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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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Average…Just Average

Hi! my name is Johnny. You probably remember me from that nasty Newsweek article about why I couldn’t read. No one bothered to ask me. No sir, no madam. Anyway, some years later, it was bandied that I couldn’t write, either.  Ditto. But you can surely tell that I know the difference between a ‘loose’ and a ‘periodic’ sentence. And I know the difference between comprehension and fluency. No matter. 

Now, the other day, this hybrid researcher-reporter from some prestigious college somewhere in these United States calls me up, says that things are slow in the education business these days (something about ‘Bored with the Race to the Top), and wouldn’t I consider helping him out with a ‘retro’ article about ‘What is wrong with being average?’

‘Your nickel,” I replied, and on we went. 

His first question was kind of predictable (I learned that from the article on why I couldn’t read): “So, Johnny, how does it feel to be average?” 

I told him that it took some getting used to. A lifetime of reading groups with unmemorable names (“Bluebirds” was my favorite), medium-paced math lessons (we only did 10 problems instead of 20 – it was all that was expected), and a mysterious “patchwork” approach to social studies and science really prepared me. By third grade, I told him, my test scores were all bunched around the 50th percentile, and my ‘IQ’ (whatever that is) was 105, smack-dab average, I mean, you can’t get more average than that. 

His next question was a doozy. Something about the ‘pathology of envy.’ Well, even after he explained it, I wasn’t too sure what he was getting at. 

“No,” I told him. I stopped being envious of the truly gifted students (who didn’t talk to me, play with me, or invite me to their birthday parties) when it was clear to me that I was an average sweeper, playing behind  Henry Garrity once in every five soccer games. I mean, it was like there was a natural order to things. I did tell him, however, that I was a ‘paranoid in reverse’- and suspected people of making me “happy” – book-worthy. He told me someone had already done that book, but it was about learning everything in kindergarten. That’s what being average gets you, I guess. 

He asked me if I got good grades all the way through school. I was glad he asked me that question because I thought that, after Sputnik, when we were competing with the Russians and all, there was a lot of grade inflation around. The world was supposed to look like a bell-shaped curve – at least according to a cousin, who told me that there were no average kids in her school anymore. Everyone was either gifted or learning disabled or something. Wow, I thought, no average kids – I mean, who would want to live there in that zip code? 

His next question really baffled me, so I’ll only devote a short paragraph to it. He asked if I had ever heard of the “Lake Wobegon Effect.” I told him that our family had once camped on Lake Winnipesaukee, but that I hadn’t noticed any “effect.” I mean, what in the name of all that’s average is an “effect”?

He returned to competition with other countries. How did I feel about competing with China and Germany? 

“You mean we’re not competing with the Russians anymore?” I asked. The answer was short and negative. He sensed (rightly) that he was not streaming into a stream of higher-level thinking, so he called a “wrap-up” question. 

“Johnny, is there anything you want to say to the people and to the world…about being…average…?”

I thought for an average wait time (my teachers taught me that, time and time again) and said: “Being average means…means…that you never have to say you’re sorry….”


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