Celebrating Passion vs. Skill

During class today, I read Hannah Sharkey’s blog post “Who Knew Stats Could Be Profound?” I really enjoyed reading this blog post because not only was it beautifully written, but it forced me to think about when I’d been judged or valued based on my interests rather than figures about me. Hannah’s post discusses how most people ask for figures about a new person instead of asking about their traits and interests so I began thinking about each and every teacher that I’ve had throughout my education and realized a few things. The first was that Dr. Beth is the only teacher who has made me feel like she cared more about my interests than my skills from the second she met me. The next being that my tenth grade English teacher Mr. Harrison definitely valued me more for my ideas, attitude, and personality than for my work ethic, but only after seeing how lazy I was and after getting to know my personality well. Lastly and most importantly, I realized that my elementary school Omega class experience seriously encouraged the idea that my grades and skills do, in fact, define me.

At the beginning of each elementary school year, teachers recommended certain students to take an interactive IQ test and the results of the test would determine whether or not those students should be in an advanced class, known as Omega. The class met a few times a week for about an hour at a time, and intended to keep the “advanced” kids learning in case the normal class was too slow-moving. In third grade and fourth grade, I was one of the approximately eight kids whose tests determined that they should be in the Omega class. I enjoyed being in it because we usually practiced thinking outside the box to solve math- and puzzle-type questions. I liked math and I liked the change of scenery, so it was fun. We were treated special. We were “the omega kids.” This was all good and dandy until I reached fifth grade and was no longer considered “advanced” enough to be in Omega, based on the test I took at the beginning of the year. The other omega kids were invited back for their third year, but I was not. A distinct divide immediately emerged between me and them; they were too smart for Mrs. Palmer’s class, but I was not. I was too dumb for Omega.

I understand that the goal of Omega was to benefit the students who could learn faster and wanted to learn more. However, I agree with what Hannah wrote in her post. She said that she understands that giving quantitative assessments “is what a professor is expected to do, it was just refreshing to have the “essential matters” incorporated into the “figures.”” The essential matters–or, the skills and personality traits–of my elementary school peers and I should have been emphasized and appreciated more. Omega really encouraged the idea that omega students were special not because they were hard workers, but because they had more brainpower. It didn’t matter whether or not they were lazy– the omega kids had a more advanced skillset so they were deemed special. I think that is so dangerous to teach a child. This made the omega kids feel like they were superior and made the rest of the students feel inferior. What should have been encouraged is that students who work hard are appreciated and students who are lazy or uncooperative should improve their work ethic. Although it upsets me to now realize how damaging the Omega system might actually be, I am relieved to say I’ve had a very different experience since I’ve gotten older and since I’ve been at Geneseo.

In my experience thus far, (most) professors are more excited by their students’ passions and interests than their students’ skills. Although most professors do not take the time to get to know all of their students, they are always encouraging them to pursue the same field as them and get excited when they hear people following their advice. I recently talked to my Environmental Issues professor about picking up an Environmental Studies minor and he did not ask me my age, my grades, or my skills. Instead, he was simply happy for me that I wanted to pursue something in that field and gave me advice about what classes to take and where to find more information. We need more of this encouragement at a younger age. Teachers are some of the most influential people in our lives growing up, so they have the power to remind us that our passions and drive to succeed are more valuable than our innate skillsets. Omega should not have been celebrating the smartest of the smart kids for simply being smart. It should have been celebrating the most hard-working and respectful students for having such great traits, and the “dumb” students should have been encouraged to work hard in what they enjoy doing. Why was there no Omega class for artists? Or musically-inclined students? In order to breed confident, hard-working students and adults, children need to be encouraged from a young age to strive to find their passions and work hard.

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