One day last week I shocked myself when I realised that I have five people (OK - let's face it - men) with PhD's in my list of friends and acquaintences. The list could be longer but those are the ones who immediately sprang to mind. If you are interested the subjects - in order of how long I have known the people - are as follow; Advanced Maths (I have always hated Maths so - to me anything above a GCSE is "Advanced" but I think this person specialised in Velocity), Psychology, Quantum Computing, some strange branch of Science, and Photography.
Me??? Four GCSEs - C Grade and above - and one NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) Level 1 in Business Administration, and various other Certificates in random subjects. Not forgetting the sheer hatred of the idea of going anywhere near a classroom ever again.
The funny thing is that - according to nearly every single school report I have dug up and read so far - I should not be writing this blog. Apparently I was useless at writing at Secondary School (the disorganisation still applies though in some instances).
I wonder what my school reports would have said if all my achievements were taken into consideration though???
There were days when - honestly - turning up to school was almost more than I could manage to do. What felt like 24/7/365 bullying from the other students wasn't exactly conducive to me being "ready to learn" anything except that I should crawl into a corner and kill myself quietly.
Oh - and I have a message for those teachers who thought I worked too slowly for their liking. Trust me - I was working as fast as I possibly could given my circumstances. Nearly all of you made it obvious - by your attitude towards me and how you dealt with me - that any attempt at asking you to alter your lessons, classrooms, etc, to suit my needs would just lead to arguments and further difficulties. As it was I was just seen as a lazy nuisance when I actually ended up having to teach myself how to cope with your lessons (and in some cases both the equipment you used and your method of teaching) - on top of navigating myself around your school grounds.
(Let's just say that one teacher informing me - years after I had escaped the Education System - that the staff at one school kept having meetings on what to do about me - without inviting the one person who could have helped them - was not exactly conducive to me feeling any less angry about my school days.)
I could bore you to sleep with the list of things that I ended up teaching myself just to get through the Education System. Some of the things are no longer useful but other things are what help me to hide the exact extent of my difficulties in most instances nowadays.
As you might have guessed by now - I work best on a "Trail and Error" basis. I also prefer to be able to ask seemingly stupid questions in order to help myself learn. To put it bluntly - I hate being told to do something in a certain way because "that is how it has always been done" or because "everybody else does it like that". Tough - I am not everybody else and I have a way of working which suits me better than yours.
I remember when I was about to sit my RE (Religious Education - sometimes called Religious Studies) exam. Due to the school's belated realisation that I may have had some minor difficulties coping at school - I was allowed special priviledges during the exam. Unfortunately, these apparently did not include my RE teacher deciding that he knew my sight better than I did.
The hall where we did the exam was lit by what appeared to me to be spotlights in the ceiling. These were spaced out in such a way as to give me problems with the contrast between light and dark (as well as potential difficulties seeing what I was doing if I had not sat under a light).
The RE teacher saw that I had parked myself under one of these lights and immediately attempted to get me to move away from it. Their exact words were "why are you sitting under a light? Wouldn't you be better off somewhere else?"
Luckily the imminent start of the exam prevented me from telling the aforementioned teacher why I had decided to sit where I did - otherwise I would probably have been ejected from the exam.
It has taken me a very long time to feel comfortable enough in my own skin (and life) enough to be able to stand up for myself and argue with people who I was led to believe were better than me just as a result of their paper qualifications - without going into Defensive Mode.
In fact - my two biggest highlights so far have both involved members of my personal "Mastermind Brainiac Club" (as in two of the five humans mentioned at the start of this blog post).
There is something bittersweet about using the skills your teachers unwittingly taught you (and which appear on no version of the school curriculum I have ever seen) to make something you want to happen actually happen. Unfortunately - the fact that it was someone who is now a good friend of mine who got caught in the crossfire between the "me" of my schooldays and the "me" of when I met them - is something I will regret for as long as I live. I am not going to divulge the specifics on here (they are not relevant) but what I will say is that it has never been a good idea to make me feel like I am a Lab Rat who just exists to be experimented on for your pleasure. That is the best way for me not only to get very angry but to want to get something out of the situation too - by any means necessary. (You could say that the non-appearance of the one piece of equipment- which I was promised by a certain teacher at school which would have greatly helped me with my work was the start of that downward spiral.)
The other highlight is much more pleasant and uplifting (for me anyway). As you may already know I am involved in a Photography project with someone - based on the challenges I face as a result of my sight. Somehow - through this project - I appear to be educating someone with a PhD in Photography about sight. Now - if you had told me three years ago that I would be able to do that you would have been politely requested to make an appointment to get your Mental Health assessed. My discussions with the photographer I am working with suggest that they are indeed looking at the world in a different way as a result of our project.
If I were in charge of the Education System I would scrap it and start again from scratch. No targets as far as Exam results and paper qualifications go for a start. I would also design the lessons to meet the needs of all the students individually. (For example - if the lesson involved working out the volume of a cube - I would find a way of making the cubes accessible for every student to use. Even if it came to painting lines in the grooves to separate the squares. And - yes - that does come from personal experience of one particular Maths lesson.)
I would also ensure that every school conformed to a "Sight-friendly" layout - including stairs and lighting. I would even subject the teachers to a school uniform of sorts. My favourite teacher had one item of clothing which I absolutely loved because it was literally easy on my eyes. This teacher could wear a crisp, bright white shirt if they wanted to as long as they wore their navy blue tank-top over the top of it. Trust me - it made a change from being blinded by non-stop oceans of white shirts (especially in bright sunshine).
I would not make it obligatory for the students to all work in the same place or at the same speed, or even in the same way. We all have different ways of learning - I prefer reading, writing, and interrogating the nearest "Human Library Book" I can find on the subject. I also prefer working away from other people (unless it is something like Creative Writing) so I can concentrate and take breaks when I need to. (Let's just say that - far from being a punishment - the amount of time I spent in Solitary on my own in the my first year of Secondary School was my idea of Heaven.)
To finish this off (yes - I am aware that it is more of a ramble than usual) I just want to say two things.
On paper I may not be the most highly qualified human you have ever met (or read the ramblings of) but I would say that I am reasonably intelligent. My life experience could probably get me at least one PhD (if they gave out paper qualifications for coping with a Sight Problem and Sideways thinking that is). This blog is proof that I must be reasonably on the ball as far as "living in the world" is concerned - otherwise I wouldn't be able to write about most of the subjects this blog has covered. I may not have experienced some of the subjects I have written about directly but the people who have shared their thoughts with me must think I have enough of a way with words to be able to tell you about them (when they allowed me to share them with you of course).
The final thing I want to say on this subject is this - I found something intriguing on a Psychology website recently which made me think. It said something along the lines of "instead of engaging with Therapy in order to cope with life engage with life itself". Maybe that is what is currently being lost in the continuous upheavals of the Education System - instead of being taught subjects that people in power think we need to know in order to cope with life - we should be using the experiences we have in life to teach us about education.
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