Thursday, July 12, 2012

Escaping Special

As a kid I was what would now be called "special". To say I struggled in school would be inaccurate. "Struggle" is what you do before you give up. By the time I'd got to third grade, I knew I was never going to get it. So I quit trying.

Every once in a while there'd be a subject or topic that made sense to me. I had a terrible time with math, struggling with arithmetic, algebra and trigonometry. Yet for some reason, geometry was easy. I was never good at reading music, but I could write whatever I heard. At five I  learned phonetics and could read pretty much anything. Yet by my senior year in high school, I was still taking remedial reading classes because I had so much difficulty understanding what I'd read.

It was confusing for me and pretty much anyone who had an interest in my education. Every so often I'd demonstrate an academic capability inconsistent with my general ineptitude and people would react. Some would think that I'd cheated. Some would assume that I'd been lazy all along and could do well if I just applied a little effort. Some would see a glimmer of hope. Some would see an idiot-savant. Almost no one would see my isolated success as a clue. Well, pretty much no one but me.

I started to wonder why I could do some things that people considered hard and I couldn't do other most things that people considered easy. I came to realize that I could do anything that I could visualize or auralize. If I could picture a math problem in my mind, I could tell you the answer. I might not derive it the way you wanted me to, but I could get it. If I could hear something in my head, I could play or write it.

Knowing this was helpful. I started drawing pictures of math problems that I didn't understand. I slowly began figuring out how to do them. I started reading aloud passages that were incomprehensible. I slowly began to comprehend them.

As I did this, I found another clue. The problems with which I struggled most were often ambiguously, erroneously or incompletely stated. F

For example a teacher says, "Everyone can't be a winner."

I think, "Do you mean that no one can win or do you mean that not everyone can win?" 

I get caught up my uncertainty trying to ascertain what she'd meant as she and the class move on without me.   

I read a selection of text designed to test comprehension. Question by question, I look at a set of answers from which I must select one. However, I can see how any one of the answers could be correct. I can also see how any one of them could be incorrect, or at least inaccurate.

I slowly came to realize that my problem had not been thinking too little. It had been thinking too much. 

Problem with thinking too much is that I had a really hard time thinking less. I still do. So in addition to writing answers, I began writing explanations for them. My exams would be covered with notes that said things like, "Based upon what you said in class, the answer would be this. Based upon what the book said, it would be that. However, when I calculated all these other factors, I came up with this."

Some teachers appreciated my efforts. Some thought I was being flippant. I had to take the SAT over because you're not allowed to write text on the forms. 

Nonetheless, I felt like I was getting somewhere.

Over time I developed a way of learning that was unconventional, but worked. I was gonna say, "worked for me", but I've seen it work well for others too. It's worked so well for that I've become someone who not only does well in academic settings, but is considered to be "scary smart".  

The crazy part is, after all this work to not be, I'm still special. It's been turned around on me. I listen to someone lament his inability to do math or her unfulfilled desire to play music or his longing to be more athletic and I think, "I know how you could do that!"

I enthusiastically explain how he might accomplish what he says he wants. I walk him through the process step-by-step. It may take time and effort, but it's simple and straight-forward. 

He asks, "How do you know that it will work?"

I say, "I know it will work because it's worked for me. I was never able to do thus and such and I believed I never would. However, by doing this and that, I learned how to do it."

Nine times out of ten, the he'll say something like, "Sure it worked for you, but you have to understand; you're different than other people. You're special."

I'll say, "No I'm not. Anyone can do it. Just try it, you'll see."

Rarely if ever does he try. 

However, every once in a while someone does try. They abandon disbelief, stick with the program and voila. 

Trying to encourage would-be doers, I share stories of people who were able to do what they'd believed impossible simply by approaching the challenge from a different perspective, breaking it down into smaller steps, and working it consistently.

You know what they say, "Oh, well they're special too."

It seems that there's no escaping the label.

Happy Thursday,
Teflon

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