When my friend’s 31- and 29-year-old sons want to disparage their 21-year-old sister’s intelligence, they’ll note, “Well, you were, after all, in the yellow reading group.” The brothers are quick to remind her that they were both in the blue reading group in grade school, the best readers.Honestly, the reading group you’re assigned to in first grade can haunt you for life. I’m 67 and I don’t remember what reading group I was in but I do know it wasn’t the bluebirds, the top one. Which brings us to ask: What is it about the color blue that they’re always the good readers?
True to form, when my sons were in first grade, the advanced readers basked in the blue group, middle readers were relegated to the yellow group, the sucky readers sentenced to red. Suffice to say the kids were clear which group was which (Brilliant/Average/Braindead), and more to the point, by day two of school, the parents were too. Much gnashing of teeth and calls to the teacher ensued with entreaties to move little Quentin to the blue reading group where he clearly belonged. Unsaid: Do we look like people who breed yellow reading group children??? A child of Quentin’s obvious talents needed to be challenged! It was beneath his dignity to be associated with yellow – or God forbid red - readers who would only pull him down to their level. (They probably didn’t wash either.)
It was not like this just impacted the kid. You could already see the blue reading group parents getting chummy with each other and next thing you know they’ll have dinner parties and not invite you, and your child will be black, er, blue-listed from play dates. Day 2 of school and the wheat’s already been separated from the chaff.
I confess that I did have my moments of blue reading group angst. But I also reminded myself that neither Olof nor I were academic balls of fire in our early years. Olof, in fact, was labeled an “accelerated non-achiever” in grade school, a label that puzzled his parents for years. Did this mean he was gifted but not achieving? Or gifted AT non-achieving? Regardless, he was not achieving. But somewhere along the way, he managed to up his game and ultimately achieved a degree in nuclear physics from Cal Tech. Sighed his mother (age 93) recently, “If only we could have known.”
I wasn’t exactly an academic barn burner either. I was the blond sheep in a family of brunette geniuses. My family has never let me forget coming home from the public library after researching my first term paper in seventh grade and announcing sagely, “Ibid sure wrote a lot of stuff!” My voraciously-reading siblings were definitely bluebirds. (I think I may have been a puffin.)
While I was never identified as having learning disabilities, I learned only recently that I had one. I wasn’t good at learning things by hearing them; I always had to see it to remember it. In college, I would leave lectures without being able to tell you virtually a single thing the professor said but would then transcribe the notes I’d frantically scribbled and know the material cold. A few months ago, a friend was telling me that her granddaughter had been diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder: she was poor at processing what she heard. Lo these many years later, did I finally have an excuse for not being in the blue reading group? OK, probably not, but it was worth a try.
For the record, my older son was in the red group, and my younger son was in the yellow. Despite concerns that failure to be in the blue reading group in first grade dooms a child’s adult options to a career in coal mining (or worse, a lesser state university) both have been completely self-supporting (and not in coal mining) since graduating from college. Where was the crystal ball when you needed it?
My 21-year-old yellow reading group neighbor is slated to graduate from college in June. Both of her older brothers, despite being blue reading groupers, managed not to graduate on time due to some unfortunate miscalculation of required credits – information that both of them failed to determine until their folks were literally in their car en route to commencement ceremonies. Folks were not pleased. But the impending graduate swears to them that she is not going to follow in her brothers’ footsteps in this regard. The sibs may have been early readers, she notes, but she can actually add. The folks will not be driving to her graduation and getting the same phone call that they got two previous times. At this point, it’s personal, she said, and she’s already made it the theme of her graduation weekend:
The Revenge of the Yellow Group Reader.
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