PS. Since writing the following I have been diagnosed as being dyslexic. It's obvious really, reading it back and knowing what I know now:
We know people are different and have different natural abilities, talents and interests. Society tends to have a ‘one size fits all’ approach to education, with schools following a fixed syllabus and children being tested against predetermined expectations, as well as each other. This is how we determine who to put where in society, and who will succeed and who will fail, according to our own preconceived ideas as to what these are.
I am not saying there is anything wrong with this, but I wanted to write a few words about my own strengths, and weaknesses, as a child at school; struggling with the syllabus and style of teaching.
Signs that something was possibly different in me started pre-school, as I drove my Mum almost crazy with the constant asking ‘Why?... Why?... Why?... Why?...’. This need to understand, combined with a sensitivity to the feelings of others – both in people and animals - (and the effect this had on me) was probably what determined how I was to turn out; but before I turned out at all, it was going to be tough.
The need to understand and find a way out of the emotional struggling was indeed the driving force behind my spiritual development, but it is the need to understand specifically that I would like to look at here.
You see, my experience of schooling is that it’s about learning (education); and learning, as I was to find, was far from my strong point. I would forget things quickly and any sort of learning was almost disastrous. I particularly remember the many evenings in my very young years, where my Mum would be assisting me with my homework and she would be shouting at me to get this right through sheer frustration, as we had been through it over and over. But then she had found her schooling easy, leaving with good qualifications and speaking several languages, but something was lacking for me and I just could not do it.
The above led to my often getting into trouble at school fighting (being smacked with slippers and shoes etc by the head-teacher and his wife) and I made little or no progress in lessons. I remember one particular teacher banging on my table (when I was about 7 years old) screaming at me for not learning what she was teaching, and another keeping me back after class so I missed my playtime for not understanding opposites.
(I was about 7 at the time, and while I easily understood the opposite of black was white, and the opposite of ‘yes’ was ‘no’, when it came to the opposite of a door, I would insist that the opposite of a door was ‘no door’; and likewise, that the opposite of a window was ‘no window’. Why ‘door’ was the opposite of ‘window’, I could not understand (and this made the teacher very angry). These are inanimate objects, and while they can be linked as items inserted into a wall of a house, I got into trouble for not understanding why this made them opposites. - I don’t know your view of this, but I still see that while one can link any number of items, such as chair and table, pen and paper, monitor and keyboard, dog and cat, horse and cow, car and bike, rain and snow, etc., I am still not convinced that this makes them opposites.) :o)
Anyway, the troubles at school resulted in my being sent to boarding school at the age of 9 years old. Here the troubles continued but the school was big enough that I became one of many, and was by no means the bottom of the pile, in any sense. That is, except for once a year, every year, when we would have a General Knowledge test for the entire school. We would be given the answers to take home for the Christmas holidays. It was meant to be a bit of fun and no one gave it much attention. However, I would be in the bottom two, each and every year, out of nearly 100 pupils, from when I started at 9 years to when I left at 13 years. Even with being given the answers to read first, I had no interest in the questions being asked and could not retain any of the answers.
I would remain at that school until I was 13 years old (running away at about 11 years old but then going back). At 13 I started at another boarding school, even bigger than the first, and for some reason I was put in quite high level classes for some of the subjects; far higher in fact than my exam results warranted. I was eventually instructed by my maths teacher to visit the headmaster’s wife, as it had been she who decided which classes to put people in. When I met her, she got out my file and explained to me that, although my exam results had not been very good, my IQ results were, and these suggested I should be able to cope with higher classes. I was allowed to drop a grade for maths, but still struggled; eventually running away from this school at 14 years old, never to return. I had learnt when cramming for tests and exams at the school, that I could remember things, if I worked really hard, just long enough to get though a test’ then they would be gone.
The next school was a very small tutorial college in London, and I settled in here much better. One amazing change was I found maths became quite easy and I soon became top of the class. However, following a parents’ evening where my Mum met my maths teacher, she explained to me what had changed and why I was now able to do things that had been impossible previously...
The teacher explained that each time I was stuck on something, instead of trying to teach me again, he had learnt that if he asked me what I was thinking, usually I would almost be there, but on my own in a completely different way to that being taught. He would then have to change his own perspective, give me a simple nudge to fill the missing gap, and I would be there. I took my maths GCSE a year early, taking only the middle paper (where a grade ‘C’ is the maximum possible) so as to get a pass under my belt, with the plan of getting an ‘A’ the following year. However, very soon after the first exam, the teacher left to go into nursing instead. We then had an elderly lady who had been teaching for far more years than I had been alive, and all that I had learnt was lost. Only a few weeks passed before I was back where I had stated, unable to perform calculations that had been straight forward previously. I took the paper again the following year, scraping by with another ‘C’. To this day I have never reclaimed what I had achieved with that teacher.
