It is the beginning of a new school year across Australia. Navigating primary school with my daughter – who is in her second week of Year 5 (upper primary) – has been a learning experience for everyone. School has not been an easy fit for her. The title for this post comes from a conversation I had with a mother at school last year about her son’s challenges as he prepared to start high school this year. Overhearing us he said: “It is because I am an unusual archetype.” We laughed; with that statement, he showed us his uniqueness.
My daughter is also an unusual archetype. As well as epilepsy, the complications during her birth have impacted her working memory, concentration and information processing. She does well enough – exceptionally well, I would argue, given the daily challenges she faces – but performs poorly in complex time-limited test situations. She has had some wonderful teachers at our local public schools who have helped to make school enjoyable.
(Image from ABC’s Little Lunch – a favourite tv show in our house)
I recently read Lucy Clark’s Beautiful Failures:
I want to tell you a story about my daughter, my beautiful failure. Every day of her high school life was a struggle. She woke up in the morning and the thought of going to school was like an enormous mountain to climb. ‘Nothing will ever be as easy as your school years,’ well-meaning adults told her, but I knew for my daughter, and for many kids who have struggled as square pegs trying to make themselves round, this was dead wrong. When Lucy Clark’s daughter graduated from school a ‘failure’, she started asking questions about the way we measure success. Why is there so much pressure on kids today? Where does it come from? Most importantly, as we seem to be in the grip of an epidemic of anxiety, how can we reduce that pressure?
My favourite parts of this book are her descriptions of her daughter’s experience. In the first five minutes of this video, she reads from the book:
Lucy Clark’s phrase “She wanted to take flight” really resonated for me. There are positive and negative meanings to this phrase – panic, escape, freedom, growth. I wrote in my PhD about my daughter’s epilepsy using French feminist philosopher Luce Irigaray’s concept of the angelic (for those who like that sort of thing, here is a journal article version). My daughter wants to study Science at university (I hope she finds high school science more engaging than I did) and we are doing all we can to make this dream possible. As I have said about academia, universities should not be the sole domain of those who are stable, functional, powerful and unimpaired. We need to make space for unusual archetypes at all levels of education.