My Troubles with Education, Part I

I didn’t start school until fifth grade. I homeschooled the previous four grades. It was a time when learning was a joy instead of a job, but I was lonely and so they sent me to school. I was a much better reader than anyone else in my class. It was right at that time before puberty, when that kind of thing would win you admiration from your peers. I didn’t think about it much, until people started having the opposite reaction to my reading habits.1

My school had one of those hyperbolic gifted and talented programs that a portion of the class would go to halfway through the day. It was based on a test they took at the beginning of the year when I wasn’t there. Regardless, the kids in the special program made sure to let me know how dumb I was, along with the rest of the class. It was thoughtful of them to include me.2

From my perspective, the only services the gifted and talented program provided was taking a bunch of impassionate, obedient nerds and turning them into a bunch of impassionate, obedient bullies.3

But me oh my, it did give them a certain glow. Their buck-toothed, braceface smiles seemed to let everyone know we’d be working for them someday. Also, they said that – a lot.4

As an English major in college, I have to deal with these people every day. They bring it up in casual conversation, while we’re discussing what books we read growing up, or while handing out their essay to be peer-critiqued. It’s as if the fact they understood fractions half a year sooner than their peers will work like a special sauce, masking the bland flavor of that “life-changing” mission trip that everyone apparently had.5

A favorite move of these kids is the “oh, you don’t even want to know what I’m thinking.” This is a technique employed by people of all IQs, but one I’ve found to be most common among low-talent, high-confidence individuals. It allows you to retain the feeling of intellectual superiority despite your inability to come up with a satisfying retort.6

The gifted and talented program was full of people who employed this “you don’t even want to know what I’m thinking” technique. It was like their motto. It made sense, of course. These people were used to getting a free pass. Forgetting a reading assignment was an honest mistake for them, and an act of malicious laziness for the rest of us. They were so used to feeling smart, they almost never had to be.7

Meanwhile, we in the regular class had to scrap away to gain the most trivial of recognition. Their assignments were all about exploring the text through their own special ego:

“How did this story make you feel?”

“Why do you think the author chose to write about this topic?”

“If the main character were a color, what color do you think he would be?”

The questions, though massed produced, were framed in a way that made the answer-er feel special. The question were asking for what they thought, what they felt.

Our questions tended to look more like this:

            “On pg.66, why does Joe Hardy pick up the stick?”

            “In chapter 12, why does Frank Hardy say they should enter the cave?”

            “What color is the cover of the book?”

Definitive question, definitive answer. Search and find. Strange it seems, that we reward technical intelligence by giving them questions that only a human can answer, while all other forms of intelligence are given questions fit for a machine.



Education, pt II

19 thoughts on “My Troubles with Education, Part I

  1. Yikes. I can’t believe people would still be talking about their grade school academics when they’re in college. Glad you can take such a mature approach to such immature students. Great post, as always.

    • Why would that be hard to believe? Grade school and even preschool have a huge impact on students. Early childhood educators are typically the most influential people in a child’s life and begins molding them into the people that they will grow up to be. It is a time when children soak up everything from social interactions to general knowledge.

      • Is it that big of a difference? You’ve never bragged about something that you’ve accomplished in the past? I have been guilty of bragging about the first time I bombed a hill on a skateboard, how I ran for school president in 3rd grade, or how my science fair solar system display won 2nd place when I was in fourth grade.

        These are things that I am proud of from that part of my life. Surely you are proud of something that you’ve done from the period and you’ve told someone boastfully. Maybe not your skills with fractions, maybe not something academic at all… just something.

      • Yes, I’d say there is a big difference. There’s no problem with friendly bragging, but that’s not what the author is talking about. The people in his story are desperately clinging to grade school accomplishments and lording them over their peers in an attempt to make themselves feel better about the intelligence they’ve convinced themselves they have. That’s malicious and sad.

        They’re not talking about their science fair project. They’re clinging to past successes because they have none in the present, and deriding other students to solidify their convictions of intellectual superiority.

      • Well if you’re looking at in that way then you should look in my comment about the article below yours. In it I address the problem with not properly challenging students and how they become reluctant to solve problems or share ideas because they fear being wrong. I believe that the author of this article was getting at the same point.
        It isn’t that they are clinging to it because they are smarter. The cling to it because they fear coming to terms with the fact that they may be at the same level as everyone else now. I would say it isn’t so much malicious as it is sad. Their need to point it out and try to lord over people with it is a sign that their teachers were not as effective as they could have been.

  2. I’m a huge supporter of inclusive classrooms. In quite of few philosophies (most famously Montessori) they believe in multi-age “classes” where students of all ages and levels help other students. I have seen it in action first hand and I see the results.
    That being said, from an educators perspective, I know that certain children need certain attention, Through assessments (I say assessments, not standardized tests) an educator can find where each child is excelling and behind. Some children need to spend part of their day with a specialized class to help them in certain areas. Likewise, students who are excelling need the same kind of attention.
    A problem that is very common today is that students seem to do very well in their primary education and then in middle school and especially high school they become bored and start to fall behind. Psychologically, the theory behind this is because students that did well in their early grades are finally being challenged, and rather than risking being wrong they simply don’t try.
    By challenging these children at a younger age they are used to having to think outside of the box. They are building the same skills that other students are, just with different questions. So it isn’t so much that there is some kind of persecution of students going on there.
    The problems that you wrote about are typically due to the average child’s development. They seek a reason to be special and when they have it they flaunt it. Children are typically egocentric and become far worse as they get older and progress into puberty. It’s a very non-flattering part of life and growing up. All children do this to some degree, some more so than others.

    • I would also like to add that I very much enjoyed your cartoons. While you may not have shown the most complex art forms, you did convey the emotions very well.

  3. “handing out their essay to be peer-critiqued” Is this a standard thing? My first thought is how embarrassing and I wouldn’t be able to write freely if that were expected. They didn’t have that when I was growing up. 🙂 I guess I view writing for classwork as only for the teacher’s eyes.

  4. Being part pf the g+t program made me miss out on education that I actually needed. Instead I ended up trying to do long divison when I hadn’t even learnt short division. I hated the g+t lessons.

  5. I was also in that class. Put there by an IQ test. I came in later and therefore was not one of the crowd but one they could pick on and bully. Finally I had enough and started to work at beating them and getting higher grades than they did. Hated the work and the class. Just could not relate. Anyway the higher grades got me into college with a scholarship. It was the years of protest and rebellion. We rebelled about whatever. When asked what we were rebelling against we answered, “What do you got?” We were so smart we were going to save the world. We did a great job. Just look around you. Yeah, the crap in the world was manufactured by people of my generation. I sincerely believe that if you were to label us, it would be the generation before XY, before tech, before the turn of the century, we were the FU generation.

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