(NB. I have recently discovered that my 'own' method for long division is now being taught at schools, under the title 'Double Division.)
The above sounds pretty gloomy, with a hint of hope, but the hope and a sign of things to come was made stronger when my chemistry and biology teacher, who was studying psychology outside the school and had agreed with the headmaster that she could test the whole school (teachers and pupils) for one of her course projects. I was about 16 years old.
I was by no means the star pupil in the subjects she taught us, but she was about to expose another side of me; one that had very rarely been seen, let alone acknowledged.
I forget (typical, huh?) the specific details of the test, but it was to do with linking up words on cards, and she started off by saying there were no right or wrong answers. A few questions in I said to her ‘I don’t mean to be big-headed, but will they all be as easy as this?’. I could see a very definite pattern and, contrary to what she had said, there were indeed answers that were correct, and those that were incorrect, when it came to matching up the words. A few questions later and she said ‘Nick, I think you’re a genius; really!’. I got them all right. After the test, people would be talking about it, saying how it made no difference which cards you picked; but I knew different.
I did not do particularly well in my exams and left with a few mediocre qualifications, still not knowing what to do with my life. However, my need to find answers had not disappeared and, having laid the gauntlet down to life, demanding that I be shown the truth, I was soon sitting in front of a psychic at the College of Psychic Studies, at 17 years old, in my final attempt to find out why I felt the way I did.
The psychic explained that I was already on a very high spiritual level - several rungs up the ladder on the way to enlightenment - and I would progress very quickly if I wanted to - He also stated repeatedly that I had such amazing clarity and had the ability to see above problems. Thus began my conscious journey to realise the truth.
Now, the above story is quite interesting, but the point of it was to show that, even if a child is not considered academically intelligent, that does not necessarily mean they are totally unintelligent; or that they are not going to be excellent in other ways totally removed from academic learning. They are likely to have skills or natural talents or abilities which need to be discovered, if the child is to realise their potential; and by that we mean their own potential, and not what we as parents, teachers or politicians say they should be achieving. We are some way off schools being able to focus on discovering the hidden aspects in children, besides those which emerge naturally through day-to-day activities, but that would be the ideal.
It did occur to me occasionally during those 13 years that I was going through it (endeavouring to live consciously to realise the truth and be free of the pain of the emotion), what would have happened had I been brought up focusing on spiritual studies, such as in a monastery of some eastern religion of similar? Would that have helped my development? In my own case, now that I have got through it, there is every chance nothing would have changed and I would have ended up here anyway. Just as in the story of Siddhārtha Gautama (later to become The Buddha); where his father, the King, was told that his son would either be a great King or a great Spiritual leader. On hearing this, he ensured his son saw none of the atrocities outside the castle walls in order to attempt to prevent him becoming developing any interest in spiritual activities and ensure his son became a great King. However, one day Gautama took another route home from the one his father had prepared for him and came across a village of poor and sick people; thus his journey began. Shocked by what he saw, he left the castle, his wife and child, and devoted his life to the search of the truth behind suffering.
So, maybe life has a way of bringing out our strengths at times, in spite of society and what is planned for us, rather than because of it.
My memory for facts and figures and times and dates, and names and places, is still horrendous. That has not changed. What has changed is that I am able to prepare for this by ensuring I do not need to remember things. If I need to remember something, I make arrangements so that there is something in the right place to remind me.. be it a message on the answer phone or an email for when I get home etc. The point is, I know never to rely on my memory. The problem-solving ability in me has been focussed on finding the end of suffering in myself, just like The Buddha. And since then it has been on explaining the process, as well as the state itself, in the simplest and most direct way possible. Several people have commented on my having achieved this (thank you), but we all have strengths and weaknesses, as you can tell from the story above, and there is nothing to be gained from gloating about anything that one seems to achieve. If schools were able to find all our innate skills and talents, and promote these, perhaps everyone would have a particular activity they are naturally very good at (potentially expert, with a little tuition in the right direction).
Until then, we struggle through, trying to fit into the metaphorical boxes society has laid out for us, like putting a square peg in a round hole. It can work, to a point, but it may involve knocking some corners off; .
Moral of the story: Don’t feel too bad if you are not good at things others are. All is not lost.