Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Hardest Thing About Being Rara Avis

I speak with lots of people about schools, students, and kids and what I write is usually a composite viewpoint that I hope has enough universal appeal to apply to Region19 in Connecticut as well as school districts elsewhere in the country and the world.

I listen to lots of parents pridefully declare that their Johnnies and Suzies are smart as papercuts. They get A's in school, get along, and never miss the bus. It's all good.

In the past few weeks, I've been learning about a young man named Tom, a very interesting fellow. I occasionally share a lunch table with his mother Dee who shared her unique son's story.

I asked Dee about how school was for her son and she explained that schools had very little to offer her son, he's different. I wasn't sure what she meant. "He's been diagnosed as Attention Deficit Disordered although I wonder about that." I thought I knew what she was telling me. I thought he was a distracted kid. "Did he have any good teachers", I asked knowing that great teachers are as common as hen's teeth.

"Yeah, I think the kindergarten teacher was very good. My son was afraid to walk into the classroom because of the checkerboard floor tile design. It disoriented him. Spatially, he thought the tiles were different heights and he was afraid to fall. She put down trails of newspaper to cover the tiles so he could walk into the classroom. She did lots of things like that for him. But school was hard for him. By then he could already read and do math. Most teachers didn't know what to do with him.

I would drop him off at the front door of the high school and he would exit the back door and go skiing instead of attend class. He learned to ski in high school. He skis like Billy Kidd, I swear.

Content was easy for him. He never had to study. He got straight A's. He took the S.A.T.'s and just got two answers wrong.

But being smart isn't everything. He's not like us. He's not sure what do or say. School really didn't know what to do with him."

"So what happened to him?"

"He works at a big box handyman store. He likes it and I'm glad he's finding some happiness. That's important. He's doing something he likes.

He does things that interest him but not necessarily things that someone would interest us. He invented a data compression scheme for remote, virtual light saber sword fights that got him into a mjor university but he left after a semester - not a good experience.

The hardest thing for him to do was to dumb himself down to the level of everybody else. That's the hardest thing."

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