What Does Smart Mean Anyway?

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Written By: Katerina Hatzinakos

I started speaking when I was one year old. I learned to read when I was four. My kindergarten teacher told my mom how impressed she was with me, “What a bright little girl, she is so smart,”  My little brother didn’t speak in a complete sentence until he was five, and he didn’t learn his ABC’s until grade four. My brother and I had the same kindergarten teacher, but she never once told my mother how impressed she was with him, or how smart he was. Instead, he was unfocused, problematic and disruptive to his fellow classmates. And, at the end of that year, in a special meeting with the principal, the question posed to his teacher, while my mother watched in horror, was whether or not my brother was smart enough to continue into grade one.

  The first things taught to us when we enter a classroom are how to read and write. Most of us pick it up pretty quickly, but for a kid struggling with severe dyslexia, it’s an uphill battle to say the least. “I had to work for a long time and I didn’t understand a lot of stuff. People made fun of me for not being able to pronounce words like hospital, ” my brother confessed, when I asked him to relive a few childhood memories. And it’s true, being the kid who can’t read is tough, especially when you have a bunch of immature eight year olds chasing your tail, not letting you forget it.  But my brother’s bullies didn’t only reside on the playground. No, I watched teachers give him level 1’s on projects he worked weeks on, because the material was unclear, the writing way below that of his peers. He would get detentions because he didn’t work effectively in class. In reality, it was a challenge just to differentiate his homework assignment from the other millions of letters swimming across the blackboard.

Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of speech therapists, special-needs classrooms and specialized schools, but my brother, now almost fifteen years old, still can’t read at a ninth grade level, or write an essay. But does that mean that he isn’t bright? Smart? Impressive? No.  It’s actually quite the opposite. Not always being able to express himself through words has allowed him to look further and find one of his greatest passions; painting. And he’s really good.

It might sound corny, but my little brother surprises me everyday. When I think about how much of my life is actually dependent on reading, I can’t imagine how I would survive without the ability to do so. And yet, there it is everyday, a constant reminder of how adaptive the human race truly can be. And that’s why it’s so confusing hearing my brother being called stupid, or retarded. This kid has lived almost fifteen years, working ten times as hard as anybody else his age in order to do something that should come naturally. He is enlightened, thoughtful and caring, but to most, he can’t be smart.

Well, the dictionary defines the word smart as being “effective in an element”. Well, my brother is effective in a lot of things. Therefore, he must be smart, right? I mean, think about how many things you’re not effective in. I cannot play a single instrument, not even the recorder. But does that make me stupid? I don’t think so.

The reality is, my brother is going to have a tougher life than most people. It might take him until he’s 20 to graduate high school with a diploma. For most people, that sentence alone seems too daunting. Yet, when I asked my brother if he was scared of the possibility of a few more years of school, he abruptly cut me off to say, “ Yeah Kat, but I guess that’s okay. Because even if I have to work ten more years to graduate high school, I still get to know a lot of people, and I’ll enjoy it.” And as for what he’ll say when people ask him that inevitable question, he put it quite plainly; “ Why am I still here? Because I have a disability, but I’m working through it.”

That sounds pretty smart to me.

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