Are you a ‘problem child’ in school? Or were you misunderstood?
Alec’s experience hits home at the reality we live in
In The Story of Alec, an alpine parrot named Alec was raised in the care of keepers at the City of Prakmatik Zoo where he experienced immense learning difficulties as the keepers struggled to prepare him for his first public appearance and performance as the newest addition to the City of Prakmatik Zoo.
In the story, Alec’s trainers made the terrible mistake of assuming that all parrots are the same and tried to train Alec to mimic voices like the other parrots they have trained before.
The problem was that Alec was no ordinary parrot, he belonged to a species of alpine parrots called Keas, who are native to New Zealand and had a voice that was quite incapable of voice mimicry (You will know why once you listen to a sample here)
To further compound the problem, Alec’s inquisitive nature and his seemingly distracted demeanor was further complicated by what they regarded to be destructive behavior as he would wander about and peck away at all the different things lying around in the room while attempting to figure out what they are and how they worked.
As they continued in their attempts to train Alec unsuccessfully, every session was increasingly marked by mutual frustration and the trainers were often quick to blame Alec for his perceived ‘poor attitude’, his apparent ‘disinterest’ and his supposed ‘inability to attain a fairly average standard’.
Alec is not unlike the typical ‘problem child’ character we see in schools. Some of us might even be guilty of being such ‘problem child(s)’.
The ‘Problem Child’ is often made to feel bad about the subjects we were not good at, made to feel like we are a disruptive presence in class and accused of carrying a potentially contagious disinterest and a terrible attitude that was not just frowned upon but regarded as undesirable.
More importantly, we have been conditioned to regard the so-called standard as the benchmark of validation and falling short of it, is often marked with judgement of inadequacy.
The biggest mistake we can make, is to believe that there is a standard we need to achieve in order to be good enough, in order to be validated and for us to earn that permission to feel good about ourselves.
We are sometimes made to feel unworthy until we are ‘on par’ with the rest. It’s almost implied and sometimes explicitly expressed to us that we MUST carry that shame of failure with us and to ‘know where we stand’ in comparison to others.
I never fully understood why some parents and teachers sometimes like to ask students if they ‘knew how terrible their grades were’ and act as though one must look like they've cried their eyes out and look wrecked to the point of near hysteria or threatening of suicidal tendencies in giving up on trying or in giving up on life before they are convinced that one has tried as best as they could.
I can’t remember the number of times where I've heard someone tell a child to ‘wipe that smile off their face’ or be on the receiving end of some snide remark like ‘how dare you still smile after getting such terrible grades.’
What’s so wrong about smiling in the face of adversity and failure?
Why shouldn't we be smiling with joy at the realization that we have come into awareness of what we are absolutely rubbish at, and then be given the opportunity to re-focus our time, energy, effort and resources towards finding and developing our talents in something we actually have talent in and passion for?
In writing the Story of Alec, it was my desire to help draw a parallel to the reality we are seeing around us and to challenge the notion that we should strive towards the attainment of what is often widely regarded as a perceived ‘standard’ in order to be validated.
The standard is only good for giving us a sense of where we stand when compared to the average scores of every other student.
It is not a benchmark of greatness and is at best a source of cold comfort as we pander after the acceptance and validation by others for being ‘good enough’ or ‘adequately average’. It preys on our fear of being left being, of ‘losing out’ and for being inadequate.
We settle for good enough and adequately average instead of having the courage to accept that there are things we can be exceptionally great at and there will be things we are hopeless useless at.
It is a flawed method of thinking that limits the assessment of every single individual, child and student’s potential on a ‘standardized’ scale that serves the purpose of assuring us that everything is a-ok and right on track as long as we are doing ‘adequately well’. Every perceived inadequacy is then met with ‘alarm bells’ screaming for intervention, more motivation and a belief that there are a lot more problems to be fixed.
If we change our way of thinking to regard such failures to do well in school as a positive thing, perhaps students can start to learn, grow and expand upon their awareness of where their strengths, weaknesses and passions lie, and to then have the access to the resources required for them to develop these talents, strengths and interest while slowly developing the awareness, ingenuity and creativity to develop complementary, supplementary or alternatives that can help them overcome their weaknesses in more creative and effective ways beyond the blunt and tedious application of stress, pressure, rote learning or ineffective investments of time, energy and effort.
The collective and the individual interest will be much better served because the world benefits from having another person who is creating value, meaning and impact by performing to the best of their abilities and doing so with unbridled positivity.
There will also be less unnecessary angst, tension and frustration within an already broken system wrought with friction and bogged down by multiple expectations of different stakeholders with various different agendas.
While we like to think that educators have the interest of our future generation at heart, even the most fervent of reformists will have to go up against objections, restrictions and regulations that might take forever to unravel.
What I’m proposing are simple ideas and ideals derived from personal insights, reflection and experience.
Perhaps one day, more such enlightened ideas and ideals will take root, but I’m also pragmatic about not waiting around for it to happen.
Regardless of whether change is happening or not on an institutional, governmental level, I would be making these changes on a personal level and sharing these ideas and ideals with anyone who would listen and are keen to step up and implement these changes in their personal lives and in the lives of those they care about.
If you are a student or a parent, perhaps it is time for you to reclaim that personal responsibility and ownership in your (or your child’s) learning and development.
If you are lucky enough like Alec, perhaps you would come to learn that your talent isn't in ‘voice mimicry’, but in ‘puzzle solving’. Hopefully you would have someone interested and enlightened enough to spot that talent in you and be privileged enough to have the opportunity to develop these talents and find an appreciative audience for them.
If opportunities like that are not falling onto your lap, it probably means that you should go out there and start exploring, experimenting and expressing yourself so that you would have a better chance of finding who you are, what you stand for and what exactly you were meant to be doing in this world.
THANK YOU FOR READING!
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I recently published my first book and it is an easy to read story for adults, students and young parents alike. Do consider getting a copy or more for your friends and family!
The Story of Alec is about Alec, an alpine parrot who grows up in the City of Prakmatik and uncovers the 5 locks in life and eventually breaks away from them to live A Life of Congruence.