Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Law of Above Average

I have two daughters. They are one and three years old. Life is like Lake Wobegon around our home; the women are strong, the men are all good looking (me of course) and all the children are above average.

But all it took was a trip to the pediatrician for the first well baby check up to hear that our child was in the twenty-fifth percentile for height for their age to be made aware that already, there is something in their short existence they will never be above average in!

Not only that but when the doctor was telling us the percentile result he did it with a softening blow in his voice as though we would not be able to handle the reality our kids are short, that they are not even in the fiftieth percentile.

I was puzzled when he told us this not because I was shocked our kids would probably never see 5'5", but that he felt we might be distraught and blame ourselves based on the graph he showed us. My wife and I just sort of chuckled (we both passed the genetics unit of Biology in school to know that our kids would not be the tallest. In fact, if they did become giants I think some uncomfortable questions would have to be asked!).

We left laughing about our short children not thinking much about it.

Then one day we were visiting with another family with a small child. The conversation turned to check ups and wellness, etc. Then one of the parents said with GREAT PRIDE that their child is in the 90th percentile, as though it was something dealing with their parenting skills that made their kid tall.

So naturally, I left over analyzing that and then started to think about average, mean, mode and all those other tools of measurement use to grade, classify or judge.

-The average person is above average-

When I first started teaching PE, I would see some poorly behaved kindergarten and first grade students and think "Man, what is going to come of our community when these kids get older". But then they became second and third graders or even older and they "figured it out." It was then that I began to see that we all get to where we're going, we just get there at different speeds and sometimes different avenues.

So is the kid who doesn't know their multiplication tables in third grade but learns it in fourth grade below average? Is the kid who reads on a fifth grade level while in first grade really above average?

What does average mean? I compare rating students average with the way we rate adults middle class. The only reason we try to identify a middle is so we can establish an upper and thus ranking everyone for classification. Who gets to be labeled the top? Why are they labeled that way? Why do we give it such high importance? I joke with my wife sometimes when someone starts to list their young child's achievements such as how much they can read or how high they can count. I want to say, "I can do that, does that make me brilliant!" Doesn't make sense

Remember the old story of Michael Jordan getting cut from his varsity high school team. Someone thought that the NBA's best player ever (I know, I know, when LeBron retires I will amend that last statement!) was a below average player as a 10th grader.

On the subject of professional athletes, how many times has a professional athlete in general been labeled an "average" pro? Really? An athlete who is in a job that less than three percent of those who pursue that career even make it is considered average? It takes an exceptionally above average athlete to even have a chance at being an average pro. If that's the case, then the word average loses all its meaning doesn't it?

What makes an average teacher? What makes an average banker? What makes an average construction worker?

Average doesn't make sense to me? I was a below average student in high school. When it came time my senior year for Model General Assembly ( I think they do Model UN now) I was selected as Speaker of the House (a high honor in the county amongst the other participants). Many above average honor students were not happy I got the spot. None of them knew Parliamentary Procedure. I did. This below average student had a special skill set that the not one honors student had. Did that make me above average now? (Because I was still a crappy Latin student).

To me average is a man made tool used for social grouping. We should do what we do because we are who we are. I am sure many people can attest that being above average in school does not always translate as being above average in all aspects of life.

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