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Reflection...

I've been thinking alot recently about cause and effect... especially when it comes to things like my academic ability. I suppose its come out of the "fun" of the past few months in me trying to get back into the vein of studying, learning (definitely not the same thing), assignments and exams.



So where did I start on all this? Well, I guess junior school is as good a place as any... back then, I seemed to get the same thing written in my report every year... which basically was "could do well but needs to put some effort in"

So, on to high school...

I'm not sure which came first, finding that I really enjoyed the maths course (and was also pretty good at it), or actually putting effort in across the board... anyway, they both happened... and I took a hell of a lot of crap from people for being so "swotty"... not being very good at just about any form of sport didn't really help either... and being a bit odd just made things worse... (and no, I'm not saying I was badly bullied; I know that loads of kids take far more violence than I did... I don't think I ever really got beaten up... I was just made to feel absolutely tiny and it was only the good grades that meant I didn't feel utterly worthless as well)

I didn't really enjoy high school those first couple of years, but I did enjoy the learning and the fact that I felt I was getting somewhere... together they counteracted all the crap that I took... not that I was physically bullied or anything, there was just this unrelenting verbal shit from so many quarters

Anyway, I suppose I felt like it was worth it... that it was paying off... Leeds Uni ran a series of Mathematics Masterclasses where the 20 or 30 (I forget which) top kids in (what is now called) year 8 (I think it was only one year...) from across Leeds (I guess Leeds Education) got together for (I think it was) 8 lectorials doing fairly advanced stuff... and I was one of the kids invited...

They were fun, those Masterclasses... I can't remember much of the subject matter, but I do know we did Einstein's Special Relativity one week, Koch Snowflakes, Mandelbrot and other factal stuff another week and I seem to remember something about donuts and jam mines... although (if memory serves) it was actually about working out paths between points on a torus without crossing previous paths or the shortest/most optimal path or something...

There were actually two of us from my school invited, and I know for a fact that I was miles in front of the other person... Actually, if what my maths teacher at the time said is to be believed, by the end of my second year, I was in front of where anyone had ever gotten in our school on that course...

[ok so to quickly explain the course structure, the first and second year maths course consisted of little per-topic booklets, there were four levels, and three sub levels, so level 4 actually comprised levels 4a, 4b and 4e ("e" meaning "extension"). The third, fourth and fifth year courses were ability-grouped, and were taught from a series of five books, each containing lots of topics. Different ability groups used a different letter of book; the "top set" (those who would be allowed to do GSCE Maths papers 3 and 4, and could therefore attain A, B or C (no A*s in those days)) used the "Y" set of books (I'm guessing "Y" was probably for "Yellow" cos I seem to remember the title of the book being written in yellow, while there were also "B" and "R" books)]

Anyway by the end of my second year, I had either finished or mostly finished the Y1 book and I'd also done quite a lot of the YE1 book (which I'm reasonably sure most students at our school never even knew existed!)

The only thing I can't remember is whether the official third year course got onto the Y2 book or if the third year was just Y1...

And to cap of the second year, my maths teacher set my the previous year's top two GCSE papers to do under exam conditions, just spread out over 3 hour-long lessons... oh yeah, and with the normal noise and commotion of a working classroom, not the silence of an exam hall... and, having not done the highest 2 years of the maths course (and figuring out the stuff I didn't know inside the allowed 3 hours), I still managed to score around 90% on the two papers...! That's an A grade in anyone's book, I'm quite sure!

So, end of the 2nd year, and things are going ok; I'm taking shit, but its balanced with a sense of achievement...

So, on to the 3rd year, and things immediately go to hell; basically I get told that it doesn't matter what I've done in maths up to that point, I can't have done it right and I have to follow the course along with everybody else.

Now, I was 13 when I got told this. And I knew full-well that in other schools, there were kids doing GCSEs early and getting decent grades... but not me, not in our school, oh no...

But anyway; that's the trigger... the point where I stopped trying... because it just wasn't worth the shit that went along with it... I mean, I worked damn hard to get through all that maths, and I tried to do well in all my subjects... I may not always have succeeded, and sometimes I didn't feel like putting the effort in, but you can't work hard all the time; you've gotta have glitches...

But what 13 year old, having put in so much effort under those circumstances with those results is going to feel any sense of achievement in anything they do?

I certainly didn't; and I don't think I've ever really managed to get back that ability...

I guess my 13-year-old self distilled it down to a simple little sentence...

Don't bother trying, it'll be shit while you do, and you'll end up with shit for all your effort.

So I coasted my way through my GSCEs and I did "ok"... I didn't get stellar marks, but then, I didn't put in any effort at all beyond enjoying doing the work in English and French, and letting myself down somewhat in Design & Communication cos I hated the compulsory assignment that the examiners set us and was far happier doing my architecture-based assignment instead!

And after a while of me not being so swotty, the shit coming my way eased off... it never went away, but it did get better.

A Levels, well, they were a total mess... I fell out with most of my subject teachers during my Upper 6th and came a hair's breadth from being kicked out of the school.

And my Bachelors... well, that was just a struggle pretty much from the start, but not for academic reasons... not really... my sister's death really messed me up, followed closely by another death that also affected me quite badly... suicide attempts and other "fun" over the next few years didn't really help matters either...

I know I've said this a ridiculous number of times, but I am damn proud of having gotten my degree, I just wish it were a better grade...

(I've also said before, even now, I still can't quite believe I got my degree)

So this is where this Masters of mine comes from... its my attempt to try and do it right... to get a grade that is representative of what (on a good day) I feel to be my ability...

But I know now that I'm still fighting those school demons, and I still keep coming back to being told I'm not good enough, that I can't have done the work correctly, even though my grades were almost universally in the high 90%s....

The thing that I find the hardest to bear though is the potential... what might I be doing now if I'd been able to keep going... be that through letting me loose to work at my own pace and achieve what I could have, or providing concurrent activities to keep my interested and enthusiastic, or even if I had just managed to somehow keep from being made to feel useless...

So I shall say it here, for anyone who reads this...

  • do not EVER stop a child from learning,

  • do not EVER dampen their enthusiasm or seek to restrain their curiosity,

  • do not EVER tell a child that they cannot have done it right when they have the right answer... they may not have done it your way, but it doesn't mean its wrong

  • make SURE you encourage a child who shows aptitude

  • make SURE you let that child know that if it ever feels it is being prevented from fulfilling its potential, it can talk to you and you will fight for it

  • (and make SURE that you do)

  • do NOT allow a child's potential to go to waste. You may regret it, they almost certainly will