When I was in elementary school our desks were arranged into three sections:
Lowest, middle, and highest reading groups.
I sat in the lowest group.
If you were really good at reading (and math), you might be identified as gifted and pulled out of class a couple of times a week to go to a special class for “gifted kids”.
On the other hand, if you struggled in reading (or math), you might be identified as having a learning disability and pulled out of class a couple of times a week to go to a special class for “LD kids”.
I wasn’t identified as either, but watching a small group of kids leave twice a week to attend a special class for ‘gifted kids only’ made me think to myself, “I guess I’m not smart” or as they called it, gifted.
No one ever told me anything different or talked to me about my potential, and I didn't have any evidence to back up the idea that I was gifted, so I accepted that I must not be.
This inadvertently became my identity.
My older brother, Kerry, was identified as having a learning disability in math, and like me, he also accepted this label, and it became a part of his personal identity too.
He would continue to go through the learning disability programs for math all the way through high school.
More on him in a minute.
The Turning Point
I reached a turning point after starting karate lessons.
I had never worked so hard at anything in my life.
I competed in tournaments, won trophies, and even skipped an entire belt rank.
Doing well in karate was extremely important to me.
Then one day (while watching Kung-fu Theatre on tv) it hit me:
If I lived in a world where karate was viewed as the most important skill to learn, I would be in the gifted class.
That one realization changed my identity forever. I understood for the first time that I wasn’t less than anyone.
I was just different.
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” -Author Unknown
I also came to realize that most of the kids in the gifted class weren’t necessarily more gifted than the rest of the pack.
They were just a little ahead in certain areas and probably cared more than others did.
And I wasn’t necessarily more gifted than the other kids in karate class, I was just a little ahead in certain areas and cared a little more than most.
While I do believe that some people are born with world-class speed, incredible singing voices, and the capacity for extremely high IQs, the vast majority of us are just comparing ourselves to people who are a little ahead in certain areas, or people who just flat-out care more than we do.
As with most things, what we’re capable of is a complex topic with many factors involved, and real learning disabilities do exist, but I’m passionate about inspiring people to believe in their untapped potential.
I eventually caught up in reading.
I was just a little behind.
Overcoming The Odds
Right before my older brother, Kerry, was about to graduate from high school, he was told by a guidance counselor that he was not a good candidate for college because college math would be too hard for him.
My mom did not accept that evaluation and was determined to help him find a way to go to college.
After receiving a 31 on the English portion of the ACT, college did become a reality for him.
I’ve never been more proud of Kerry than the night I watched him walk across the stage to receive his Ph.D. from Auburn University.
He is now the Dean of the College of Education at Troy University (UPDATED: He is now the Senior Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at Troy University) and has impacted countless lives over the last 30 years working in education.
He has a huge heart for helping students, especially those who feel a little behind.
Last month, we had a chat via Zoom about his experience coming up in school as a student that had some obstacles to overcome and how that helped shape him as an educator.
If you’re interested in hearing our conversation, click the video below.
I hope that it is as inspiring to you as it was for me and, as always, I hope you have a great week!
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