I went to three primary schools (= elementary schools) as a child. The first one was a natural continuation of my nursery school (=pre-school) since they were in the same school system. I went to that school for primary one and two (or first and second grade). I started primary three in a new school – a Christian school – and I was there for primary three and some of primary four (or third and fourth grade). This school was affiliated with my father’s church and had just begun operations, so it was pretty small and everyone knew everyone else. Then I moved to another school for the rest of primary four and primary five (fifth grade). This blog post is about this transition. In case you’re wondering, I skipped primary six (sixth grade) and went straight to secondary school (=middle school and high school together).
When I got to the new school in primary three, I immediately noticed that several things were different. For one, the classes were much smaller (I went from about sixty kids in a class at my old school to about 12 per class in this one), but this was neither here nor there. For another, I easily topped the class – and this is the crux of the matter. In primary three, I was seven (going on eight), but I quickly figured out that I did not have to try as hard as I did in my former school and so I didn’t. My goal was to top the class, and I did – consistently, but my grades were slipping. By the time I got to primary four, I was scoring 40% and still topping the class. For some reason, I was not able to see that 40% was a failing grade and I had become the one eyed man in the land of the blind. Thankfully, my parents saw this and pulled me out of the school.
This is what I’m saying: when we compete with others, we run the risk of celebrating wins that are not actual wins – imagine a game of American football where the teams run back and forth gathering points but never scoring a touchdown. One team will win, but is that one a football game? When we compete against ourselves and our goals, we stand a chance of actually scoring – or advancing the collective.
I’ll try this differently: let’s say you have two children who take the same test. One scores 40% and the other scores 48%. If the pass mark is 50%, neither of them has passed. One has scored better than her sibling, but they both need a tutor. None of them deserves a reward and they will both be better served if the reward money went into test prep.