Rising Above Mediocrity

Does anyone else find it difficult to “personalize” a homework assignment? Because that’s how I view blogging – just another homework assignment I have to plod through twice a week. But our discussion in class on Friday got me thinking and, even though I’m still not really sure how I feel about it, I’ll talk about (almost) non-school related things.

Let’s talk about my parents.

Before we started reading Lives on the Boundary, I was talking with my mom about teaching. My mom has only been a teacher for three years, but before that she went to school for an obscenely long time, initially starting out as an elementary teacher, changing her degree to electrical engineering, coming this close to getting a degree in it (one class and a handful of labs left), and changing again to a secondary math teacher. See, my mom is incredibly smart, but for many years, her teachers didn’t believe that.

Back in the third grade, my mother was told that she couldn’t read. She found this puzzling because she knew she could read just fine, and she realizes now the problem wasn’t her reading ability, it was the fact the questions the teachers asked after she finished reading a passage were vague and didn’t make sense. So my mom was forced to go to the second grade classroom and do her reading time there.

Much of her education was spent this way. In fourth grade, she was told point-blank by two separate teachers that she was stupid and didn’t know anything. In sixth grade, she was placed in the lowest reading and math groups. She grew to hate reading. She became a behavior problem. More than once, she was sent to the principal’s office for defiance and insubordination.

My mom and Mike Rose are one and the same.

There is a crucial difference between her and Rose, however. No matter how many times or how many people told her she was not smart or not good enough, she didn’t believe it. My mother says her parents always told her she was smart and pretty, and anyone who said otherwise was obviously a moron because why would her parents lie to her? (answer: they wouldn’t). Besides which, she was raised by a veritable genius, and I’m not just saying that. My grandpa is so smart, he found a loophole that allowed him to attend law school even though he didn’t go to college. Or high school. Or even finish the eighth grade. And he passed the BAR exam on the first try because, oh yeah, he has a photographic memory. Either my grandpa is a genius, or there are some serious issues in the legal education system.

So my mom lived on the boundary for many years. Turns out she was right: her teachers were morons. Not a whole lot of stupid people can survive a rigorous engineering degree.

And my dad… my dad was just a behavior problem. My dad is just as smart – he also has a degree in electrical engineering – but my dad got in trouble from a young age. Born and raised in a teeny-tiny town twenty minutes away from Billing, Montana, everyone was perfectly aware of everyone else’s business. So when my dad would get hurt or get into fights, everyone knew (I think my dad envisioned himself as a vigilante of sorts because he only beat up bullies, which makes sense because what sort of jerk picks on a six-foot-tall twelve-year-old and his little brother?). However, because my dad was a behavior problem, it didn’t matter how smart he was and he ended up in the same place as my mother – accused of not being good enough to pass our educational system.

Sometimes, the American education system is unjust and cruel. It doesn’t give kids much of a chance to prove themselves before they’re labeled failures and condemned to mediocrity. And even with that, even with the number of bad teachers that populate our system, who actually have the nerve to tell kids they’re stupid, some of those kids manage to rise above it. Mike Rose did. And my parents did. Isn’t that neat? (yes, yes it is)


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