Sunday, August 21, 2005

OBITS -->CTY Founder Dies

Dr. Julian Stanley, the founder of Johns Hopkins’s Center for Talented Youth (CTY) program died Friday, August 12.

Dr. Stanley founded the program in 1979 to force the hand of high schools that would not advance their academically precocious youth. The idea? Sift smart kids by standardized tests then give them the chance to cover a year’s worth of academics in a three-week summer program. The schools would have to advance their brightest when they came back from the summer already knowing everything that they were expected to learn that year.

From the JHU site:

At the outset of Dr. Stanley’s work in the 1960s and 70s, educators were widely skeptical of claims that a mathematically gifted child could master a year’s worth of Algebra 1 in a three-week residential program, or that a 12 year old might know Calculus.

Reading this on the site was a little stunning: what they described actually happened to me.

As a third-grader, I had problems with multiplication tables. After tears at the dining room table over flash-cards, my Dad told me about all the wonders of math. Its binary reasoning can be very seductive, especially when touted by the man-god that is every boy’s father. Hard work and a little help from Kumon Math (Mr. Standish, the administrator of the Williamsburg chapter, RIP), brought me up to speed. More work put me ahead and it wasn’t long until I was taking fourth-grade math.

I had a wonderful and nurturing fourth-grade teacher (Ms. Hunter) who got married (and became Ms. Murray). But the ring required her to move away and I found myself in the hands of a less-competent teacher the next year. Half-way through the year, I moved up to Mrs. Flynn’s fifth-grade class.

When word got out that I had skipped a grade, it precipitated the ire of my new classmates. They struck back with all the ferocity and mean-spiritedness children can muster. That afternoon, at the walk&talk track that circled near the school and provided us with a recreation similar to recess, the children chanted “Send Him Back,” thrusting tiny fists in the air as they strode around the track.

The echo of their combined voices still bounces around in my head just shy of a decade and a half later. I’ve been praised many times, but the simple, cheep cruelty of childhood stays with me.

I continued to advance academically, and continued to win the enmity of my peers. I can’t say how this made me feel. To transpose the emotion of an adult onto the experiences of a child is fair to neither he, nor I. My memory offers up some degree of numbness, a dulling of experience that can only be likened to the experience of a nerve pinched so many times that the brain no longer registers feeling.

Going to CTY was an awaking for the 11-year-old me. Here at Goucher College I was around thinking people—a community of like-minded nerds who were willing to accept me. My mother has described the same experience, when speaking of leaving the parochial colleges she bounced through before finally sticking to Columbia University.

I’ve lived twice as long now as when I had when I first went to CTY. It’s too tempting to transpose my analysis on the younger me. More than anything else, CTY was fun.

I first went in 1993 (The Florida Marlins were just about to join the National League) and subsequently went in 1994 to Hamilton College, in 1996, and 1997 to Franklin and Marshall.

Attempting to chronicle all that I remember would be tedious to read. I’m going to try to synopsize twelve weeks across four years into a bulleted list. If you weren’t there, skip to the bottom:

Playing Ninjas / Bizarre Love Triangle—the boxer dance / The CompSci kids who always wore bathrobes on Tuesday / Feather, who wore a frog on her head / Passion Fruit last morning ceremony / Saturday Carnival (multiple marriages) / Ultimate Frisbee / Dances: it’s the end of the world as we know it / forever young / The Circle Game and variations thereon / Throwing acorns / Talent Shows—Hamilton ’94 best Pachabell’s Cannon / 90 / Herkimer Diamond Mines / Sugar High—double Adams / Gabe’s Altoids / Memory books with tears.

I’ve forgotten most of the joy that I knew at CTY when I was young. Fortunately, my friends will be quick to chime in.

More than a decade since I started CTY, I find myself still running into CTYers years out. At Princeton I ran into John Jannarone, for example. We ended up at the same eating club for a while. Kara Lowentheil and I caught up in New York City, before she left for Harvard Law School. Lorraine Liang and I met up during her last year at Columbia University. She’s looking at medical schools now, while working on her Master’s.

Life is long and the world is small, and you keep running into the same people over and over again. I have no doubt that I regularly deal with other former CTYers that are yet to proclaim themselves.

I can’t say what I enjoyed most then. Now I am most fortunate for those friendships forged in the fire of high-powered academics.

Dr. Stanley’s program allowed me to advance academically, there’s no doubt of that. After a summer of algebra, I could skip ahead to geometry during seventh grade. By age 13 I was studying calculus. The program gave me a jump on my academic career, something I desperately wanted then.

The program gave me memories until my welcoming hands overflowed and people slipped between my fingers and events evaporated off the top. And a decade later, as the little pool grows smaller the residue becomes sweeter and sweeter. I cup my fingers tighter and push my hands together because I don’t want to forget.


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