Tales From My Youth: The Inherited Impression

This blog demonstrates the dangers of making assumptions about others but the moral to the story in way changes or reduces the validity of its contents.

Growing up I was the youngest of two kids. My older brother was 3 years ahead of me. I was two years old when he started school and by the time I was old enough to start kindergarten, he was already in the third grade. In our early years of school, we were both viewed as good students but my brother was well-behaved and I was often described as "busy". Both of our grades were good but I was much more energetic.

That duality of my brother being calm and well-behaved while me being a ball of energy that was difficult to focus maintained for the first few years of our scholastic outing. However, that dynamic started to change the year I started the 2nd grade, which would have put my brother in the 5th grade. This was the year that our family moved to a new town about an hour away from our home. Our father's job had transferred him to help open a new location in that other town but the distance between that location and our house in Navarro/Corsicana was too great for him to drive so frequently, especially with the hours that would be demanded of him during the build process, hiring process, training process, and opening process that he would be integral for during each step.

While I was unhappy with the move, leaving behind the only friends that I had ever known, my brother seemed to take the move more harshly than I had. It was during our tenure at the new schools in the new town that my brother's attitude towards authority began to shift. Likewise, his grades began to take a downward turn. And it would end up with his lack of acknowledgment of authority and a general disdain for schoolwork becoming a trend that would last throughout his educational career as a student.

Fortunately, our endeavor into life in a new town lasted less than a year. The opening of the new location went rather smoothly and we were able to move back to our old house and return to our old school the following school year. As I started the 3rd grade back with my old friends, my brother started the 6th grade among his old friends. We only lost a few months of school time with those old classmates and we had returned home multiple weekends to visit which allowed us to relatively step back into our old lives with minimal disruption.

And while the moves had not impacted my grades or attitude they seemed to have had lasting impacts on my brother. Even after moving home, his grades did not improve to their pre-move levels. He remained a C-level student.

But understand that my brother's lack of academic quality was ABSOLUTELY NOT a reflection of his academic ability. To many who know me, I am considered smart, very smart to some. The school took no effort from me. I never studied for tests. I rarely took books home. Homework was a concept that was largely foreign to me because I often completed my work within minutes of getting the assignment or would work on larger assignments in other classes throughout the day since I did not need to listen to a 50-minute lecture to understand the concepts being taught. And I describe this not to toot my own horn but to help paint a picture of me so that when I say my brother is many times smarter than I am that you may begin to understand where I come from with that statement.

My brother, even when we were in school, maintained that his GPA was not a sign of his mental deficiency or lack of knowledge. He always stated that he knew that tests were the majority of the grade average so he calculated the test scores he needed to pass each grading period and only focused on passing his tests. He didn't bother with homework because he didn't need to. He could skip the "extra bullshit" and just pass the tests to advance from grade to grade until graduation.

He had no interest in sports. He had no interest in performing. He had no interest in academic competition. He wasn't worried about the UIL's "no pass, no play" policy because he didn't want to play anything the UIL managed. He was a gearhead. He wanted to tinker with cars, race cars, and learn about cars, all things not taught in school or part of a UIL competition. His focus was on doing the absolute minimum to graduate and get out of high school. Like me, he was bored in school. Sitting in class listening to teachers lecture for 8 hours a day bored him. The homework bored him. It was simple. It was easy. it was boring.

His boredom and lack of effort helped to create something of a reputation for my brother as he entered junior high and later high school. Being that we went to a VERY small school, teachers that taught junior high often taught many of the high school classes too. This meant that by the time I hit 7th grade and entered junior high section of our school, my brother had spent three years frustrating teachers who saw his potential but could never get him to utilize it. My brother wasn't known as a troublemaker or a problem student but he was known as someone who didn't pay attention in class, didn't do his homework, skipped class to hang out with his friends, and found himself in the presence of the high school principal far too often.

My brother's reputation automatically transferred to me. Over the years I spent going through junior high and high school in my brother's turbulent wake, I had several teachers comment to me that when they saw my name on their class roster they feared the worst. They knew my brother and his devil-may-care attitude and feared that there was a good chance that I might emulate that same attitude as younger siblings often do.

While there were similarities between us such as my lack of attention in class, my grades and quality of work quickly helped to stand me apart from my brother's memory. In time, most teachers came to understand that while I wasn't paying attention to their lessons after the first 15 minutes of class I had absorbed all that I needed and was often reading ahead, sometimes by several chapters. While my brother only did the bare minimum, I excelled. I was one of the top-ranked students in my class despite my seeming lack of effort compared to others.

I arrived in new classes with new teachers for multiple years only to have been pre-judged by adults who did not know me, who had never met me, and who only knew of my brother. Much like the phrase "don't judge a book by its cover," my experience similarly suggests that one shouldn't judge another by their family. I was unjustly looked down upon because of my brother's lackluster academic efforts. Whether they truly understood my brother's full potential or not, I was forced to prove my capabilities before earning their trust whereas other students who either did not have older siblings or whose older siblings did not perform the same way as mind were given a higher level of respect on day one of class.

Looking back, I don't now or back then begrudge my teachers about their concerns and misgivings. I did not feel that I lived under my brother's shadow and was supremely confident in my abilities both in and out of the classroom. Ultimately, all of my teachers came to realize my capabilities and gave me a great deal of flexibility. Few tried to challenge me by calling me out in class before discovering my potential to turn their attempts to embarrass me in front of my peers to embarrassing them in front of my peers. By the time I graduated from that school every teacher there knew that I was not a student that needed their worry or focus. There were far more students that could benefit from their attention.

As it turned out, I shared my brother's boredom with education. Not that I didn't like learning or that I felt an education was unnecessary but that how we learned did not fit the normal paradigm of structured classroom learning with lengthy lectures and whatnot. We are both very hands-on people and learn best by doing rather than simply listening. We both made efforts to attend college but neither of us found college life to be an improvement over high school. We found some classes and professors were more engaging and interesting to us but for the most part, we were still bored. Why pay money to attend classes that bore us? Why pay money to register for classes that we weren't motivated to attend? Why pay huge sums of money to attend a school (or schools) for years to obtain a degree that wasn't of significant interest to us?

We both went on to follow our paths in life. My brother worked some jobs managing a variety of areas in different industries before settling into a comfy government job. For me, I knew from the days of high school that I wanted something IT-related, mostly involving computer programming. I spent several years taking junky IT jobs to build my skills before finally landing jobs that let me program. I could have likely landed such a job sooner with a college degree but during those years I also managed to get married and start a family, something I don't think would have happened had I focused on college instead.

My brother, at one time at least, would have told you that I was the smarter of the two of us but I will always contend that his intelligence far exceeds my own. People may look at our accomplishments and jobs to try and claim the contrary but I do not think that such things are a true measure of one's intelligence but rather their determination and/or passion. I have "published" multiple books while my brother has not. This is only because I wanted to do that, not because I am somehow more intelligent than he is and therefore more capable of doing so. He has never had the desire or initiative to write a book so why would he? I work as an IT consultant that draws a healthy salary while he is a government employee who earns less (but not by much). Our jobs are not a reflection of our intelligence differences. I followed a career path that I wanted to follow that led me here while he opted for a simpler life.

Our lives are what we have made them to be. Not because one of us is smarter than the other but because these are the lives we chose. Could we have done more with our potential? Absolutely! I don't think either of us was/are limited by our potential only our desires. And in high school, my brother desired to do the minimum amount of work and somehow that was the impression teachers inherited for me even before I stepped into their classrooms on the first day of school.

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