The thirteen-year-old sits uncomfortably in the chair. His fingers scratch at its plastic surface, and sweat runs down his back. Behind the desk, facing him, sits a specialist to perform another evaluation. The specialist clears his throat and removes a pen from his shirt pocket. His thumb pauses above the pen’s button as he looks up from the desk. He smiles and clicks it into place.
Specialist: So let’s begin. Do you know why you’re here?
Specialist: The school district wants to give you a test. You have a learning disability called —
Specialist: Dyslexia — Did you say something?
Specialist: … Right. Now, as I was saying, I’m going to show you some words and pictures and ask some questions. You just — take — your — time — answering them. Absolutely no pressure, okay?
The specialist pulls a spiral-bound card deck from a box and snaps it to the first card. He folds the deck into a triangular support and places it on the desk. As he flips from card to card the boy notices a pattern. If a word is printed on the card the specialist pronounces it and asks for a definition. If it’s a picture he asks for a description. After forty-five minutes of questions the specialist reaches the last test card: a picture of the sun.
Specialist: Why is the sun hot?
Instantly the boy’s brain is awash with visions of ionized hydrogen gas, fusing protons, and bursting plasma streams. At the core of the sun, at temperatures exceeding twenty-six million degrees Fahrenheit, he knows, hydrogen nuclei are fused together and are converted to helium. The boy can’t spell these words, of course — they always come out backwards anyway, ergo the latest evaluation, but he can see the concept in his mind. Always thinking too many steps ahead, he can never say what he’s thinking properly. Succinctly. Fluidly. Like everybody else. And there’s never enough time to get the words right.
The specialist looks up, stares at the boy and cocks his head like a puzzled dog. Picking up the deck, he squints and silently reads the answer on the back of the card.
Specialist: That’s not right. Why is the sun hot?
Boy: Because of fusion. Fusion — fusing protons!
Specialist: I’ll give you one more chance. Look at the picture very, very carefully. You see how the sun is a reddish yellow? You see how it’s glowing? That means it’s hot!
Specialist: Good. So, why is the sun hot?
Boy: Because of fusion.
The specialist purses his lips and makes a slight sucking sound. He flips the last card over. It simply says, “End.” He takes a calculator and adds up the answers from the test.
Boy: How’d I do?
Specialist: Well, according to this score you did pretty good. You only missed one of the questions in the description section.
Boy: The sun question?
Specialist: Yeah, that wasn’t the answer we’re looking for.
Boy: Well… what’s the correct one?
Specialist: The sun is hot because it’s on fire.