One plus one does not equal two

Naplan The teen had NAPLAN this week. She’s in Year 9 and spent three days of her life stuffed into a classroom answering questions that have little relevance to her daily life, or her future in fact.

You see the teen is not a great academic. She tries hard, but maths and spelling don’t come easy. We’ve had her tested, poked and prodded, we’ve made her roll around on balls, answer long questions about her feelings and eat a handful of almonds every day. (I kid you not, it cost me $350 to be told by a nutritionist that a handful of almonds every day would help feed her brain).

I had her examined to the extent she felt like a lab rat in our efforts to discover the root cause of her learning difficulties. And all it did was make her feel a failure. All it did was make her feel stupid, that no matter how much money we spent, nor how many hours after school she had extra coaching, none of it helped. So after thousands of dollars, and many, many wasted hours, I said enough is enough, and held a family meeting.

I announced to the teen and Grandpa the blatantly obvious. I told them the teen sucked at maths. Then I surprised them.

“And you know what? It doesn’t matter.”

It probably took Grandpa a little longer to recover from this, after all, he was of the generation where maths had to be taught because calculators weren’t available. The only way you could work things out was in your head and through problem solving. Maths to him was an everyday lifeline and he can still add up in his head faster than anyone armed with a calculator.

But that’s not how it is today, and in the very unlikely event that the teen wanted to become a scientist, or study theoretical physics, maths wasn’t a deal breaker. As for spelling? I know several good journalists who can’t spell to save themselves. But they are accurate, they know how to gain a person’s trust and they tell a damn good story. The happiest day of their lives was when we transferred from typewriters to computers and embraced the world of spell check.

I just didn’t see the point of watching my daughter continue to be stressed and made to feel inadequate all because she wasn’t good at the mainstream subjects schools place so much importance on. I told her that NAPLAN and indeed the HSC only proved how good you were at sitting a test, they didn’t define your future.

As I explained myself to the pair of them I could almost physically see the weight being lifted of the teen’s shoulders. In fact, I’m sure her shoulders have got squarer and she’s been walking taller ever since.

Once she understood that her life would not be measured by her ability to solve equations, she felt accepted. She felt normal and more sure of herself with her friends. She learned to laugh at her goofy mistakes and felt encouraged that her future was as bright as anybody’s. While her grades were low, her grades for effort were always high. And that’s all that mattered to me.

So, this week, during NAPLAN, she bounced off to school with a healthy attitude and a spring in her step. She probably won’t crack the tests, but she’s a cracker of a kid. Maths, or no maths.

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