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A B-grader's guide to self-acceptance

Published Aug 31, 2012 10:13am


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-Photo by Fayyaz Ahmed.

I’d dare not belittle the perseverance of our academic over-achievers. They’ve earned their every bit of the glory they receive. But this is about the brilliant individuals whose skills cannot be accurately assessed by the limited classes that our schools offer.

By the age of 15, I had placed the final full-stop on a 160,000-word story. It wasn’t a Pulitzer-worthy novel, nor was it the Principia Mathematica of our generation, but it still meant something. A boy who couldn’t spend 20 minutes studying mathematics without smashing the calculator with his bare fist, had been spending hours and hours typing away his magnum opus on his new computer.

This manuscript was read by a grand total of four eyes, two of them being my own. The others belonged to a school friend, who gave me a thumbs up. I needed more than that. What I needed was for my parents to take a hint. Because even though I recognised this as an accomplishment of some sort, I could not comprehend what it truly signified. That writing for me was not a mere hobby, but a calling.

But at that time, my entire life was centered on O’levels. My statement of results announcing B’s in both Pakistan Studies and Islamiyat, came to my home like pox on paper. They’d been perfectly clear from the beginning: you can’t get into a decent university without enough A’s, and you can’t be a successful person in life without graduating from a decent university. I could only imagine the disappointment of those who had attained C’s and D’s, and how bad they’d been made to feel.

I ended up loathing myself for wasting my time writing my book. I should’ve been doing something more worthwhile, like memorising Jinnah’s 14 points, or learning about the round table conferences. Eventually, a computer virus caused those 30 chapters I had written to be washed out of existence. The hard-copy I had printed out was lost several years later when we moved to a new house.

As we go about each day confirming stereotypes about Asian parents being overly obsessed with school grades, we generate a hostile environment for those whose achievements are not strictly academic in nature.

What drives hard work in any subject or field is simply interest and motivation. And note that lambasting one’s son or daughter for getting poor grades does not count as “motivation”. Those who are genuinely fascinated by a subject spend long hours studying it. Others drag themselves through twice as much misery and mental anguish to study only half as much.

Society anticipates all kids to be intrigued by the same limited number of courses offered to them by their education system, an expectation that is utterly unnatural. A child’s lack of interest in English or Pakistan Studies is misconstrued as laziness or sheer stupidity.

A poor teacher would nonsensically command his students to “develop interest” in his studies, failing to realise that this interest is not something one develops at will. Wouldn’t life be fabulously simple if we were all able to actively choose what we like or dislike? It’s a teacher’s job to make that subject more appealing for the students. If that fails, well, you can force a person to perform a certain task, but you cannot force him to enjoy it.

And, to quote a bumper sticker, the true key to success is enjoying the work that you do. You cannot master a trade that you yourself despise. There are people who have earned more fame and fortune playing or developing video games, than most doctors and engineers could ever hope to achieve in one lifetime.

The next time you’re in your own room; don’t just fixate on the pile of dirty clothes on the floor that your mother would be so mad to see. Take note of the shelf that’s overflowing with books, as well as their titles. Take note of a wealth of exercise or sports equipment, the artwork you may have created, the posters of your heroes, or that massive collection of CD’s and other electronic devices.

Take note of every skill and accomplishment that did not necessarily come from a school textbook, and therein, find out who you are or what you’re aspiring to be.


The author is a doctor from Rawalpindi who writes mostly about science and prevalent social issues. He tweets @FarazTalat.


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (4) Closed

Almanar Aug 31, 2012 02:37pm
Oh what a superb article. Reminded me that once my 8 jamaat paas aunt asked me what class I was in. I was in 5th grade back then. I proudly told her, "5-C". Where C being the section since our school had three sections for almost all the grades. She said to me, "hmph, try to improve from C." I was dumbfounded and couldn't understand why my section is bad thing? Of course later I understood that for her C was not a section it was simply not an "A". On a second occasion when I passed my matriculate with 78% (A grade), she told me, "My son got 10% more then you." I wanted to scream at her but I let it go as usual. God rest her soul.
raika45 Aug 31, 2012 12:29pm
Wonderful topic Faraz sahab.This old view of having good grades in school so a child can enter university and upon graduation get a job especially a government one where the job is permanent and there is gratuity and pension at the end, is endemic in the rural areas.Unfortunately the same view is held by parents in the educated side. In this case they include the jobs in the private sector.Not all children can study. It is a fact of life.Bill Gates was the first man to prove that a university education is not necessary to make money.I know of dozens of people who followed their dreams and are doing well.Parents must listen to their children.Especially those who are set in their views and know what they want.These are the children that will bring new innovations and ideas into the system.I know of friends both professionals having a headache with their only child that refused to follow their dream. The parents let him be.Today he is a big shot in an IT company,drives a Z4 BMW and has a beautiful house with a fabulous salary.This kid like the one that climbed the mountain pass in Pakistan are examples of people that enjoy their life and yet get paid.Very few are so lucky.Parents should give their children who cannot excel in studies an option of their choice.You owe them this much.
raika45 Sep 01, 2012 01:42pm
I was expecting a very lively debate on this article.Sad to say non of your people rose up to the challenge.Looks like the chanting of university degree or nothing is the mantra of your people.How sad.Well sahib , you tried.
Asjad Sep 02, 2012 03:08pm
what was the "challenge" and what did "your people" mean.... come to the topic well.... their is a difference between what you see in your dreams and what actually pops out... i think we need people who are more realistic and less dreamer by dreamer i mean we have people dream about to become this and that, in actual they termd as losers not because they dint able to achieve anything but because they are not thinking in accordance with the environment in which he is in... next come to the beautiful triangle of " PARENTS, TEACHER, STUDENT" according to my point of view parents are not always wrong its society who let them or enforce them to do that... parents want their kids to achieve what they dint but the do not realize time is the factor that has changed from their childhood and now when their kids are getting older... so parents are unintentionally doing what they dont have to do.... 1 more thing teachers tries to teach without knowing the method of teaching the diverse mindsets in one class which started the problem and it goes and bigger....