The science of humiliation
Mr Singh* looked at the pile of exam papers with a puzzled expression.
“Who is Samantha Turnbull?” he asked.
The science lab erupted into raucous laughter. It had that definite sting of ‘at you’ rather than ‘with you’.
I buried my face in my hands.
“That’s her!” yelled a boy who particularly delighted in humiliating others.
I peeked through my fingers at Mr Singh.
“Oh, right,” he said, somewhat embarrassed. “Well, you topped the class, Samantha.”
There was no excuse. I couldn’t be called ‘new’ anymore – and that’s why the other kids found it so hilarious.
I’d been sitting up the back of that lab for three months, yet Mr Singh had apparently never noticed me.
And it wasn’t as though I was at a city institution where I’m sure some kids really do get lost in the crowd.
It was a class of 30, at a regional high school of a few hundred students.
Looking back, I wonder if that moment played some part in me not pursuing science in my senior years. It couldn’t have helped.
Nineteen years later, my biggest concern now is my own children drowning in a system that favours attention-seekers.
My daughter recently brought home her end-of-year report card.
She ticked all the best boxes, yet something about it left me deflated.
There was nothing personal in it. The comments would have appeared identically on the other top performers’ cards, with a different name inserted.
And I’m sure there are plenty of people who would think there’s nothing wrong with that.
But it made me wonder if her teachers really did see her as an individual, or just another trouble-free kid who sat quietly until test time when she’d surprise with high scores.
I don’t know what the answer is, but in 2017 I plan to become more involved so I can try to find out.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed since visiting dozens of schools over the past two years (teaching creative writing workshops), it’s that the standouts are those with a sense of community.
So, I can’t complain if I don’t try to help create that community.
Now, to figure out how I can actually do that.
*Mr Singh may not be his name – I can’t quite remember (seems only fair, right?).