Retrospective Epiphany and The Perils of Judgement in Education

Last week’s academic frustrations and the subsequent scouring of all Ken Robinson internet videos led to a number of events. First it culminated in the Sir Ken Robinson Video Marathon post. It also led me to purchase his books The Element and Out of Our Minds from my local book store. Since these impromptu purchases I have been utterly consumed by The Element and have breezed through the first 97 pages (more than one third)… and finally this journey led me to the following retrospective epiphany.

Roughly twenty years ago, I can’t remember in which grade, either in six or seven, my father presented me with this plea (yes my rebellious stage had already started to emerge)…

“Choose one subject you really like in school and just excel in that, really apply yourself to that one subject and see how it goes…”

Out of love and admiration for my father I committed to doing this, and the subject I chose was English. Creative writing was the primary focus of that elementary English year. I poured myself into the next two assignments. I wrote a short story about an escaped high fantasy hero with a last stand by a wooded river bank. Where, along the river shore, our hero with an un-described past barely bests all the kings men in mortal combat. The other short story was a modern car chase scene, with gangsta rap of the era, “Damn it feels good to be a gangsta” on the Porsche stereo. Here too a bloody end, this time involving police brutality in the snow.

As a reward for this effort and my father’s timely intervention my teacher wrongly accused me of plagiarism. Her “proof” was two fold. One, I’d never produced any work of this quality before, and second her sons had video games and she “knew” my inaugural writing efforts were “plagiarizing” their motifs. I’m not sure under what circumstance this terrible standard of proof (not to mention definition of plagiarism) would be worthy of anything. Yet, under the judgement of my elementary school principal (If I recall correctly ironically named Sunny) this was sufficient grounds for many parent teacher conferences, me being sent to the psychologist for testing, and having to write my next assignment, not at home, but in a detention like setting at school. This new setting clearly being a great environment for tapping into a spring of creativity. The immediate deliberations were inconclusive of course… other than I had an exceptional vocabulary for someone of my age, and my next assignment was predictably uninspired and unmemorable. Unbeknownst to me, my parents were also urged to realize I was the next “Jeremy”, as enshrined in Pearl Jam’s famous epic. I am thankful to report that 20 years later I’m still proving them wrong by living a violence free life!

My “retrospective epiphany” is this… this whole educational debacle had many longer term effects. It prolonged my rebellious period, with me breaking out of it barely in-time to gain entrance into University, and it left me profoundly untrustworthy of authority. Especially in circumstances where the “right answer” or the desired behavior is subjective or unclearly defined. Which is incredibly unfortunate because my passions have always been more in the arts than in the maths or sciences, but since this incident I have shied away form them, until very recently. This false accusation, which was leveled at me at a vulnerable time when I was making a first attempt to really apply myself, set back my emerging academic commitment for years. It also crushed my artistic aspirations, the residue of which lasted even longer. My angst with the education system and the grades assigned to my visual art (ART 150) writing efforts this semester have also been amplified by this ancient wound… astounding!

Having expressed this epiphany I feel relieved to have rooted out this piece of shrapnel, and revisited its ramifications… I’m also left pondering the significance and serendipitous nature of a chorus line in a song, which lately I have been listening to constantly: “And judgement is just like a cup that we share” – Iron & Wine, Rabbit Will Run.

2 thoughts on “Retrospective Epiphany and The Perils of Judgement in Education

  1. Thanks Carol, I’m sure many people have had similar moments. It shocked me to realize part of my angst with a current situation had roots as far back as grade 6 or so. Then proceeding to contemplate what other effects it may have had over my decisions and my development as a person for the last 20 years… Astounding!

    Astounding still seems to be the appropriate word! Look for a review of The Element coming soon! It was spectacular.

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