Feminist, Fictionista, Foodie, Francophile

Saturday, June 2, 2012

You are not as smart as you think you are...

Shiny brain photo by Artem Chernyshevych
One of the hardest lessons you ever have to learn in life--harder even than finally admitting that "life isn't fair," and there's nothing you can do about it--is realizing  that no matter how smart you are, you are not as smart as you think you are.
Yes, you think, I'm smart.  I'm no Stephen Hawking but then, who is?
It is so tempting to look at someone you dislike and smugly think, He/she is so stupid.  And you might be right. But you might be wrong, too.
I've been thinking about this a lot lately.
My landlady asked me to help her with an essay for an English class she's taking as a prerequisite for nursing classes she's going to start in the fall. (She's acing the math class that is also a requirement.)
She asked for my help because she was confused by the teacher's instructions for the paper. She asked for my help because the instructor called her stupid and she's not, and she wanted to prove it.
English is not her first language.
It is her fourth.

She speaks and writes Arabic, French, and Spanish. Her spoken English is accented but very good. Her written English has a lot of spelling mistakes ("red" for "read:") that and tense issues. (Like many writing in a language not their own, she will use present tense as a first choice.) But speaking as someone who edits for a living, her written English is no worse than most native speakers.
From what I gather, the teacher was just having a hard time understanding her accent and didn't even bother to listen to my landlady's question.
She is a bad teacher.
And she thinks she's smarter than her students.
Or she's insecure and she's scoring points off the students to make herself feel superior.
She's not as smart as she thinks she is.
And I know this because when I started looking at the assignment sheets, they looked like they'd been written by a disorganized Martian.
It's clear she doesn't understand the proper way to use numbers in a sentence. (She doesn't spell any of them out and she starts sentences with numbers, as in--2 essays are expected from each of you.)  Her explanation for the rules of making a noun possessive involved plurals.  It made zero sense to me. (Yes, I thought. I am smarter than she is, and I was not unaware of the iron but I'm right about this.)
If my landlady doesn't pass this course, she's going to have to repeat it in the fall, and that means she loses a semester. Her long-term goal is to become a nurse-practitioner, and that means at least five years of schooling while she works two jobs to pay for it.
And meanwhile, her teacher is calling her "stupid."  I suspect there's an element of racism involved here. My landlady is Moroccan, Middle Eastern in appearance and a devout Muslim. Whatever the reason, it's just plain mean.  (Yes, I know, life isn't fair.)

My mother was an editor and an artist and pinned up on a board above her easel was a headline she'd torn from an ad somewhere--If you're so smart, how come you're not rich?
It's good to be reminded of that sometimes.
And man, am I glad English is my native language because it's so full of exceptions and special rules and so forth that I don't know how ANYONE learns it after childhood.


  1. I think your landlady's teacher is a wrong un.

    Good on her and you.

    (But now I've got that Dean Friedman song in my head.

  2. Your landlady sounds remarkable. Written English is a goofy, mongrel language with weird spelling rules. In years of reading online postings from thousands of people, it's become clear to me that many people who have English as their only language have gotten through public school, through college, and sometimes into high-paying managerial jobs, despite being semiliterate.

    "Life isn't fair" doesn't really apply in this context. True, the nonsentient parts of life are neither fair nor unfair; they just exist. People, however, have the capacity to make fair or unfair choices; and even if an individual won't change, the conditions of the society in which she operates can be changed. Most important social progress has involved people getting sick of hearing some version of the meaningless phrase "Life isn't fair".

    Still, there are always two sides. Did the teacher actually use the word "stupid"? Hard to excuse that; but I'd want to take a look at the class, and see how many students are in it, what kind of time pressure the teacher is under, etc. Sounds like she (the teacher) might be out of her depth.

  3. Any teacher who calls a student stupid needs to be reprimanded. Your landlady should ask her to write a letter in another language.