Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Individual Differences, Value of Individuals

I am often amazed and awed by what people can imagine and create and accomplish.

For 10 years, I taught reading individually and in small groups to children who were behind, the poor readers. These kids start out in kindergarten and first grade as normal, sweet and eager students. But in first grade they begin to change; they get behind; they cannot keep up with the class; they become behavior problems; they start to feel inadequate, less than. Some of these children just need an extra boost, and a few months of a teacher working closely with them and tailoring instruction to fit their needs really gives them that hand up, and they are able to take their place in the middle of the classroom hierarchy. They can keep up and achieve.

Some children don't. Some of these kids will never meet the school district expectations, will never make that test grade that their school wants to get the accolades. Some will never learn to read proficiently.

That does not mean that these children do not have worth and cannot contribute to their society. Early on, I had a little girl that I had worked with one-on-one since the beginning of the school year. She made some progress at first, then hit her ceiling. One day, after I picked her up from her classroom, she looked at me like she had never seen me before and asked, "Are you my new teacher?" I had been teaching this child every day for several months. And I was struck by her limitations. I thought, What future does this girl have in our society? How is this, very sweet and affectionate, child going to survive?

I was moved by this question. In the past this child might have been valued as the best breadmaker in the village, might have been revered as a wonderful nanny, as the best at calming the baby, found her niche as a great seamstress, lace-maker, grower of herbs. She wouldn't have been made to feel inadequate because she could not read past a second grade level, because she could not pass the state mandated test at each grade, because she was a failure in the classroom, would not suffer because she could never puzzle out her checkbook, the AT&T bill and do her income taxes.

She, and all the children like her...and, indeed, all people, should be valued for who they are, not made to feel inadequate. They are, or can be, the artists, the nurturers, the carpenters, gardeners, woodcarvers, chefs. They do not need to feel that they are less than, worthless, unappreciated, have to turn to gangs and crime for any acceptance or way to survive.

Over the past several months I have come across a few websites and a lecture that I would love to bring to people's attention, that I think validate this view and showcase people to illustrate this idea, people who may not test well, who may not garner academic accolades, but who create and achieve according to their own vision and own abilities and contribute to our society and the world in their own way.

I'll talk about these websites and people in my next post.

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