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6. What Would You Like to Take an Exam In?

My 10 year old niece recently had a tough lesson in life. She and her friends moved into the senior class of primary school this term and they were told by their teachers that there were some jobs that went with that seniority. House captain jobs, captain of PE, captain of music, library monitor, and so on. The children were all very excited. Georgie was beside herself, she would LOVE to do a job! But there were only enough jobs for half of the children and sadly Georgie didn't get one. She was upset, although not as much as her mother, who was ready to nuke the entire establishment. Any parent knows how heartbreaking it is when their child is not valued by the outside world as much as they should be. BUT, you bellow, my child is intelligent, beautiful, hard-working and kind, why would you not want her to run the entire school, let alone do some pathetic little job that she could do in her sleep??? But does the fact that a child has not been selected for something, or has failed an exam, or some other test that the system has imposed on them, have any bearing on the value of that child? Of course not, you would probably reply. So why are we so upset? Well naturally we worry about how our child feels, but the reason we worry SO much is that, invariably, something similar happened to us, many many years ago. At that time we believed totally that it meant we weren't good enough. The feelings we experience on our children's behalf are precisely the feelings we had back then. The only difference is that we find it much easier to be angry with the people who diminish our children than to be angry with the people who diminished us. Measuring people is a fact of life. Whatever we think about it, however we rail against it, we are not going to change it in our lifetime. Even if the system didn't measure us, life would. You are always going to discover that there are some things you're good at, and some things your friend is better at. The problem is not so much that we are measured, but what is measured, and what we take the results to mean. Churchill was a notorious dullard at school, and probably wouldn't have passed his 11 plus, let alone GSCEs and A levels, and we hear stories about other highly successful people whose talents were not recognised at school. Does this mean that they were all late developers? Or does it mean, more likely, that their teachers didn't see their genius because they weren't seeing or measuring the right things? There was no exam on leadership skills, or how to keep morale up in difficult circumstances. There was no curriculum that included inventiveness, or ability to get along with people, or being an all round good egg. If you imagine that a child was represented by a map of England, most schools measure an area equivalent to a very small town. The trouble is that children grow up with an image of themselves and their abilities which is based on this very tiny part of themselves, and although as adults we find many other parts of ourselves that are important and valuable in life, there is a part of our psyche that still sees ourselves in terms of our exam results. Try this: 1. Thinking back to your school days, find three occasions when your feelings of self worth were damaged. 2. Choose one and write a letter to the editor in your defence. Be as childishly malignant as you want, do not spare the expletives or name-calling. Enjoy! (Adapted from 'The Artist's Way' by Julia Cameron) 3. Now think of three subjects you would have excelled in at school, if only they had tested you. It could be the art of asking awkward questions, doing tricks with a yo-yo, having ideas, making your friends laugh, persuading people to play your game, getting your maths homework done in the French lesson without the teacher noticing. It could be surviving in a dysfunctional family, adapting to a new school every couple of years, dealing with a physical disability. Or perhaps your best subject would have been sleeping in till midday on a Saturday? Remember, Proust rarely left his bed. Have a good week!