If your parenting journey has been anything like ours (and I’m sure that, in some ways, it really has), then you’ve been faced with the words “average for his/her age”. You may have been told that your child’s weight was average for his age. That your daughter’s height was above average for her age. That your son’s ability to walk was below average for his age.
What does “average” mean?
Who gets to decide? Essentially, all the specialists who measure all the data throw it all into a pot and then find the middle. That’s average. That means that in a group of 100 children, only ONE is likely to be average. The other 99 are either above or below average.
So really, if your child has been labelled as being above or below average, that makes them normal. That makes them average.
We have seen this in our family. When I was very young, I was below average. Short, a slow walker, and very slow to read. In fact, it took me until the third grade to develop the passion for reading I have now. Then I got it. And by the end of the sixth grade I’d read every book in the school. And then some.
I was no longer below average.
A fast runner (for a while), an avid reader, and already a lifelong learner (not to mention early-onset Grammar Nazi), I was officially above average.
It’s in the genes … apparently
When Goldilocks was very young, she too was described as below average. An entire year’s worth of Medical Aid savings later, she turned out to be highly gifted. Above average intelligence. We weren’t surprised, but the school sure was.
By their analysis, Goldilocks lacked a certain basic competence typical to girls her age. My question to them is still the same: typical for whom? Competence in what? When she was being maligned for colouring outside the lines, she was fully capable of holding her own in complicated philosophical debates. While her painting may have been a little haphazard, her 3D perspective drawings rivalled most of the adults I know today. Even now, she may not prefer to read anything but Calvin and Hobbes, yet she’s fully fluent in King James English – and she understands it!
Not seeing the wood for all those jolly trees
So while we debate competence, what it means, and why it matters, I’d like to postulate that it matters not at all. If we measure anything in the life of a child (and remember: it IS a life. It is not a metric), should we not measure their ability to be? Should self-actualisation not, ultimately, be the end of any education we provide?
And if not, why not?