“Never check the teeth of a gifted horse,” remarked the father of one of my cello students as we commiserated over the sad state of a ¾ size cello that one of his friends had lent him for his son. This sophisticated, erudite man had blithely hashed one of our pet aphorisms for a simple reason: English was his second language.
Foreigners mangle our favorite sayings with a panache that eludes native speakers, and their unwittingly clever rearrangements can lead us to unexpected insights.
I forgot about the horse with the high IQ until fifteen years later when I took my children to the Central Wyoming Fair and Rodeo during the summer of 2004. We visited the livestock exhibits, strolling past the rabbits, goats, sheep, llamas, and cattle, until we finally found the pigs. Their special outdoor shed was open on all sides, with a temporary roof to protect them and us from the blistering July sun.
Dozens of hogs lolled in their pens like huge sausages awaiting the flip of a giant fork. Sleeping on their rolls of fat, pushing stubby trotters into their neighbors’ stomachs, they snuffled and snored.
All but one. He raged around the tiny perimeter of his pen, thrust his snout under the green metal bars of his gate, then lifted it and let go with a clang.
A pig’s squeal is actually a mind-splitting scream, and this unhappy animal tore at our nerves with his shrill protests. He never ceased his assault on our ears or his prison bars. I marveled at this lone rebel with his fighting spirit, so alive to his predicament and so fiercely rejecting it.
Who is more intense than his classmates? Who feels, sees, and knows things more deeply than those around him? Who has extra energy, not just for learning but also for wondering and thinking? And who, with his fiery sense of injustice, is most likely to rebel against boredom and the confinement of his mind and body?
These were my thoughts as I gazed sadly at this gifted pig, knowing I could do nothing for him. It was obvious to me, and still is, that intelligence can become a punishment to any brilliant child who is trapped in a classroom that doesn’t meet his needs.
Too often we assume that a young genius is easy to identify: just look for the best student in the class. But perhaps if we looked for the most frustrated child in the preschool, kindergarten, or first grade, we’d spare him and ourselves years of grief.