I’m Academically Challenged, are you?
“There’s always light in darkness”
Picture by Umar Mita of Langitilahi
“I’m Academically Challenged, are You?”
In my family, I’ve always been known as the “underachieved child” (a tittle I made up, not given by my family). I mean underachieved academically. Academic performance issues are my specialty.
Almost every year, whether they were in primary school or high school, their faces will be on the stage receiving “Outstanding Academic Awards” and I’ll put on a fake smile, happy for their achievements but sad for my underachievement.
Their yearly report cards were marked with blue pens with soothing remarks by their teachers like “Well done!”, “Congratulations!” or “Good Attempt!” but my report card were marked with red pens with lamentable comments like “Try harder next time”, “You can do better” or “Believe in yourself” with the absence of the exclamation mark.
Upon witnessing my other siblings receiving their results with flying colors but not me, I grew up thinking that I was stupid. And I believe, there are many out there who feel the same as me.
If the expressions such as “Vertically Challenged”, “Horizontally Challenged” and “Mentally Challenged” are euphemistic terms to politely exemplify the meanings of short, fat and mentally retarded people respectively, I’ve come across a term to describe academic underachievers. This is what I call “Academically Challenged.”
Defining “Academically Challenged”
The phrase “academically challenged” is relatively new and not widely used as a euphemism or not used at all. If other euphemisms like “Physically challenged” mean “disabled people”, then academically challenged people would connote “People with low degree of intelligence.”
This definition, I disagree utterly as there are many people who succeeded in their lives without academic intelligence.
Claiming people as having sub-marginal intelligence or being mentally underdeveloped is too much. Academically challenged people are far from being stupid or dump. This is only a euphemism to subtly connote low academic achievers. Their underperformance is not because they are mentally incapable but, simply said; their specialties are not in academic intelligence.
My definition is “People with much intelligence other than academic intelligence.” The iconic people like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Richard Branson, Bill Gates and many more have proved to the world that academic intelligence is not enough.
Can’t rely solely on Academic intelligence
Academic intelligence (also known as analytical) has always been contradicted with practical intelligence. They have been arch partners for so long. Some people excel in the former, some excel in the latter.
Grigorenko, E. L., Meier, E., Lipka, J., Mohatt G., Yanez, E., & Stenberg, R. J. (2004) defined both academic intelligence and practical intelligence as:
Although specifics of definitions of academic and practical intelligence vary between studies and cultures, the thrust of these notions remains the same: the concept of academic (analytical) intelligence is used to signify the person’s ability to solve problems in academic (classroom-like) settings, whereas the concept of practical intelligence is used to signify the person’s ability to solve problems in everyday settings (practical life problems). For children, aspects of classroom-like settings may invoke practical intelligence. For example, knowing the information for a test invokes largely academic intelligence, but knowing how to study for the test invokes a great deal of practical intelligence.
Academic intelligence has to be backed up with practical intelligence. The perfect marriage gives birth to students who are creative, analytical and matured. Creativity is crucial for students to generate new ideas and enable them to adapt to a rapidly changing world, analytical skills, for them to inspect and choose the best out of the best choices in life and maturity here means ripeness of experiences.
Academic intelligence is undeniably important but relying solely on it is a fatal mistake. In a cultural context, Malaysia particularly, academic intelligence is associated with the number of As. Malaysia was aroused with the outstanding achievements of the increasing numbers of As in the SPM results in the last 10 years have led to the notion of “The more number of As you get, the more intelligent you are.” This idea may not be sanctioned but the cultural pursuit of As have made it into an objective students must fulfill.
Students were drilled to chew on facts, digest them overnight and vomit it on paper. For students who did not score adequate results in their exams, they would feel that they are stupid, useless and to some extent, despicable.
Find your specialty
According to Howard Garner’s Multiple Intelligence (MI) theory in 1983 book first edition of “Frames of Minds,” he claims that all human beings have multiple intelligences. These multiple intelligences can be nurtured and strengthened, or ignored and weakened. Howard Gardnerdefined the first seven intelligences in 1983. He added the last two in 1999.
The nine intelligences are Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence, Mathematical-Logical Intelligence, Musical Intelligence, Visual-Spatial Intelligence, Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelligence, Intrapersonal Intelligence, Naturalist Intelligence and Existential Intelligence.
What can be deduced from here is that, human possesses all these intelligences but between the intelligence, one may be stronger or weaken than the other.
One prominent literally scholar of the 20th Century English, Marmaduke Pickthall is a good example of a person who has a stronger intelligence of Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence compared to other intelligence.
This can be seen when he returned to England in 1894 and sat for exams to enter the Levant Consular Service, but despite outstanding marks in language, he placed too low in other subjects.
Marmaduke Pickthall in his 30 year career as a writer, novelist, political and leader has written over 25 books. His last work is “The Meaning of the Glorious Koran” in 1930, a widely used translation of the Quran.
In order to find what type of intelligence fit us best, we have to know ourselves. We have to exhaust all possible areas hidden in ourselves. We may not be good in academic but we must be good in something.
The reason why many people are successful is because they know which area they can contribute greatly. Not by parents forcing their children to live their dreams, forcing their children to be this and that.
Conclusion: Not an excuse
Before anything happens, I would like to clarify that this article is not an enjoinment to turn a blind eye to academic intelligence.
The inadequacy of academic intelligence is not an excuse for students not excel in their studies. Academic intelligence is important because the absence of it (knowledge) will obstruct the ability for a person to think analytically, creatively, wisely or practically. One cannot produce the output when there is no input. Schooling days may be an accretion of facts, but it takes self-initiative to apply the facts learned in school for the real-world use.
Why did I put forward this particular idea of academically challenged in this article? Because I know how it feels to be academically challenged. I know how it feels to be trapped between “You must be excellent not matter what!” when you have tried your very best but you still cannot excel.
I know, many of you out there feel the same as what I felt. But do not fret. Do not be sad. Hope is there, hope is always there.
The pearls are served only waiting for you to grab it. But if you do not make any effort to grab it and make sure you’ve succeeded, you’ll never find hope.
Gardner, H. (2011). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.
Grigorenko, E. L., Meier, E., Lipka, J., Mohatt G., Yanez, E., & Stenberg, R. J. (2004) Academic and practical intelligence: A case study of the Yup’ik in Alaska. Learning & Individual Differences, 14,183-207