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Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dumb kids

This is a story told to me by a friend [lets call him Bert] some years ago. He was at the time a newly appointed Superintendent of a School District in a big city. He found that the way the school system worked was that a student who didn’t pass at the end of a school year was still permitted to go on to the next grade with friends until they finally reached grade 10 or were 16 years old (at which point the law said they could leave school).

There were many complaints about these ‘unteachable’ students because they often purposely disrupted classes, so Bert persuaded his Board to let him hire a psychologist to test some difficult kids and see if they had problems that could be identified. The report that came back was clear – most of them could neither read nor write, and had been using their wits in order to manage at all. They had matured more slowly than ‘normal’, and had not been ready for reading when these skills were taught. If no one had picked up on that and helped them, then they had simply missed their chance and were passed on through the system.

Bert managed to hire a specialist to teach them to read, but he didn’t just stop there – he figured he needed to find some way to engage the kids outside the classroom, so he tried an experiment. He cobbled some money together, bought a run-down property and gave the students the mission to repair and refurbish the place - and assigned a supervisor to oversee the project. The kids had to read labels and instructions on nearly everything they worked with, and they had to use their math skills to measure and calculate the amounts of materials they needed and to keep track of finances. They cooperated, learned, and it was a success – so the next year Bert bought an old boat.

Bert kept in touch and found out that some of those labeled ‘losers’ went on to University, and one even ended up earning a PhD! It’s a good story, and it makes the point that not everyone fits the school mold. The smarter we get at recognizing and addressing this, the better.

In my 'Whole Brain' post, I noted that schools test for left-brained skills, but it is often the kids with artistic and creative talents who can be more perceptive and skilled at relationships. We need them both! Rie


  1. excellent review.
    Be sure to come back for more

  2. I think we can say for sure that not everyone fits the school mold..