“Lives on the Boundary”
The book “Lives on the Boundary”by Mike Rose has become a significant influence on my life because it has put into words many of the feelings and experiences that I have had until now. It is a factual book dealing with the complex subject of learning difficulties and what happens to students who find themselves out of step with their classmates and lagging behind in their schoolwork. Most people have had some experience of this kind. However, for some, including me, living on the boundary of a normal school life, this can become a daily occurrence. Before I read this book, I used to blame myself for my failures. However, after reading the book, I am can see things from a different perspective. In addition, I have come to understand that there are several factors related to learning disabilities. Mike Rose, points out that there are many different ways to tackle these issues. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to think about these things in a different approach and apply them to my personal experiences.
One of the things that caused me a lot of pain was the way teachers, and other people used negative labels to refer to students with a performance below the average. Mike Rose explains, for example, how words like “remedial” can be harmful, because of the bad connotations that they have: “The designation remedial has powerful implications in education – to be remedial is to be substandard, inadequate” (Rose, 1989, p. 209). This is linked to mental defectiveness. There is an implication that some form of harsh treatment is necessary to correct what is wrong with the person. I can recall very clearly the day when I was called out of my class in third grade, and taken to the principal’s office. The manner, in which this was carried out, made me look like a student, who had done something terrible, and therefore, had to be called in to see the principal and get punished. My name was called out over the loudspeaker, and therefore, everybody knew that something was amiss. At that moment, I was too scared to realize what was going on. I listened quietly to the news that I had a learning disability. Now that I am older, I can see that this treatment was both cruel and damaging to me. The learning difficulty itself was a big problem for me. In addition, the stigma and feeling of failure, which came with it, worsened the situation. It took away my confidence and made me create a negative image about myself.
I think that my mother was disappointed in me, because she always wanted her son to be successful in school. She tried to encourage me and told me not to worry. I know that her love for me remained the same, regardless of my performance in school. However, I still felt inadequate because I did not think I could live up to her hopes. The worst reaction came from my own classmates. Boys, in particular, can be very cruel to one another. At first, I tried to keep a secret, what I was going through. The negative names that they called me, for example “dumb” and “stupid,” were extremely hurtful. At this stage in my young life, I learned a very crucial lesson. I realized that some people, who call themselves friends, are actually not friends at all. They turn their back on you when as per their classification of a “cool friend” you do not fit into their category. It became obvious to me that I would not be able to hang out with the same group of individuals as before. They rejected me.
When I read about the boy Harold, I am reminded of what it felt like to be lonely. Harold wrote some creative writings, which expressed his isolation in his English class. “I am lost in the woods. I cannot find my way out. I yell and yell. No one answered me. I climbed a tree then I fell out of the tree and broke my arm.” (Rose, 1989, p.119). Some teachers would read this as just a story but Mike Rose, understood the deeper meaning that was contained in Harold’s story. He needed someone to spare time for him, and understand his fears. He needed friends, and he was greatly afraid of what might happen to him. This fear and despair, is what a child feels, when he is placed on the boundary, outside the main group and having to fend for himself emotionally and intellectually. The system that was in place to help Harold was not useful to him. His distress was interpreted as a physical illness, or a mental deficiency. The real problem was that, his ability was locked away by the pain of being a rejected and lonely child. My situation was not as bad as Harold’s because my family and some of my teachers were very sensitive and caring towards me. I clearly identify his emotions and behaviour when I think back on my school days. I realize that there were some children who were wrongfully labelled and dismissed for all kinds of reasons. Not all of them came through the experience well. I can imagine that they will have difficulties later in their lives if they have not managed to come to terms with the issues they grew up with.
