On Saturdays I volunteer my time to tutor a 15 year old kid called Kenny. He is a good kid, if a little over influenced by porn, swearing and grand theft auto. I have to bribe him with Haribo to stop him using the word 'Fuck'.
He is mildly autistic and I help him with English language things, I have recently been reading through 'Two Kinds' with him, a short story by the American author, Amy Tan. I chose it because it is written from an ABC's perspective (American Born Chinese) and as Kenny is a BBC (British etc etc) and thought he would have a lot to relate too.
For those of you that didn't take GCSE English at around the same time as me (it was one of the set texts for Eng. Lit) here is a quick synopsis:
Amy, a girl of about 9 or 10, is being groomed by her mother to become a 'prodigy'. They go through lots of different options, electing which 'kind' of prodigy Amy is going to be. As they trial each variety Amy looses faith in the promise her mother has given her of becoming a famous child prodigy, and there is a moving scene where Amy looks at herself in the mirror, realises she is just normal and will never stand out, and just breaks down, later vowing that she will never set her hopes high again, she will not be changed by her mother.
Her mother however pursues this dream of fame and stardom, making Amy take piano lessons with a deaf piano teacher and eventually enters her into a local talent competition. Amy refuses to practice and deliberately does badly which results in her falling out with her mother. 'The' line if the story is, "there are two kinds of daughter, those that obey their mothers and those that don't".
You can read it >>HERE<< if you like.
There is one paragraph that rang true with me and I thought applied well to Kenny and his situation. Here it is:
"So maybe I never really gave myself a fair chance. I did pick up the basics pretty quickly, and I might have become a good pianist at the young age. But I was so determined not to try, not to be anybody different, and I learned to play only the most ear-splitting preludes, the most discordant hymns."
Unless you give yourself a chance, you will never amount to anything past the expectations you have of yourself. In this case, Amy would never amount to being anything other than a mediocre piano player. I was talking to Kenny about it, and he mentioned his autism and said that he was dumb and couldn't do his times tables past 7. I made him read this paragraph again, and again. He said he still didn't get it.
And I will now tell you what I said:
"Kenny, unless you stop making excuses for yourself you WON'T amount to anything. In the story Amy refuses to believe she will be anything other than normal, she uses it as an excuse not to succeed. As long as you use your Autism as an excuse not to succeed you will never overcome it, you will never surpass it and become more than it. You are by no means dumb, you notice and come up with original ideas when we talk about the stories and poems we read. And you know more about the Godfather than anyone I know!"
He then kinda blew me away by reciting me the history of the series, I'll be honest quite a lot went over my head.
So, our lesson of the day had nothing to do with themes or metaphors or poetic devices. We learned that there are Two Kinds of people in this world, those that set the bar high and believe that they can reach it, and those that don't; be one of the people that believe.
I feel all philosophical and stuff now :)