low-end-genius brain to figuring that one out while I go shower and dress and schlepp off to work. Toodles!

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