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Renny Christopher What About the Dumb Kids? I was a smart kid. I was officially identified as a smart kid by the IQ test I took in the fourth grade, in 1966, during the Cold War, when the United States' hysteria to keep up with the Russians fueled lots of money into science education and IQ testing in grammar schools to identify the smart kids who would help defeat the communist menace. And while I never did help defeat the communist menace, my life was shaped by that identification of me as a smart kid, an identification I swallowed hook, line, sinker and fishing pole when I was a kid. Being smart made me different. Made me special. Made me better than all the dumb kids around me, destined to working-class drudgery, while I was clearly on my way to . .. well, who knew, but somewhere that had to be better than where I was. Hah. Now I wish I could go back and kick my nine-year old self in the butt and say "don't fall for that crap!" This special issue of minnesota review is my belated kick to my younger backside. The idea for the issue arose over lunch at the MLA in New Orleans, at a very frou-frou restaurant with a bunch of very smart people sitting around a table chowing down on overpriced, but oh-so-properly presented Louisiana cuisine. Jeff Williams had just given a paper called "Smart" and he, Lillian Robinson, and I started talking about what our experiences as "smart kids" had been like. As I recall it was Lillian who turned to Jeff and said, "That would make a great issue of minnesota review," and then turned to me and said, "and you should edit it." I thought it sounded like a smart idea. But then when I described the idea to my friend Barbara Jensen, a psychologist of working-class origin who didn't take any IQ tests in grammar school and was most definitely not identified as a smartkid, her immediate response was "What about the dumb kids?" And I thought, wow, what a good question. That exchange took place at the Youngstown Center for Working Class Studies conference in 2003. Barbara was on a panel titled "Experiencing Class Cultural Differences: A Dialogue Across the Class Divide." Fred Rose, a community activist of middle-class origin, was another of the panelists . He said thathis firstexperience of class difference was seeinghow, in elementary school, he noticed thathe and other children fromhis neighborhood were treated differently than the poorer students—he and his peers were treated with more trust and respect. Barbara Jensen then told a story about how she, as a working-class kid, won the respect of other workingclass kids in her school—by rebelling and sassing the teachers. Once, a teacherliterally picked her upby the arms, carried her outinto the hall, and slammed her against the lockers. When she told that story, another of the 112 the minnesota review panelists, Betsy Leondar-Wright, an organizer of middle-class origin, visibly winced and shookher head in horror. But I, I was thinking, wow, thafs so cool, and envying Barbara for having had the balls to defy authority like that, to be a bad kid, rather than the disgusting little conformist that I was, respecting teachers' authority over the authority of my parents, playing by their rules, wanting approval from those authorities, being theperfect little fascist subject, not the brave, defiant little revolutionary that Barbara was. And it made me wonder if my life would have been better after all if I'd been one of the dumb kids, instead of one of the smart kids, getting citizenship awards in the classroom and then getting beaten up in the bathroom by girls like Barbara. Maybe they had it right all along. On another panel at the 2003 Youngstown conference, Gail Verdi reported on her study of four working-class women who had gone through higher education. Verdi said of herself, "In high school I stopped studying. I learned to play dumb and I made a conscious decision to do so. I was in the commercial track." She had...


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pp. 111-114
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