Mike Rose’s experience as he details in his short essay “I Just Want to be Average,” is comparable to my own academic experience in school from middle school through high school. In fact, it is probably an experience that a lot of people can identify with as they are either misplaced in the educational system or are let down time and again by the very system that is supposed to teach them. How many former students have begun their academic tenure in the purgatory of special education or vocational classes, only to have a teacher discover that they have been misplaced? This is exactly what happened to me, but I did not fare as well as, unlike Rose, I never had a teacher who cared about me as much as his sophomore biology teacher cared about him.
In middle school, I was deemed to have special needs and placed in special education classes. These are classes much like the ones that Mike Rose describes he was in, but at his school these classes were vocational classes. Both special education and vocational education classes were dead end academic tracks. My parents had no idea what being in a special education class meant, just like Mr. and Mrs. Rose had no idea what those vocational classes would have in store for young Mike. I too was made to suffer embarrassments at the hands of my teachers; however, the embarrassment usually consisted of verbal rather than the physical that Rose’s freshman English and physical education teachers heaped upon him.
The special education classes in which I was placed felt like the “dumping ground” of vocational classes that Roses describes. My teachers were just like the ones that Rose describes. They did not know how to reach the kids placed in special education, and they most certainly did not engage us in rigorous lesson plans that challenged us. Rose had an English teacher who made the students read Julius Caesar all semester long-over and over again. I had a similar English teacher who was fond of popcorn reading. Popcorn reading is where students take turns reading a paragraph. It is more interesting to watch paint peel off the wall than it is to participate in popcorn reading. Some student who did not read very well stuttered and stammered through their four or five sentences that seemed to last an eternity. Just like Rose, I learned enough to get by. I would figure out what paragraph I had to read during popcorn reading and sit there studying my paragraph until it came my turn to read. This was what Rose describes as the academic equivalent of “playing with your food.”
I was like Rose in the fact that I seemed to fit in socially with the other misfits in special education. We were a motley crew who seemed to help each other when needed. We were from various backgrounds and found this commonality in the fact that we were all considered to be slow. One of these friends was very much like the Ken Harvey student that Rose talks about. My Harvey –like friend was just trying to stay afloat, and he did not want anyone to perceive him as being weak or academic lacking, so he just put off this air of not caring about school. He would rather people think that he was stupid rather than have to put in the effort to actually become academically successful.
Like Mike Rose, I too was able to switch tracks during my sophomore year only to discover that there are just as many bad teachers in the college track classes as there are in the special ed classes. I was still trying to complete my work, but just at a faster pace. Teachers still did not do everything within their power to engage me and make me interested in the subject matter. In fact, when I read what Rose had to say about this not being a “new challenge” but merely “embarrassment and frustration,” I flashed back immediately to my high school years because I felt the exact same thing.
I was able to relate to Mike Rose’s essay because I felt as if his story was my story. The only difference was that I never had a Mr. MacFarland come into my life. I only wish that I had ever had the opportunity to experience the passion for knowledge that Mr. MacFarland brought with him to Mike Rose’s classroom. Perhaps if I had encountered a teacher like that, I would have become passionate about learning for learning’s sake.