Friday, 12 September 2008

Ripples in the pond of a life.

"You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Prophet'

In my last blog I mentioned that I struggled at school because of my inability to see the blackboard. I finally got my first pair of spectacles at about 11, and my whole world was transformed - literally. Suddenly everything was not only clearer, but apparently much larger, too, no wonder I had seemed to be so clumsy. I had probably not helped my vision by reading voraciously, with a book barely inches from my nose, from an early age - books had been the only friends to such a shy and insecure little girl, and had been vital in my many solitary stays in the sanitorium. The ripples that spread from this one difficulty spread far, although I could read, I couldn't, as I said, see the blackboard, so I only learned what I was able to find in books, thus I became an enthusiast for history, for instance, while such subjects as arithmetic, let alone maths, remained a mystery for most of my educational life, as I never had the basic grounding - no one realised, until too late (ie once I had left school and become a parent) that my limited vision had also limited my ability to learn to such a high degree.

This whole slant to what information I could access must have had a considerable influence on who I am now, by the time I could see a blackboard, or watch a film, I was halfway through my schooling, and missing a reliable foundation in several subjects. None of my teachers seemed to be aware of the effect of my visual problems on what I had been able to learn, so I was often categorised as stupid, or by the more perceptive, who recognised that I was reasonably intelligent, as lazy. I found myself on the receiving end of a great deal of anger, from a wide variety of teachers, but particularly maths teachers, one in particular of whom frequently reduced me to tears, and on one occasion I was so frightened I wet myself! To this day, the whole idea of maths still paralyses me, at times. I was fortunate in my headmistress at St Mary's Hall, my final school, in Brighton. Miss Conrady recognised that I wasn't simply stupid, or lazy, but missing out on a basic understanding of numbers. so while my contemporaries were studying for maths 'O' levels, she gave me individual lessons in basic arithmetic. For this, I can never thank her enough, without it I could not have run the small businesses I have done, or have got my City & Guilds in Dress & Design - though this was still a considerable struggle - pattern cutting is almost all geometry, which was way beyond what Miss Conrady had equipped me with!

I have also been biased in the direction of self-teaching, as I developed the habit of answering my own questions via books, and unable to follow group practical teaching, working on things by myself until I worked it out for myself. Thus, many of the skills I have have been achieved alone, with the help of a well written and illustrated book or or two - indeed, many a library full! Even once I could see a blackboard, having been unable to partake in that kind of learning for so long, I found it difficult to get involved with the process. As I was also socially inept, not to say isolated, I couldn't turn to many of my contemporaries for support, as I mostly had no friends, and most of those I did have were struggling as much as I was.

This all leaves me wondering how many other people's lives have been distorted by these kind of unrecognised handicaps to learning, we have a major problem in this country with people leaving school, still unable to read - how much of this is down to similarly unperceived physical difficulties? How many teachers see their pupils as people like themselves, rather than a challenge to their authority? Don't misunderstand, i have great admiration for teachers, they do a vital and difficult job, but every barrel has a few dodgy apples, as this kind of dodgy apple can cause problems of a magnitude that very few are willing to recognise. Perhaps, as a society, we need to be more willing question 'experts', more willing to empathise with children as people like ourselves, but more fragile and with much less control over their own experience of life.

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