During my last year of teaching in Interlaken Central School (1959-60), I had a pre-first grade class. These children had spent a year in Kindergarten, but needed extra help to be a success in first grade.

Leon was a special case. His biological mother had kept him in his crib for the whole first two years of his life when social services took him from her and placed him in a foster home. When Leon arrived there, he had not learned to walk, talk or even stand on his own. His foster mother loved him and as an only child she spent her full time with him for three years. His foster dad was a cross-country truck driver so was gone from home much of the time. Leon learned to walk quickly after he was fitted with glasses. He learned to talk and when he was five, he attended kindergarten and was given a “conditional pass.”

Then Leon’s life was interrupted again by his biological mother. She demanded that he be given Catholic religious instruction. His foster mother couldn’t provide the instruction for reasons unknown to me. Leon was moved to a new home with a family, which had other children. This proved to be a good move for him because the other children provided models and “teachers” for him.

Leon was placed in my classroom. An intelligence test showed him to have a little below normal intelligence. The psychologist told me not to expect much from him, but to give him with others in the room an advanced kindergarten experience.

There were five children in Leon’s small reading group. This was the day of Dick, Jane, and Sally, Puff, Spot, and Tim – three children, a cat, dog and stuffed bear. These names plus look, oh, run, jump, up, down, come, and go were the words of the first book. After two months some of Leon’s reading group could still not identify these words in spite of my antics to get their meaning across. We eventually moved on to the next book with added words.

I began saying, “Look at the words on this page. Think what they tell you. Then tell me what they say.” For example, “Come and play ball.”

One day, Leon said, “Do you want me to read them?”

“Yes, can you read them?”

Leon did.

“Turn the page. Can you read these words?”

He did.

Somewhere through the magic of insight, Leon had learned to read.

I gave him two books to take home. The next day he apologized. “I’m sorry Mrs. Lake I only had time to read one book.”

Leon’s progress continued. By June, he was reading as well as more advanced children in my class. The psychologist retested him. His IQ had jumped from 85 to 115. It was not that Leon had become brighter, he was catching up from the first two years of his life. He was maturing in ability to use his full intelligence. I wish I could tell you what happened to him years, but I can’t.

Leon’s story has always made me wonder about how we look at one another’s intelligence. Do any of us use our full intelligence to the level that is possible?

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