Sunday, August 10, 2008

The consequences of accelerating (or not), via Roald Dahl

My daughter and I have just finished Matilda, whose denouement includes the following insights:

...As soon as it became clear that Miss Trunchbull had completely disappeared from the scene, the excellent Mr. Trilby was appointed Head Teacher in her place. And very soon after that, Matilda was moved up into the top form where Miss Plimsoll quickly discovered that this amazing child was every bit as bright as Miss Honey had said.

One evening a few weeks later, Matilda was having tea with Miss Honey in the kitchen of The Red House after school as they always did, when Matilda said suddenly, "Something strange has happened to me, Miss Honey."

"Tell me about it," Miss Honey said.

"This morning," Matilda said, "just for fun I tried to push something over with my eyes and I couldn't do it. Nothing moved. I didn't even feel the hotness building up behind my eyeballs. The power had gone. I think I've lost it completely."


"Well," Miss Honey said, "it's only a guess, but here's what I think. While you were in my class you had nothing to do, nothing to make you struggle. Your fairly enormous brain was going crazy with frustration. It was bubbling and boiling away like mad inside your head. There was tremendous energy bottled up in there with nowhere to go, and somehow or other you were able to shoot that energy out through your eyes and make objects move. But now things are different. You are in the top form competing against children more than twice your age and all that mental energy is being used up in class. Your brain is for the first time having to struggle and strive and really keep busy, which is great. That's only a theory, mind you, and it may be a silly one, but I don't think it's far off the mark."

Matilda's powers enabled her to make the chalk rise up to the blackboard and write incriminating remarks about Miss Trunchbull, who then "disappeared from the scene," making way for Matilda's promotion to 6th grade.

Would that all bright kids could morph their idling skills into the kind of magic it takes to be placed in challenging classes.

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