I saw a post on Tumblr about bullying (and Harry Potter, to be specific) and what bullying teaches people about the world, that called on the usual narrative of the deliberately cruel bully who enjoys other people’s pain. And I had some thoughts. So here are some bits of what would my personal How Bullying Works / Why Bullying Happens / On Bullying / etc. that differ from that.
Why didn’t I think being “gifted and talented” was a fun and cool thing?
Because my first teacher for “gifted and talented” classes was… not a good kind of teacher.
The activities we did in her class were interesting, most of the time, but “excitement about learning,” “creativity,” “inquisitiveness” were not really ideas she was interested in. We had a very regimented set of activities we did, and… we never really talked, I guess, is what I feel was missing? We never discussed things. We just got activities and did them according to the rules.
One of the things I remember is the periodic math tests that were put out by some organization, I don’t remember what. They tended to have the same categories of questions, if not the exact same questions, every month (or week or whatever the timeframe was). One of them was made-up mathematical operators, like, “If [triangle symbol] means multiply and then add two, what’s three triangle five?” Another was questions about clocks or schedules that would be easy to answer with algebra if we had known algebra but really hard without it– like, “if this clock runs ten minutes slow, and that clock runs five minutes fast, and right now they show the same time, how long will it take for them to work around to showing the same time again?”
Young-me thought the made-up new operator questions were ridiculously easy and was totally bewildered that any of my classmates got them wrong. I never got to ask my classmates why they had trouble with those questions or explain how I solved them.
Young-me occasionally managed to solve the clock questions by making very long tables. I never got any feedback on my solutions or any explanation of how else I could have solved them. Even though we did them every few weeks for the whole year. It was just, “do these math problems,” no context, no discussion, no learning except whatever we came up with ourselves.
This was also the class in which I was assigned a really bad research topic, then was lectured until I cried because (a) printing out articles from the internet and highlighting parts of them didn’t count as taking notes, only handwritten notes counted, (b) none of our books and in-class activities had mentioned my topic, so I hadn’t made any handwritten notes. Did she tell me in advance not to print stuff off the internet? Of course not. I was just supposed to know somehow.
That incident is one of the things that comes to mind whenever I talk about teachers assuming above-grade-level “giftedness” comes with above-grade-level informational knowledge and skills, but for some reason I hadn’t connected in my head that all these things happened in the same class.
The other big assuming-skills issue with that class was re: organization and communication skills. So this “gifted and talented” class was something I was taken out of my regular class to go to. I was expected to know when it was and take myself out of my regular class to go to it. Since I was in the school band, I also had to keep track of my own music lesson schedule once the band teacher told me when my lesson would be, which changed each semester. That’s kind of a lot for an elementary schooler to keep track of already, I think, but the real problem was that one semester, my band lesson time was suddenly changed to a time that overlapped part of the “gifted and talented” class time.
The “gifted and talented” teacher did not like this, understandably. What’s not so understandable is that she expected me to handle it, on my own, instead of her talking to the band teacher herself. “I only get one hour a week with you kids anyway, you can’t take this time to go to band. You need to reschedule your band lesson.”
When was I going to do this? Since I wasn’t going to my band lesson?
How was I, as a nine or ten-year-old (autistic) child, supposed to take the initiative to (a) go see a teacher outside class hours (b) or interrupt them during a (already very busy) music class, to (c) tell them what to do with their own schedule?
It was like a perfect storm of things I could not cognitively deal with (some of which I still have trouble with):
— interrupting people
— bringing up new conversation topics even if it’s not a direct interruption
— remembering/fully understanding things without seeing them written down
— remembering and bringing up things from one context in another context without some kind of reminder
— understanding that bureaucracy isn’t actually infallible unchangeable laws from on high, but rather a system set up by people who can change their minds and make exceptions to the rules
— having to weigh two conflicting but equally authoritative orders and decide which to follow
Anyway, this post was brought to you by Tumblr posts about gifted students. Why didn’t I feel like being a Gifted Student made me superior? The fact that in practice it was just another setting for me to get in trouble with rules I didn’t understand and expectations I couldn’t meet, is probably part of it.
You consider doing something (X). X is something you could do if you chose to, but not something do very often if at all. You would have to go out of your way to do it. You imagine what would happen after you do X. One of the results is something that would be dangerous or unpleasant (Y). You imagine that you would be scared or upset if Y happened. You can easily and reliably prevent this unpleasant thing Y from happening by not doing X. You don’t do X. You stop worrying about Y.
You remember what happened the last time you did something (A). You thought A was a harmless thing to do, and you did it almost without thinking, but then something else (B) happened because of it. B happened suddenly and unexpectedly, and it was very hurtful and/or scary, and you were terrified. Thinking about it now, you’re still terrified. What if you do A again by accident? And not only that, if something as harmless-seeming as A can make B happen, what if other things you do cause B to happen, too? You are constantly on alert to keep from doing A. You are constantly afraid of B.
Both of these things could be described as “learning from the consequences of your actions,” but they are not the same thing.
Lots of people have had a teacher who was “the cool teacher”. Has anyone else had a teacher who thought you were a cool student?
Like, they think you’re really talented in a way that’s not just doing well with the class material but like, they personally admire what you’re doing. Or they think of you as “one of the cool kids” in the sense of having radical opinions or a cutting-edge sense of style.
I’ve had a few and it’s a little uncomfortable.
I guess what it really boils down to is them thinking you’re cool-er than they are. There’s probably some idealism involved, about young people being more energetic, creative, exciting. And probably also something I’ve heard a lot of people describe re: bullying, and which I definitely experience– having the same emotional reaction to Cool Teenagers as you used to have as a less-cool teenager, even when you’re an adult and have power over them in various ways.
Also a bit of the universal thing where other people always seem more confident and decisive than you are, because you don’t know the thought process behind what they’re doing, you only see the actions.
I don’t know. It’s a really interesting phenomenon, especially since it happened to me in what seemed like very similar ways at a variety of ages, from middle school to college.
This is kind of an unfinished thought, but (a) it’s been sitting “unfinished” in my drafts for a while now (b) it’s pretty long, so it may as well stand on its own.
This is about bullying, a little bit, and also about that feel when you’re afraid of a problem but you’re more afraid of asking for help with it.