This here post is a ticked-off, public-school-sucks kind of post; I just wanted to get that out of the way at the beginning. It's about a conversation we had tonight, over dinner.
We'd spent the better part of our meal discussing The Black Cauldron, Lloyd Alexander's second book about Prydain, and the funniest Calvin and Hobbes comics, and favorite specific quotes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and how the 'big three' Greek Gods figured out who was going to be in charge of what realm, and... well, the conversation ranged, I guess, to sum up. All four of us took an equal part, and I was thinking how cool it was that the kids engage in conversation like they do, when Ben mentioned something about parents' perceptions that their schooled children who are of average ability get average teachers, and that kids with either learning issues, who are 'below average', or gifted kids, get the better teachers.
Now, this would have been an interesting thread to follow - but Luke heard the words 'below average' and suddenly said, "Yes, I'm below average."
Very matter-of-factly, mind you, no wistfulness or emotion of any kind. He was just stating a fact. My stomach churned, and I could see my worry reflected on Ben's face, too. One of us, or probably both of us, asked Luke: "Why do you say you're below average?"
"Well, that is what [Mrs. First Grade Teacher, who should probably remain anonymous] wrote in my report card - y'know, after I was doing bad when we got home from vacation?"
Luke was remembering his first-grade report card, in which the teacher took special care to mention how much worse his behavior was after we returned from a two-week vacation, that May, to Myrtle Beach. Luke spent those two weeks frolicking in the warm South Carolina ocean, finding clams and brine shrimp with his Dad, wave-surfing with his Grandpa, reading (memorizing, actually) the Magiquest manual, roasting marshmallows with his Grandma. His every moment was spent learning in some way, and so he didn't find the time to complete the sixty pages of worksheets that Mrs. First Grade Teacher had sent along. And, surprise surprise, he was not thrilled at the prospect of getting his nose back to the academic grindstone; agitation at school ensued.
Well, Ben and I hastened to correct Luke in his belief that he is 'below average.' We reminded him that it isn't up to Mrs. First Grade Teacher to make judgments like that, and also we helped him to remember all the things that he does do well. I hope that we convinced him - but I'm not entirely sure we did.
How do you counteract years of negative self-perception like that? Luke referred to himself as 'below average' and 'doing bad;' I fear that no amount of rock climbing, reading, role-playing or unconditional love can counteract something so ingrained.
Effing school! Still capable of hurting, more than two years later. Sigh.