Obviously brimming with pride, and with her child playing within earshot, Melanie's mother said, "My daughter's first-grade teacher says she's gifted."
"Who, the teacher?" I asked."No, silly, my daughter."
"Oh. What does she mean by gifted?"
"That Melanie has a high IQ, of course."
It's understandable that teachers tell parents things like that, but they really ought to know better.
Every time teachers reinforce the widely held notion that a high IQ is the key to success in school, they shoot their entire profession in the proverbial foot.
In fact, teachers do know better.
At workshops nationwide, teachers are asked if they disagree with the following statement: "A child with an IQ of 95 who is respectful, responsible and resourceful is a far better student than a child with an IQ of 165 who is deficient in those three traits."
That's a 70-point difference in IQ - the difference between a child whose general ability is slightly below average and a so-called genius.
In close to 40 workshops not one teacher has ever disagreed.
So why, since teachers are obviously aware that academic success has less to do with how smart one is than such things as respect for adult authority, perseverance and effort, do they continue reinforcing misconceptions about IQ?
And why, since principals and teachers report that quite a few high-IQ kids have apparently been led to believe they're entitled to good grades whether they earn them or not, do schools continue to define "gifted" primarily in terms of IQ?
As any seasoned educator knows, the "three Rs" - respect, responsibility and resourcefulness - are "where it's at," educationally.
Properly developed, the three Rs are the essence of true self-esteem and the key to success, whether academic, social, personal, spiritual, emotional, vocational or marital.
A child with these three attributes will come to school with the intuitive understanding that an education is something one gets as a result of old-fashioned "E" for effort, not something one is given.
In the final analysis, the three Rs define the truly educable child - the child who is receptive and responsive to educational opportunity.
Contrary to what many people may think, schools do not, cannot, guarantee an education.
Rather, they guarantee every child the right to pursue an education, to take advantage of the opportunity.
Whether the child takes full advantage is a matter not of mental capacity, but the capacity to make the most of oneself, however smart.
Success in school is a major steppingstone toward success in adult life.
If success in school is mostly a matter of the three Rs, then certainly parents should be spending more effort enriching their children's characters than their IQ's.
Indeed, respect, responsibility and resourcefulness begin at home. Teachers cannot instill these qualities in children who lack them. They can only build upon foundations already established by parents.
Here is why the three Rs are so important to school success and what parents can do to promote them:
Children who respect their parents will transfer that respect to teachers. As a result, they will pay attention in class. And the more attention they pay, the more they will learn.
Respect for parents develops in two stages.
First, children must trust that their parents are capable of providing for and protecting them under all circumstances. This cornerstone is laid during infancy and early toddlerhood.
As children grow, however, parents must slowly but surely "turn the tables" so that by age 3 children pay more attention to parents than parents do to them.
This acceptance of parental authority defines Stage 2.
From this point on, it is necessary that parents communicate their authority firmly, yet lovingly. Above all else, they must never enter into arguments with their child.
If the child disagrees with a parental decision, the parents should give the reasons behind the decision, but make no attempt to reason - a child will understand and agree with an adult point of view only when the child becomes an adult.
The child has complete permission to disagree, question and express opinion (without which the seeds of rebellion are sown), but does not have permission to disobey.
In the final analysis, children do as they are told not because of bribes, brutality or persuasive explanations, but because they are told.
Old-fashioned? Perhaps. Tried-and-true? Definitely. Consider also that this is exactly what teachers expect in class.
In school, children are given assignments on a daily basis. They are expected to do those assignments properly and to turn them in on time.
In order to properly prepare a child for these expectations, parents should create similar ones at home. In other words, parents should assign a daily routine of chores that the child must do according to a specific schedule.
These chores should be contributed, as opposed to paid for.
Children who accept full responsibility for their homework tend to occupy positions of responsibility within their families. A child who is in the habit of accepting assignments at home will more likely accept them at school.
This third "R" can be defined as the ability to do a lot with a little.
Resourcefulness cannot be taught. Its potential exists within every child and emerges as the child must "make do."
In other words, resourcefulness develops in response to scarcity and the need to be an active, inquisitive problem-solver.
It follows that too many toys, an overload of adult-organized after-school activities and too much television all interfere with the emergence of resourcefulness.
Having too many toys (more than a toy box full) overrides the need to make do.
Participating in too many after-school activities (more than one at a time) prevents self-reliance.
Watching too much television (more than five hours a week) induces a state of near-perpetual inactivity.
Ask teachers who have been teaching for 30 years or more how today's child differs from the typical child of a generation ago and they consistently report that today's child tends to try fewer approaches to a problem before giving up and asking for adult assistance.
On the other hand, parents consistently report that when they cut back on toys, television and organized after-school activities their children eventually occupy their time more independently and creatively.
The inescapable conclusion: The less adults do for children, the more children do for themselves. The fewer things children have, the more improvisational they become. Call this the conservative approach to adult involvement.
The three Rs add up to learning, which adds up to self-esteem.
Without these three Rs, a high IQ amounts to very little.