Dumb Questions and the Celebration of Mediocrity

People ask a lot of stupid questions. I would know, I am left handed – Is it painful being left-handed? Yes, I choke back great sobs of pain every time I write! Do you wish you were right-handed? Yes, I spend sleepless nights begging God to make me human. Are you left-handed? No, I woke up this morning and decided to give my right hand a break. We the sinister (old name for left-handed) ones field stupid questions. In my primary school years, meeting adults during holiday time meant answering two consecutive questions:

1. “Did you pass?”

2. (To evaluate the response to the first) “What was your class position?” commonly verbalised as “What number did you take?” (Literal translation from vernacular)

In my case, the answer to the first question was an easy yes while the second question presented a problem. The school I attended never assigned class positions because everyone was expected to compete with themselves – “Did you do better than you did last time?” as opposed to, “Did you do better than your classmates?” Most of my interviewers were puzzled by this explanation and changed the subject while some, undaunted in their quest to list children by academic ability, would ask about my grades (Mostly A’s). Precious few, if any, bothered to ask if my marks were improving. Everyone it seemed, was obsessed with class position.

What is the purpose of education? For too many, education is a rite of passage on the way to driving fancy cars, marrying an attracting wife and getting a spacious mansion in which to raise two ugly children. Importance of financial progress notwithstanding, could there be more to education? Perhaps we ought to adjust our approach.

One of the joys of chatting with children is the fresh perspective they have on everything. The child’s world is full of possibilities with failure a necessary step on the path to success. Unfettered imagination makes them adept innovators. After thirteen years of school, they emerge with glazed eyes and drooling mouths, trudging on the dreary road to success – zombies. Of course, children need guidance but could we do that without killing their imaginations?

In my part of the world, imagination and fantasy are equated. There is a difference. Imagination builds planes and runways while fantasy jumps off a cliff and flaps featherless arms. Children undoubtedly conflate the two and education ought to show them the difference between them. Our approach has been to discard both and reward our children according to their ability to absorb and regurgitate the products of others’ imaginations. The perpetuation of the status quo is drilled into the young mind and thirteen years later, zombies fearful of rocking the boat march on to live everybody’s dreams but their own.

I am an adult and play my part in interrogating children on holiday. “Did you,” goes the fateful question, “pass?” The answer is, predictably and sadly, predicated on class position. I too am not wholly immune from that malady of asking stupid questions, of defending the status quo and celebrating mediocrity. It’s time I asked more important questions:

1. Did your grades improve?

2. What new things and skills did you learn? Do you find them useful?

3. How would you improve the things you’ve learned about?

4. How can you use what you’ve learned and your improvement upon it to make life better for everyone?

I refuse to celebrate mediocrity.



photo credit: acase1968 Commencement via photopin (license)


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