As I held the jar of pickle at the grocery shop, wondering whether to buy it, or not, the label on it caught my eyes and I was transported to many years ago, back to when I was a 6th grader.
I wasn’t studious then, and hence a mediocre student, scraping through the many exams, moving on from semester to semester, desperately trying, but unable to give my parents reason to smile or feel proud of their daughter.
I never knew it earlier, but realised later in life, that kids like me were labelled ‘Moron’. Or, whatever’s the opposite of ‘scholar’.
At school, we—the not-so-good-at-studies kids—occupied the last benches; the front benches being offered to the deserving candidates—the scholars—the toppers, who made everyone happy and proud.
We rarely got a chance to sit in the front and feel good about ourselves.
And that label reminded me of this little incident that took place during that “moron” period in my life:
One day, I walked towards the front of the class, looking for a place to sit. The girl, who occupied one of the front benches, instantly raised her voice and asked me what I was doing there. Didn’t I know that the front benches were only reserved for the scholars? She asked, sarcasm dripping from every word she uttered.
We were sixth graders then, eleven or twelve years of age, but at that age, she knew about this great divide, this distinguishing feature that set us apart from them.
I being the timid, diffident little girl, managed to mumble that our teacher had suggested I sit in the front, next to the class topper, so that I would pay better attention in class and also ask her about any difficulty I may face in any subject.
“Okay, then, sit!” she said, giggling, mischievously, and went back to chattering away with her friends.
Things didn’t change in spite of this move, and I continued living with the label all through my school life and the first two years of college life.
Nine years later, I graduated in Sociology, scoring the highest marks in my college. I was felicitated for this achievement, with my mother sitting in the audience, applauding me. I sure had come a long way. But, that’s not what I wish to dwell upon.
Two incidents, nine years apart, which I remember in minute detail to this day.
The expressions on that girl’s face when she admonished me for attempting to do something that I didn’t deserve, and then, nine years later, the expressions on my mother’s face as she saw me walk up to our principal to collect my award for being a topper at college.
No, it doesn’t fill my heart with either sadness or pride. I have accepted it as part of life. But, it affects me in a way most of those sailing in the same boat as the school-girl me will understand.
This labelling of students based on their performance in their studies, be it at school, or college. Particularly in school, when children are like little blooming buds, trying to get a grasp of the world around them, trying to find their footing, trying to make sense of all that is imparted as “knowledge”. When many of them haven’t realised wherein lies their strength, when they haven’t yet figured as to which subject holds their interest. At such a stage they are labelled as morons, losers, back benchers, failures, and what-not.
Isn’t it saddening?
Why don’t we allow kids time to understand themselves, understand their likes and dislikes, experiment with all that they have at their disposal and find that which holds their interest, that which might be their strength? You never know, but the kid we label as loser, might go on to win ‘Achiever of the year’ ,award, or something, don’t you think?
I can imagine, how many of us must get crushed under the weight of these labels, the effects of which they must feel for the rest of their lives. Incidents that take place during childhood, often leave a mark on our psyche, don’t they?
Do we think about it? Do we think for a second how our words could leave a lasting impression on the children’s mind about themselves?
I still take time to gather courage before I begin any project, even when I know I am good at it.
Like, last month, as I began working on the illustrations of a children’s book, it took me quite some time to convince myself that I am the right person to make those illustrations because I am an artist, and a good one at that!
I require that encouraging, motivating self-talk before I begin working on anything, even preparing a different recipe, sometimes.
That lack of confidence leaves me feeling frustrated, at times, and the first thought that comes to my mind is, does this have anything to do with the kind of student I was at school? I couldn’t do anything right back then, couldn’t do one thing praiseworthy. Will I be able to do it now?
Am I still carrying that weight with me? I think I am, because I am tired. Tired of carrying that weight, tired of convincing myself that I am worthy, that I can achieve success, and I can do whatever I put my mind to.
At almost middle age, I wish I knew I am “good”; I wish that confidence came to me naturally.