In American schools, there is a system put in place, which swings into action, when a child is diagnosed as having a learning disability. I suppose it is a good thing that support for individuals facing these difficulties is available. Looking back, I can see that the people who are involved in these supportive processes usually have good intentions. At the time when I was undergoing through similar difficulties, I felt a complete loss of control over my own destiny. It was as if I had been removed from my normal life and placed in a special place where I was under watch and control all the time. There is something very disturbing about the way the school board members and psychologists make notes about a person, writing down conclusions about him that stay on their record for ever. Often, I wish that I could go back and erase what has been written about me, but of course, this is impossible. I do not worry much about it now. Instead of regretting about the past, I have made up my mind to focus on the future. I want to prove wrong all the individuals who were on the forefront to label and analyze me negatively. I wonder how many children never get past the harmful and negative picture that educators and other professionals have painted of them.
One of the things that I have longed for in my life is a sense of belonging. Mike Rose puts this desire into words very well when he writes, “Nothing is more exclusive than the academic club: it language is highbrow. It has fancy badges, and it worships tradition” (Rose, 1989, p. 58) When I listened to the written work of some of my classmates in school, I realized that they often used more difficult vocabulary than mine. Sometimes I did not follow the exact meaning of what was said, but one of our teachers used to pick out key words and write them down so that everybody could take a note of them. I liked this approach because everyone in class was free to note or just look at them and memorize their meaning. This teacher also gave us tips on how to make our work better. For example, she advised us on rewriting our work, after we had read the comments from the teacher. She explained that all great sportsmen keep on trying until they master a particular technique. She agreed that it takes them considerable determination and hard work to become expert in their chosen sport. I had not seen corrections done in this way before. They always made me think of punishment, and thus I was never encouraged to do better. By looking at these tasks in terms of training, I was able to change my attitude and over time I eliminated some of my most common errors using this technique.
An important part of the book for me was the focus on hope for the future, and approaching things with a positive attitude. When I was younger, I had a limited understanding about the future. I had a notion that I would continue the whole of my school career at the bottom of the class. In addition, I thought that literacy was just a school thing, and I looked forward to the time when I could leave school and forget all about it. Studying the 100A course has taught me that in fact, literacy is a fundamental skill that affects all areas of one’s life. I used to be afraid of creative writing because I was conscious of my grammatical mistakes. Spelling used to worry me so much that I would stick only to the words that I was well conversant with. This made my work look childish, and boring. In college, I am finding the different instructors more inspiring. I can see that they have diverse writing and presentation styles. For example, some of them use computers more than others. Some are business like and distant, while others tend to be friendlier. This enables me to see the freedom that exists for developing my own way of communicating.
Now that I have gained more confidence in my literacy skills, I use the internet to check on the topics that interest me. Here, I can find some quirky and funny use of language as well as serious academic writing. I feel successful as a writer when I see someone replying to my posts on various games websites. This aspect is not clearly revealed in Mike Rose’s book. The reason is that he wrote the book in the 1980s, when people had little experience with computers. Nowadays, I think the internet and social media sites like Facebook are extremely important for literacy development. Meeting people from all over the world is a great way to expand horizons. I really feel motivated to write when I want to discuss something with my virtual friends.
The last section of Rose’s book deals with the difficult area of exams and tests. Ever since my early schooling, I have had a phobia about these two. The example of the veteran’s class showed me that even much the older men share these difficulties. They had to deal with traumatic injuries, addictions and social deprivation. I think that if they can overcome their dislike for education, and go-ahead to succeed in their academic work, then surely I can follow in their footsteps. Mike Rose was the most appropriate kind of a teacher for these men. I like his humour when assessing the quality of course materials which he had to use. For example, he describes some textbooks as being “as appropriate for the veterans as a hymn at a crapshoot.” (Rose, 1989, p. 136). Some of the problems, that students have, depend on the choice of materials which they are forced to use, and the type of assessment that they undergo when they reach the end of their program.
Considering things from a teacher’s perspective such as Mike Rose, I have realized that being an English teacher is one of the most responsible jobs in the world. It can make or break the students under the teacher’s care. The most significant thing I have learned from this book is that a partnership of trust and hard work, between a student and a teacher can overcome even the difficult challenges that come from poor early learning experiences. I look forward to building this kind of partnership in college now, and discovering where it will lead me to in the future.
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