The Rest of the Kids

A now-famous person once gave a graduation speech that probably sits in high reverence for some fellow classmates. In the speech, he talked about the future where “nerds would run the world.” Years and years of torment of the “gifted” – or what we now likely label as a form of bullying – somehow made its payoff in current times as some of the most beloved men (we don’t celebrate women very well) in the world are responsible for the devices you are reading this from, among other great advances many of us enjoy.

For some reason, to the departing seniors from the school – an “elite” one at that – he decided to take shots at a section of students at the end of his otherwise fairly entertaining speech. The exact words escape me, but he essentially said that future liberal arts majors would never find jobs.

Okay, while that could have a smidgen of truth for some who struggled when they graduated from college, it was an incredible letdown for two reasons. One, it dismissed the passions of young kids who were better equipped with pens than scalpels. Two, if he would say this to the “smartest of the smart,” then what the hell did he think of the rest of the kids on the academic spectrum?

The rest of the kids. Yeah, them.

The ones that didn’t exactly light the academic world on fire. The ones whose elementary or middle school classes didn’t have fancy names that denoted their high levels of intelligence (what up, 2IGC – Intelligent and Gifted Class!) The students who only avoided being placed into special education classes because they weren’t massive behavior problems or had passable reading ability. The kids who either squeaked by enough to get into community college, ceased their education after high school or, God forbid, went to a trade/vocational school.

It may have been that speech over fifteen years ago that does it. Maybe the experience of being teased for missing out on the top class in the third grade because I stumbled on the state reading exam brings out the worry. Perhaps the concern is in some ways influenced by failing a statistics course as a college freshman, which wasn’t helped by an absurd grading policy and a patronizing professor who only paid attention to a handful of his thirty students. Even from a privileged academic position, I wasn’t immune to the dejection that can cripple many a child.

And because of that, I can’t ever help but to think about the rest of the kids.

Of course, I sort of understand why many of my classmates didn’t and likely still don’t think of them – even some of those who have gone into careers in education. The truth is that at varied points in our lives leading up to that day, we were teased, mocked and unless we knew how to throw a punch back, bullied about being kids that performed well in the classroom. For reasons too long to list here, the “dumb” kids’ were jealous of the “smart” ones, and acted out their internal frustrations. Yet, there are a handful that stand out; they didn’t have parents and guardians that had provided the best support in their struggles, they were discouraged by the people around them for trying to get better, they succumbed to peer pressure, they had undiagnosed learning disabilities.

Yet, though many of my ilk would never admit to it, collectively, we were condescending as hell towards kids who weren’t the best of students. We gave as much as we got at times, but with higher stakes involved – desires to go to college in hopes of embarking on great careers – we just didn’t use our fists. We shamed them with words, with body language and with our cliques. After all, how often did a “smart” kid roll with the disengaged?

And when it came to reading comprehension, we were at our absolute worst. The bully who couldn’t read, to use our modern speak, gave us life (displayed by a few emojis).

Those childhood experiences are ingrained in us, in fact, they shape our views of the world in ways that controversies which play out in our lives today can’t even touch. The “smart” kids that “made it” will look down upon those who work at fast food joints, and repeat the age-old cautionary tale to their kids. Pay attention in school or you’ll end up woking in McDonald’s for the rest of your life.

Yet, what if it’s not as simple as not cutting biology class? What if it all came down to how we were treated at an even younger age? What if at the ages of 7 or 8 or 9, we were told that we were inferior, dumb or stupid? What if we kept catching hell because we may have been a bit more rambunctious than we should have been?

Certainly, it’s not all that cut and dry, but the elitist mentality towards kids not as academically inclined has always infuriated me, even as I benefited from it. It angered me knowing that there were plenty of friends I came up with who could have thrived not only if they were given similar opportunities, but if they were encouraged to pursue them by their families, teachers, and most of all, their peers.

And yet, I keep thinking about that flippant comment towards a bunch of students that were encouraged by the people around them to pursue a path. If their own dreams were dismissed so easily, then it can’t bode well for the “rest of the kids. Those very kids that actually wanted me to achieve what they couldn’t.

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