Besepa ne konini ahahan, yɛtease no banyansafoɔ.Akan Proverb
The difference between the leaves of the white kola tree and the red kola tree is discerned by the wise child.
In 7th grade we were given an assessment to determine which mathematics track we would be assigned to. In the advanced track we would take Algebra I in the 8th grade, followed by Geometry in the 9th, Algebra II in the 10th, Pre-Calculus in the 11th, and finally AP Calculus our senior year. In the not-so-advanced track we would take Pre-Algebra in the 8th grade, followed by Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, and then so-called “senior math” (Algebra III) during our senior year.
Up to that point I was an average student. I gave minimal effort in school to the point that every year I often wondered how I had made it past the previous grade. At that time I was much more concerned with playing basketball, riding my bike, and playing Sega Genesis. So you can imagine my surprise when the results of the assessment came in and I discovered that I had scored higher than many of my friends and classmates! Here I was, this mediocre student who had just scored higher than some of the smartest students in my class. I was excited. Although I had never cared before, now the possibility of taking advanced courses was giving me a sense of pride and confidence in my own abilities.
So you can imagine how shocked I was when my teacher informed me that I was being placed in the not-so-advanced track. Wait, what??? My teacher decided to hold me back in spite of my high score on the assessment. Ah yes, you can always depend on a white woman to destroy the spirit of a young Black boy. I was so confused. I had spent the past week bragging to my friends about how smart I was, and now I’m having to eat my words. Refusing to accept the outcome, I confronted the teacher and demanded an explanation of why I was not being promoted but some of my lower-scoring classmates were.
I just feel like you are not ready for the advanced track.– Ms. 7th Grade Dream Killer
And like that I was held back from the advanced track in mathematics. I took Pre-Algebra in the 8th grade. But due to being genetically gifted with a hard head I still refused to accept the outcome. After bad-mouthing my 7th grade teacher to some of the other teachers, I found out that there was a way that I could end up on the advanced track…I could double-up. That is, I could take both Algebra I and Geometry during my 9th grade year. Doing so would allow me to catch up with the advanced track in taking Algebra II during my 10th grade year, Pre-Calculus during my junior year, and AP Calculus during my senior year.
So, double-up is what I did. I took Algebra I and Geometry in my freshman year and made A’s in both. That following year, my sophomore year, I was doing so well in mathematics that I began tutoring my peers in Algebra II. With newfound confidence and a growing reputation as a “smart” person I also began to excel in my other classes. Soon my peers were approaching for me for help in not only math and science classes, but also in our humanities and language arts classes as well. I had become a knowledge gangster.
In my senior year I doubled-up again and took both AP Calculus and AP Statistics, making A’s in both. I also took the AP exams in Calculus and Statistics and scored a 5 on both, gaining college credit for Calculus. I went on to graduate in the top 3 in my high school class, earn a degree in engineering, and to become registered as a Professional Engineer in the United States.
But my story isn’t unique. How many of us, our children, or our students have used society’s expectations of our failure as motivation to become great at the things that we do? But does that have to be the case? If we are such masters at turning lemons into lemonade then just imagine what we can do with oranges, mangoes, watermelons, or other sweet fruits of positive motivation. Let your mental juices flow to that thought.
A true educator knows the difference between a student who is unmotivated or unchallenged and a student without the potential to succeed. Let us show you what that difference feels like.