This child is gifted. Being very smart, he ended up doing all the work for his group. He thought up all the answers, and he told others what to write on the board. If he was wrong, the whole group was wrong. It was a one person team with 3 children. He was impatient and unkind to lesser intellects.
Such an amazing intellect should be taught to lead because when he grows up, no matter how gifted he is, he alone cannot achieve great things. He needed to be taught to move beyond his own intelligence to harness the collective intelligence of others, even if individually, these others were less intelligent than he.
The above piece is on sale at Li Hong Jade.
The more I work with children, the more I understand that the notion of "flaw" is very subjective. Parents come to me because their child:
- swims competitively and seems to have no desire to win for the sake of winning.
- is so stubborn that he simply won't sit down to do HW.
- is highly sensitive.
Not Competitive Enough
To the parent who thought her child could be improved by instilling a fierce competitiveness and desire to win, I asked this, "Mama, do you enjoy living in a bigger house and driving a bigger car than your friends?"
Thankfully, the Mama said, "No... I would rather spend my money on books."
To which I replied, "Then, your son is like you. If you were the type who was fiercely competitive, you would enjoy being better than your friends in everything. Do you really want a son who wins for the sake of winning? Is it not better to instil the value of cooperativeness and collaboration, given that the modern workplace requires so much teamwork?"
A plan formed in my mind on how to turn a supposed flaw into an asset.
This child, when asked to do HW, punched his Mama with his tiny fists and said, "You are a bad Mama!" He had all sorts of ways to resist his mother's best attempts at working with him. As he got bigger sized, his parents worried that the physical violence would get worse.
I saw a child with an innate strong will. A strong willed child can go 2 ways. He can grow up into a CEO. He can grow up into a thug. It depends on how we temper the innate strong will when raising the child. The parents' eyes widen when I said that their son had the innate strength of will to be a CEO. They had never seen their child like so.
A plan formed in my mind how to turn the supposed flaw into an asset.
This child was too shy to even enter the classroom on the first day. He was extremely sensitive. On Day 1, in class, he cried.
I saw a child whose sensitivity helped him to read faces and to intuitively devise gentle ways to influence peers, without offending them. So, I worked hard at carving him in such a way that turned his flaw into an asset.
The school system is like a factory. It produces educated children in the manner of mass production. There are clear criteria for what makes a good student:
Teachers in a mass education context do not look carefully at each child and discern within it, its innate pattern. One of the things I love about my job is visualising the potential of each child:
- this one can be a good chef... (flaw: cannot spell)
- this one has it in him to be an entrepreneur (flaw: full of tricks and other out-of-the-box ideas)
- this one would be a great researcher (flaw: so hyper focused that he does not notice people)
- that one can do stand up comedy (flaw: disruptive in class)
- that one can be CEO (flaw: stubborn)
The other thing I love about my job is that I get to carve each child according to its innate shape.
To me, appreciating and working with children is a lot like working with jadeite. In the picture below, the original raw stone contained many flaws. Anything that is that dark brown colour is not considered high quality jadeite. The only conventionally valuable bit is the pale green translucent bit on the top right of the piece (carved into a baby dragon). However, the carver was able to read the innate pattern pre-existing in the raw stone and use all the flaws in the original stone to carve a thing of beauty.
I see children as jadeite pieces. To work with them, we need to honour the shape and colours within.
Testimonial 2: Class Monitor
Before this child joined the class, the mother said that he needed a lot of assurance in any new environment. The first day, he was too timid to even enter the class despite being invited to do so, several times. He needed a lot of coaxing to even participate in class.
To everyone's surprise (including mine) I was able to sense stronger than normal innate leadership ability. So, I surfaced the talent and honed it. He has just discovered himself. He now knows he can lead and he loves to lead.
Testimonial 1: Prefect
This child came to us loud mouthed and aggressive. Once, I had to take him to task for using the word "F***!" He worked rather poorly in teams because he was easily frustrated. He has now matured into one of my most skilled leaders. We were able to temper his strong will from what it used to be: hard and brittle like an iron rod, into what it is now, pliable and yet strong, like a steel cord.
In school, he went from a boy with behavioural problems, to school prefect.
The Hidden Gems
Jadeite is a prized gemstone in China and amongst the Chinese diaspora. We know it as 翡翠玉. Thousands of Burmese men scour the hillsides of the Lonkin Township, in Kachin State, to find a jadeite boulder. One boulder will be enough to make him wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
If you examine the picture above, a jadeite boulder is a very ugly rock. Its surface betrays nothing of the beauty within. Yet, if you know how to pick the rock and later, work the rock, you will end up with gemstones of such breathtaking beauty that they command top dollar at Sotheby's. Jadeite, after being worked, glows with an inner light that seems to be alive. One would be forgiven for thinking that the stone is alive in some way.
Sometimes, I feel like one of those men scouring the hillsides of the Lonkin Township. No, I am not looking for jadeite boulders. I am looking for jadeite CHILDREN. These are children that look like losers. They hate school. They are disobedient. They are aggressive. They are stubborn. They have anger management issues. They cannot focus. Their grades are poor. They hate studying. These are children with Mothers who cry in front of me over Zoom, or in person.
These are the Jadeite Children of Singapore.
