The 'Dumb' Kid

I never did very well at school. Nor in education generally for that matter. It’s quite ironic then that I’ve ended up working at a University.

It all started in primary school. Almost straight away I could tell that I was falling behind the rest of the class, and that reading and writing were concepts that just confused and frustrated me. I started to wonder at the tender age of five years old if I was a dumb kid, and that was simply my lot in life.

I went to Uplands County Primary school in Sandhurst which was a short walk from my house. I remember my first day quite clearly, and the confusion that one kid had about the box we all kept our playtime snacks in. He basically treated it like a free buffet, from which he could feast on whatever he wanted. It was quite the scandal I can tell you. It wasn’t really his fault and he wasn’t a bad kid - it was a confusing time for all of us.

I also remember on this first day of our education the teacher handing out, to every budding young student, a laminated card with their full name written on it. This was to keep in our trays under our desks so we could refer to it whenever we needed to spell our names. As the school year progressed and we had learned the basics of the alphabet (and enough vocabulary to help us survive in the Rodger Red Hat universe), it was time to hand in our laminated name cards. We would not be needing them anymore.

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This was probably my first attempt to hide what I perceived as my lack of intelligence from the world. I opted to keep my name card hidden under the rest of the things in my tray. Although I had nailed my first name, my surname always gave me trouble. How many R’s did it have again? How do you draw an X? Satisfyingly enough, the name Horrox still seems to trip up a lot of other people to this day. However, I can’t stand seeing the name “Horrocks” written on an envelope!

I had gotten the impression from somewhere that it was not good to be the ‘dumb kid’. If people ever found out that I was that kid, I would never get a job, or a car, or any of the other adult things. So, I became a master of deception and trickery to make sure no one could tell. This was quite a smart thing to do at the age of 6 really, which is of course my point. I wasn’t a dumb kid at all; I just had some learning difficulties that were not too well understood at the time. And it didn’t help that what little my teachers and parents did know was not communicated to me at all. So, I made my own (incorrect) conclusions about why I was struggling. This, I think, has held me back in life more than anything else.

I continued this belief that I was dumb all through primary school and into secondary school where I began to really struggle with the concept of homework and time management. This caused me to start to withdraw from education - not physically but mentally. Occasionally I did withdraw physically and this got me into a lot of trouble, so I stopped bunking off pretty sharpish. I would never participate in class and my homework issues were exacerbated by the fact that I decided it was better to fail by not trying than it would be to try and still fail. My confidence in myself was incredibly low and I also thought the other kids might think that I was just a badass who didn’t care for authority. In my mind that was much better than being the ‘dumb kid’.

I had also fallen in with a bad crowd of friends who were not very encouraging. Any weakness once sniffed out would be used against that person mercilessly. This group propelled me down this self-destructive path all the way up until year 10.

Within the first couple of weeks of my first GCSE year, I fell out of a tree at the back of the playing field at the school. I badly broke both bones (alliteration is fun!) in my left forearm and dislocated my wrist because of this fall. I was rushed to hospital where I underwent surgery to correct the damage.

 This event made my bad friends consider me an embarrassment to their group, even though it was not actually my idea to climb the tree, nor was I the only one doing it! I digress. When I came back to school after two weeks of recuperating, I was banished for inviting negative attention to our little gang. This turned out to be really great timing. In fact, it was one of the turning points of my life. Up until GCSE’s, the whole school had been split into two sets of form groups. This meant that there was a whole group of people who had no idea who I was or about any of my history. I could start again with a new cohort of friends who were weird and nerdy just like me. Best of all, though, they were kind and loyal. This new group of peers arrived just in time for me to start knuckling down for GCSEs.

To my surprise, I actually came away with some half decent results; not spectacular enough to get my picture in the local paper by any means, but I was pleased nonetheless. They were good enough to make the step up to sixth form.

When I got to sixth form I was determined to continue as I had during my GCSE’s. However, the old demons came back to tell me that I wasn’t good enough to succeed. They told me that there was no point even trying. The freedom that educations systems give you in sixth form didn’t help me much. I could choose to skip classes and there was nothing they could do about it. I did pass my A-levels but they were pretty bad results. They were, however, good enough to get into an average university via a foundation access course. So, I moved to Birmingham to study Television Technology and Production, where I still live today.

I wasn’t great at studying at university either, to be honest. But I still learned an awful lot when I was there; things I still use every day, such as graphic design and video acquisition and editing, and web development. It was tough for me there though, and I ended up having to drop out due to money problems and depression. This decision always made me feel ashamed and I wouldn’t talk about it much. I found that most people seemed to assume I had a degree and I tended to let them continue to think that.

I was still hiding from everyone and keeping my shields up so they would never discover that I was the ‘dumb kid’ and now I was a drop out too. By this point, I had quite refined cheats to help me live among the smart people undetected. I could scan text and get enough of a gist of it so that I could pretend I had read it all. I could figure out how things worked quickly with only a little bit of information to point me in the right direction, and I had a myriad of memorised trivia because I realised that people often mistake knowledge for intelligence.

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I have always been fascinated with technology ever since I got my hands on the old 8 bit BBC Micro computer in the reception classroom when I was 5. When we finally got our own computer at home, I was beyond excited. I remember it seemed to take forever to arrive (there was no Amazon Prime back then!) but when it finally got to my house, I was absolutely transfixed on the technical wonder that was Windows 95! I remember I used to break it a lot by messing with stuff that I didn’t understand. I never had the fear that a lot of people do with technology, like if they press the wrong button they might fire a nuke at China. If I didn’t know what a button did, I would press it and find out. For me, the fear came after the wrong button was pushed. I would use that fear to motivate me to frantically fix it before my dad got home. My stupidity cloak skills helped me a lot with fixing things, and I became an excellent problem solver.

It wasn’t until I entered the world of work that I finally got over the idea that I wasn’t smart. I could suddenly see my value to the world and that there were loads of things that I was actually really quite good at.

I now work at a University I could never have gotten into with my results, in the constantly expanding field of learning technology, which seems to use a very broad range of my skill set. I sometimes feel like God has ‘Slumdog Millionaired’ me; I look back at my life and see how he used my fears and doubts and my will to hide from people, to shape me into the person I needed to become. Maybe I didn’t take the most direct route here but God made sure I learned everything I needed to know on the way, in order to excel in my future career.

 The author Bob Goff says that God loves most to use broken people because there are more pieces to work with. If this is the case, I imagine there is a great deal more He can do with me yet to come.