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A Mumble Jumble of Thoughts

kobieta's picture

During Thursday's discussion, I had much to say about the education system and how I am perfectly content with the way it is; in fact, I think I was defending the system. I have come to adapt to its ways, and even dare to say that I have mastered it well—enough to know to do what I am told, say what it expected of me, and never question the system. The thought of changing a system that I have successfully maneuvered for the last 16 years of my life scares me. I’m not even sure I want to imagine a world that is any different—where students can freely do whatever they need in order to fully understand and digest material, where the established roles of teachers and students are broken down. Honestly, using the restroom without asking for permission is still something I can’t do in my college classes; I have always known my place a student and never questioned it, just always adapted to this role. But it never occurred to me that other people can’t. I was selfish in my thoughts the other day when I mentioned that in an environment that caters to everyone’s needs, I will be displaced. There are so many people who have been feeling like this for quite a while, and barely anyone to speak up and do something for them.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that my limited point of view has prevented me from seeing any other possibilities. It’s quite ironic, really, because I know someone who suffers from a difference as well. She can’t take tests. When reviewing, she knows the materials, but when it comes time to take a test, everything goes out the window. But she wouldn’t get it checked, diagnosed, won’t even let anyone recognize the fact that she is going through this predicament. Why? Because it makes her different, makes her more vulnerable, fragile. Why do we, as a society, always want to be “normal” yet “unique”? Doesn’t having a mental difference just a part of who we are as people, a “uniqueness” to be embraced, and not something to be ashamed of? It reminds me so much of what was discussed in class that they didn’t want to be labeled. If society doesn’t put such heavy weights on these special traits, special abilities, then maybe it’d be easier for everyone to accept their “uniqueness.” Maybe then, it’d be easier to imagine a learning environment where everyone can freely learn at her own pace.


Ayla's picture

A different kind of different.

 K wrote, "why do we as a society always want to be 'normal' yet 'unique'?"  Well, I would answer, clarify which 'unique' you are talking about.  Yes, society wants to be normal and unique, because we are programmed to aim for a 'normal kind of unique.'  For example, we are encouraged to create a work of art from a new perspective - paint a scene as though we were looking upwards through an invisible floor.  Or, create an entirely new world for your novel so it will stand out from all of the other novels.  Start a new club, write a sattire, experiment with alternative rock and classical music, etc.  These are normal kinds of different.  

But don't wear a bathing suit in January. Don't climb every tree you see. Don't date your cousin. Don't be biopolar. Don't have turrets. Don't want to kill yourself.  Because those are the wrong kind of different.


Right, "in being different you are normal, you are human," but this is a different kind of "different" that you are talking about than the kind of different that people 'unfortunately' find themselves occupying.

KT's picture

The Operant Conditioning Hypothesis

I wonder if the extent to which we want to be “normal” or “unique” depends on the reward system for each.  On the most basic level, we tend to do things that make us feel good about ourselves.  If your unique creativeness rewards you with accolades, you’ll probably continue to pursue it, but if standing out is frowned upon, you’ll try to blend more.  In Nisbett’s Geography of Thought, he points out a difference in collective versus individual societies where a young Asian child who starts belting out a tune might be subtly influenced by her mother to not do so because it makes her stick out (a bad thing).  I could see the opposite occurring in the U.S. where a parent might see the child’s interest, get her singing lessons and encourage her to try out for American Idol

When it comes to drawing a line between acceptable creativity and unacceptable in an individualized culture, I agree with Ayala’s examples and I think the “reward test” that I’ve outlined might work.  But I wonder how our culture and society could be made to change the things that are rewarded in order to give us more freedom not to be ostracized if we’re the “wrong” kind of “unique.”  Should we just not let ourselves be influenced by the majority and if enough people do that we can change the tide?  Is it more education to foreground the benefits of the “non-normal” differences?

dglasser's picture

Good Question.

The question you asked in your second paragraph really struck me, "Why do we, as a society, always want to be "normal" yet "unique"?" I thought that was a perfectly phrased and very poignant question.

I don't have an answer.

However, I have thought about it and would like to add the question, is wanting to be unique, normal? I'm not sure. Where I grew up, and in my family, wanting to be unique is very normal. People I know often go out of their way to look differently, act differently, fight standards, etc. However, there are other people I can think of who don't. Who love the comfort of tradition and I can absoleutely understand that. I guess it's a balance that you really want, to be traditional in some ways and rule breaking in others, and how you balance the two is your individual pursuit. Also, is wanting to be unique even really possible, because isn't difference normal? We are all different, biologically, emotionally, psychologically, etc. In being different you are normal, you are human.

I kind of strayed from your initial question, but what do you think?Or anyone else?

EGrumer's picture

Being special

This is a great converation!  Reading it, I find myself wondering if perhaps people want to be unique in ways that demonstrate agency? For example, I think of myself as normal. As I mentioned in class, I have OCD. I consider myself to simply be a normal person with an illness, no more abnormal than if I had lupus or some other chronic physical illness, rather than a mental one. And yet, I am aware that having a mental illness is something that causes certain people to view me as "abnormal." I don't want to be seen as anything other than normal, in this context. At the same time, there are ways that I would be flattered to be considered unique.  A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I had an art night at Arncliffe and my friends were impressed by my embroidery.  This was a good way to be different; I was practicing an unusual art form and doing it well.

So, perhaps, it comes down to "better" than normal versus "worse" than normal. Having a skill or talent is better than normal. Having a medical condition is worse. Or, perhaps, it is about power. I have no power over whether I am ill or not (although some people seem to think I should -- there's a good cartoon about it).  However, I do have power over whether or not I embroider, and it is something I can practice to improve.  (Were I born with some innate embroidering talent, this would not be a question of power, but I'm not that good at it.)