On the surface, the raw and unworked jadeite boulder looks so ugly that the untrained eye would dismiss it as a useless rock. On the surface, these children look terrible. They quite literally make their parents cry.
When I find one, my heart flutters and I hear angels sing even when it is not X'mas. It was not always this way, you know. A few years ago, I rolled my eyes and prayed for strength. Now, it is all I can do to NOT jump up and down when I find one. Today, they are my raison d'être. These are the Hidden Gems of Singapore.
Hidden Gem 1
This one punched his team mate in the stomach during my class. I had 6 facilitators helping me with my classes at that time. No one liked him. According to them, he was arrogant and contemptuous of people. I did not know why but I really liked him. I thought he was misunderstood. Needless to say, he had no friends. Today, he stands a good chance of being voted into his school's journalism CCA. He has to go around interviewing people. People like him.
He was GEP.
Hidden Gem 2
This one always came to class with an air of repressed violence, like a mini Bruce Lee. He was small, wiry and muscularly lean. This one got into fights in school every other week. On one occasion, he kicked his friend at the throat. On another, he kicked his errrr... School Principal. Then, one day, at a Bishan coffeeshop, he went into such a rage that he to be held down by 4 people: 2 sisters, his Mom and his brother. Today, he is in P6 and he has not got into a fight for an entire year and then some. Instead, he invented a game that can be played by 6 people, co-ordinated by the Game Master. He is the Game Master. He can coordinate about 6 games at a time. The whole class and some in other classes, all want to play his game. He now has many friends.
He, too, was GEP.
Hidden Gem 3
This one came to class looking apathetic and listless. If something looked remotely difficult, he did not want to do it. This was the first child who refused to play the games where he thought he might lose. He had the habit of speaking in a baby voice, and had absolutely no initiative at all. I thought that he had neither intelligence nor character. What a boring child! The only thing that set him apart was an attitude of extreme entitlement. If he did not like a game, he refused to play it. The whole class was expected to bend to his whim. Then, one day, he smacked his team mate during a discussion.
Today, he has revealed himself to be a talented leader. He can draw out the shy ones' intelligence when leading them. He can harness and channel the strong will of the aggressive ones. He can mediate. Half of what he can do, I did not teach. It was simply inside him all along.
This one is not GEP. In fact, he isn't even in the top class in his school. His grades in that middling class are mediocre, at best.
These are my Jadeite Children.
Underneath the ugly, muddy and dirty surface, there is material that glows with different colours. That is the beauty of jadeite. Jadeite comes in imperial green, purple, brown, black, blue-green. Jadeite holds within it different patterns, and different degrees of translucency. All these come together in infinite ways. Every piece of jadeite is unique. Jadeite is not boring, like diamonds. Diamonds only sparkle. Diamonds are like God sat his angels down in a sweat shop to mass produce sparkling stones of the same design, and different colours. Jadeite is like God himself decided to paint in 3D, in the stone under the mountain.
These are my Jadeite Children. Right now, I have a few unworked jadeite boulders.
Jadeite Boulder 1
This one frightened me today, during Touch Rugby, when her face contorted into a mask of rage, and she roared at her friend, "I know you touched me!" She looked like Bilbo Baggins below. This one is gifted.
Jadeite Boulder 2
This one was a bully. He was aggressive in school, and in my class, he almost made a girl cry. Another girl almost exploded at him. He and I had a face-off in Lesson 4. I won. We are now at Lesson 10, and he is turning out nicely. I told his Papa today that this boy is CEO material. His brain turns quickly. He can read people. He has initiative. He has a strong will.
This one scores only in the 60s in his P5 exams.
Nobody said that carving jadeite is easy. Jadeite is 7 on the MOHS hardness scale. Jadeite carvers need to carve jadeite under a constant stream of flowing water. Else, the heat from the friction would destroy the stone. My job is to carve and shape these Jadeite Children to best bring out their innate beauty, without destroying them.
Notice how a sculptor often uses flaws in a piece of jadeite as part of its final design. As such, flaws become assets. The natural strength of will in this child, if incorporated well into the final adult, is truly CEO material.
Jadeite Boulder 3
This child's parents are quaking in their shoes. Their child refuses to do HW and to study. They fear he will end up in Normal stream because his grades are so poor. 2 weeks ago, he became so angry in my class that he drew his pen across the paper violently a few times. The paper almost tore. Today, he shyly told me that he hated school. So, I sat with him and listened to his woes. What no one else knew was that this child has amazing visual spatial ability. His brain can manipulate objects in 3D, with uncommon skill.
Don't ask me how I know. Shhhh... trade secret. I cannot be teaching readers everything for free, right? Hah! The last child I taught with equivalent talent is doing 3D animation, and she is 1st among equals in that area.
So, this morning, when I received an email from a Papa saying,
"His psychologist also said that he displays some ASD traits which we are now monitoring for. He has been having a tough time in school. Frequently gets into trouble, has anger issues, gets upset with specific assignments such as compo, writing about his feelings, and of course, Chinese, and often refuses these assignments. He loves learning and knowledge, but dislikes the structure in having to answer questions in a specific way."
... my heart went all aflutter and I heard angels sing, even though it is not X'mas.
Jadeite children are rare. I have had the privilege of meeting many already. I am just not sure that there are enough such children to make my business viable!
Petunia Lee, Ph.D
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