Once I was talking to an 16 year old girl about what her plans were for after high school. With a completely serious face, she told me that she wanted to go to med school and be a brain surgeon. This girl was beautiful, funny and kind. She was a lovely person. She was also dumb as a rock.
And yet, no one had properly discouraged her from the "brain surgeon" life path. Why? Because we, as a society, have collectively decided that there are no dumb children. We have decided that all children, regardless of capability, should be encouraged on the same PhD-earning-genius life path, regardless of ability or inclination. In fact, discouraging a child from this path is seen as almost abusive.
Now, of course, I'm aware that the girl I mentioned previously would probably not get into medical school. And if she did, she would probably not graduate. After all, their standards are rigorous and a truly dumb person would not be able to handle it. But a part of me still panicked. Because what if she did get by, scraping by on her looks and charm and kindness? And what if some day I need brain surgery? And what if, as I'm going under, I look into the eyes of the dumb, former sixteen year old as she hums "The knee bone's connected to the....something bone" to herself. I can't move or talk as I go under the knife of the moron, probably never to return to this earth.
I knew another girl who was attending community college, at the insistence of her parents. She was one of the nicest girls in the world, and had excellent taste in music and movies. We became friends. She was also dumb. Well, try as she might she could not pass her classes. Her parents were infuriated, saying that she just wasn't trying, and that she was being lazy.
But she wasn't being lazy. I personally helped her study for tests. I proofread her papers. She stayed home on weekends- instead of going out with her friends - to study. This girl was, truly, trying her hardest. She was just simply not very smart. She had trouble retaining information, and her writing was weirdly scattered and illogical. She told me, confidentially, that what she most wanted in the world was to be a mother, and that she had no interest in college at all, and that she was only going because her parents insisted.
Now, I don't think her parents were bad people. I think they wanted the best for their daughter. But I think they were doing her a disservice by refusing to acknowledge her limitations. The whole family would have been better off if they had stopped pressuring her to be someone that she could not be, no matter how hard she tried.
People need to realize and acknowledge that kids can be dumb too. It doesn't mean that they're bad people, or that they're useless, or that they can't be good at anything. But they're dumb. And that's ok.
Kids who suck at school are always excused on grounds other than stupidity. Now don't get me wrong. There are legitimate reasons for a genuinely bright kid to suck at school. For instance there are kids with dyslexia and ADD who have high IQs and good thinking skills, but because of their learning disabilities, just don't excel in normal school environments. And of course, there are kids who don't excel in school because they're being abused or whatever. And some kids are, actually lazy. But I think we need to acknowledge that some kids just plain suck at learning.
People often blame teachers when kids aren't learning well. They say "My kid is actually very smart, but Mrs. X just doesn't understand how to teach a special child like mine. She has a different learning style, that's all!" This angers me. First of all, the concept of "learning styles" is silly. Yes, some people learn better some ways than others, but if your brain is functioning at a normal level, you should be able to learn ANY way, not just some special specific way. If the teacher has to make up a little song and color code all her handouts and change font sizes and make your kid do jumping jacks every five minutes in order to make your kid learn, guess what? The problem ain't the teacher.
People also like to blame the "home environment" for kids not excelling in school. Putting aside the abusive parents, I'm skeptical that a home environment can actually make a kid dumb. Of course, a parent can work with their child, give them educational opportunities and provide a loving environment and proper nutrition and sleep, which DOES help. I'm not discrediting that. But if the kid just doesn't have the raw material, there is only so much parents can do to make the kid smart. Just like how sometimes geniuses are born to slack jawed mouth breathers with IQs of 80. Those dumb parents can't crush the genius, anymore than the smart parents can "fix" their dumb kid simply by nurturing it.
Of course, I believe that parents should encourage their kids to reach their potential. I just think they need to be realistic about what that potential is. The kids are going to find out sooner or later, when they start failing at things. I think it's kinder to put them on a path that leads them to make use of the advantages and skills they DO have. Is your dumb son mechanically inclined? By all means send him to trade school to learn to be a mechanic. Is your dumb daughter really good at baking? Why not encourage that as a career path? Are they good at athletics? By all means, push them in that direction. There are plenty of awesome career options that don't require rocket science smarts. For instance, professional singer, actor, chef, professional athlete, artist, musician, gardener, farmer, security guard, carpenter, welder or florist. These are solid, respectable careers in which your dumb kid can excel without feeling bad about herself.
What you should NOT do with your dumb kid is insist that they're smart, and that they just aren't trying hard enough, when in fact they are trying as hard as they possibly can. You shouldn't push them to be something they aren't. And we as a society need to acknowledge that kids are sometimes dumb, just like some adults are dumb. They can still be perfectly wonderful people who contribute to society and live fulfilling lives. There's no shame in it. There are more important things than intelligence anyway, such as good-heartedness, a sense of humor, and having an accurate moral compass. We need to stop blaming teachers and parents and TV and the internet and sugar for kids who fail to evince the sharp intelligence so coveted by most parents. Sometimes that's just the way it is. We should celebrate these kids for just who they are, stupidity and all.