Wednesday, 17 April 2013

One breast, one testicle...



One of my favourite one-liners is: "the average person has one breast and one testicle".  

Although “average” people don’t really exist, we still tend to get hung up on the idea of whether we conform to the norm or not anyway.  Take people who are of "average intelligence".  The average score for intelligence is 100, but it’s calculated by aggregating the test scores of a population of test subjects, and dividing by the number of subjects.  The problem is that the average is getting higher, so the tests either have to be changed every few years, or the scores have to be statistically adjusted.  So basically, the average IQ is an arbitrary point on a graph that is whatever someone says it is. 




The flaws of standardized testing

Not only that,  but it turns out that intelligence is very hard to measure directly. This means that what intelligence tests actually measure is one's ability to apply knowledge, and a very specific type of knowledge, that is very narrowly defined. So, if you happen to be someone whose talents don't lean toward "readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic", you are quite likely to be classified as "below average". Furthermore, if you have never been taught the knowledge you need to apply in any standardized test,  you are going to perform poorly, even you happen to be quite brilliant.  Finally, if you are someone who struggles with focus or distractability, your tests scores will not accurately reflect your ability.

A broken system

If you have kids with special needs, like I do, this is worrying.  On a "good" day, my daughter's test scores in any form of standardized test are in the "gifted" range.  On a “bad” day they are average to below average. This is simply because she has an atypical sensory system (read more about this here). Ditto for my son.

The point is not whether my kids (and yours) are "below average" or "abnormal" or not, but rather that our definition of “normal” is far too narrow.  The world needs all kinds of people in order to work well. We need bankers and farmers, computer scientists and dancers, teachers and artists. Unfortunately our school system is only really designed to turn out bankers, computer scientists and teachers.  This means that if your child is destined to be a farmer, dancer or artist they might fall through the cracks of a very broken system.

Just show up...

What I have learned through my own, and my children's, struggles with not "fitting in" is this:  Success in life is more about staying focused on the process than obsessing about the outcome.  Its about "showing up" day after day, it even when it gets boring or when it feels like it’s just not happening.  The key is to acknowledge the small victories, even when the victory is just that you showed up today.  

And, give your child permission to really, really suck at some things.  Its OK not to be able to spell or add things up in your head - that's what spell checkers and calculators are for. 

If your child is a farmer, let them farm.  If they're a dancer, let them dance. If they're an actor, let them act. And If they keep showing up for English and Maths, they'll learn enough to get by with, while living out their real talents in farming or dance or acting.

So, let’s just drop the ideas of ‘average’ and 'normal'.  Who want's to be the person with one breast and one testicle anyway...?


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