Is it okay to ostracize the low achievers?

In a recent podcast episode I mention this phrase. That I said this in 2003. When I landed in Australia.

One meaning of this phrase takes you down the path that you should not treat poorly performing students any different from the way you treat the high achievers. Okay we leave that for now. That is the world we have. That is the world we have accepted.

But I do not accept the world we have. This world has to be changed. I work to change the world. I have worked to change the world of those at the bottom of the pyramid (not a great phrase). But yes when everyone is looking up at towards the apex of the pyramid. I am looking down. For that view is richer. Yes, more complex More loving, more compassionate than the other view.

Now, let us look at schools, at universities. That say. We want the best students, for we are the best. And we will make the best better. Really? Is that an example of schools as instruments of social mobility. Or conserving the wealth at the top. I digress? Yes.

In 2003 I was saying a couple of things. We are a unique institution. Is it true that 25% of our students are mature age students? Doing design as a second career? Panel beater, Fibreglass tech, artist, doctor (that was one character), chef, engineer, VCA graduate?

Is it true that 90% of the students have been working for 5 or more years? In retail, stacking shelves, administration, labouring, teaching sport, swimming, gymnastics teachers, sport referees? Really?

My Brain is whirring. When you make bolognaise with fresh tomato the process is different from making bolognaise with passata, or canned tomatoes. Its faster. The workflow is different. And the result? They are all good.

Do I dare treat the mature age students as passata? I did. How? Haha – ask me if you see me. The theory? Strength Based Learning! Yoo hoo.

But I also kept muttering – ‘low acheiver’? I want those. I want to hang out with those. That is my work as a teacher. That is the complexity, the romance, the love, the taste, the flavour of my work as a teacher. I was just landing in Australia after a 5 year project with waste workers. Unemployed youth, outcaste, lower caste, slum dwellers? Yes. And some of the loveliest people I know and cherish my relationships were in the project. And not amongst my colleagues? Well let us say some of my colleagues were gorgeous. But all those in my project team were on a journey with me. They were transforming themselves and through that the lives of those close to them. Gorgeous? Absolutely.

So I want to be in a university program that privileges the working class? You bet.

Competitive schools? Competitive admissions to university? Is there any point is privileging that? If you think yes. Then I am not with you.

The image below is from the book Think Again by Adam Grant.


Austin, the person drawing or learning to draw, is 6 years old. He is in grade 1. The Ron in the text is Ron Berger. This is Ron Berger.


Yet. If you do not know how to draw you cannot get admission into a design school hidden behind a wall. The wall of competitive admission.

Yet. If this is the way Austin learnt to draw. If this is possible. Then why do we teach drawing in that ‘repetitive’ way? Keep at it. Again and Again. And you will get better.

If this is project based learning. If this is how we ought to learn. If this is possible. Can we not make a better world.

What’s wrong with us? Why don’t we? “Put our mind to it”? Just create wonderful human beings?

If you want to hear me talk about “ostracism of the low achievers” – have a wander here: LINK

By Soumitri Varadarajan

Soumitri lives in Melbourne, Australia - #probonodesign #codesign #sustainability #patientexperience #quantifiedself #mdg

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