At a disadvantage

After French class yesterday three of us found ourselves walking the same way through campus.  With midterm season in the air, I wasn’t surprised when one kid started wondering whether the class was curved.  As he talked he used a term once and I raised an eyebrow, but the second time he used it I was struck speechless; in explaining why he was worried that the class was curved he said “I hope it’s not, because I’m at a disadvantage since I haven’t taken French before.”  This is, by the way, a beginning French class, and those with background in the language are tested and generally moved up to another class.

I was surprised, honestly, that he had the gall to dig out “disadvantage” when even I could tell that only one student in the class had had any previous French training and many, like the other kid walking with us, were learning French through an English that was obviously a second language; originally from Singapore, the third member of the party had a pretty heavy accent, so I had a hard time understanding his French, but I could see that he put lots of time into his work and had his French rules down pat.  The “disadvantaged” speaker, however, had been handing out excuses from Day 1 about his mediocre performance.  The first day I joined the class he and I were partnered and he seemed embarrassed to find himself paired with a stern and older woman, muttering something about “This is the first time I haven’t come prepared to class.”  If it was the first day, it certainly was not the last.

As I started thinking about how he approached class, always coming up with excuses, always seeing himself as at a disadvantage with respect to the other students, I got both very angry and very disturbed.  To see one so young crippling himself with such a view of life, always thinking the deck was stacked against him–it was really sad.  I wish I could rip “disadvantage” out of his vocabulary and out of his brain so that he could stand on his own two feet.


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