Last week I was talking to my friend Adrian and he told me a story about his art class. The story that he shared hit a nerve with me as it made me realize one of the biggest failures of the public education system.
This year Adrian decided to step out of his comfort zone and enroll in an art class for the first time in all his years as a student. He thought when he enrolled that this class would be fun and give him an opportunity to relax at the end of the day. Ever since he was young he tells me he has never had strong motor skills, and art is supposed to improve one’s attention to detail and hand skills. However, in his months in this class he found a different reality.
Ever since the first day of class Adrian has been upfront with his teacher about the fact that he is not a talented artist. There are kids in his class who when you tell them to paint a landscape with water colors can go off and paint a spectacular picture. Adrian is open about the fact that he is not one of these people. However, he also made it clear that he is the hardest working student in the class. He comes in after school six hours a week to work on his art. He spends almost every lunch break huddled over his drawing making subtle improvements in his work, hoping to improve a grade that he was initially given. While people around his get top marks on their first try, Adrian continues to fail on his tenth attempt.
Whenever someone talks down on their school, it automatically comes off as being angry or upset about a particular grade or lack of success in a subject. I figure you could say the same about my discussion with Adrian. Adrian is clearly showing anger towards a class and teacher that he would not show if he had an ideal grade. But on another level, this anger has less to do with the letter and more to do with school itself.
By being upfront with his teacher in a discussion about his lack of skills and education in art, Adrian is telling unequivocally that in order to succeed in this class he must provide something else that his peers do not have. For Adrian, that is his work ethic. Adrian would understand that because he does not have the same skills as his classmates if he did not prove himself in another way he could expect a lower grade. However, Adrian has proved himself through his ability to work harder than anyone else – yet still there is no reward for this provided by the educational system.
What the school system does not realize is there will always be the gifted. There will always be students born the smartest, with the best math mind or science mind or test taking abilities – even the best fine motor skills. These are the kids who are receiving the highest grades in the class – and it isn’t their fault. These kids – let us call them the gifted – will be told for the first 20 years of their life that they are the best. They will become valedictorians and go to great schools and possibly get a great job out of grad-school.
But then what?
Because the gifted have been told all their life that they can exceed just the way they are born they will not seek to improve their habits at all. Instead, these are the people who will plateau.
On the other side of the spectrum are the people who the educational system rejects – the Adrians. These are people who are not especially skilled in habits applicable to school- yet in order to compensate for their lack of abilities must work far harder than their peers. Although the educational system rarely celebrates this hard work, their future will. While they may not go to the best schools in the world or find the best job out of grad-school, over time they will continue to grow far more than their peers – members of “the gifted.”
Adrians of the world are not rewarded in High School, but don’t sleep on them because they are the ones that will be running the world soon enough.