Lack of Representation

Agni Gupta (’24) writes about lack of representation in fantasy literature. “All the protagonists had similar traits to me but none of them truly reflected me, my family, or my heritage.”

I’ve lived my whole life surrounded by excellent fantasy series, people singing praise for great characters and greater worlds, great protagonists, and greater enemies. My friends always saw themselves in the pages, be it as Percy Jackson or Nancy Drew there was alway someone for them. I guess I did too, but not to the same degree. All the protagonists had similar traits to me but none of them truly reflected me, my family, or my heritage.

Most of my middle school years were spent reading Lord of the Rings, and if you look at me now, you can see the mark it left. I own a replica of the one ring, I wear it almost every day like a nerd but it’s probably one of my most prized possessions. Reading the books exposed me to different sorts of writing, separate from the countless YA novels I had previously consumed. I think one of the biggest draws was how removed from our world the story, the people, the
cultures, and the languages were. Granted I know more Quenya than I know Hindi and I can point out more places on a map of Middle Earth than I can for India, Lord of the Rings feels like home. A world with eons of history and miles of land to travel, to explore.

When the pandemic hit, I stopped reading and started writing. I locked myself into writing, building a story of a man of South Asian descent in a world of magic, running through plot after plot till I settled on one I liked. I repeat the process, with different stories; an Indian boy on his way to a summer camp where he’s destined to meet the love of his life, a south Indian girl in her first weeks of college having silent mutual jealousy for the guy who lives across the hall and a subtle crush on her roommate. A man named Dev Dhawan who dies, leaving his time-traveling boyfriend to solve the mystery. I had so many ideas for stories centering people like me that it’s almost overwhelming, but I’ll make it work, for the future, for kids like me.

Slow & Steady

Lillian Hescheles (’24) writes…”It’s okay to take longer than others in school: A lesson I’m trying to learn.”

Since the very beginning of first grade, I remember feeling like I was “slower”
compared to the rest of the kids in my class. I took longer to finish the lengthy
writing workshop stations, couldn’t understand the process of division like the rest of the kids, and was forced to see a reading specialist because I wasn’t able to read as quick or as “principled” as everybody else. I was six years old when I had myself convinced I was dumb. By the time middle school arrived, lessons were taught faster and tests were long, packed, and usually timed.

“You have the class period to finish.” My teachers would always say. Then, the packet of multiple choice and written answer questions would be thrown onto my desk. I was always able to write my name, the date, and hour. But, that should be easy, right? It was so quiet. I couldn’t understand what the question was asking, so I would reread it over and over again. I consistently felt hopeless as I heard the other kids in my class flip their first pages over, meanwhile I hadn’t even answered the first question yet. I would always study days in advance; making flashcards, reading textbooks, and doing practice quizzes. I had felt ready, I had felt prepared. If I had felt so ready, why hadn’t I finished in time?

“That was so easy.” I would always hear all my peers say. I never thought tests
were easy; I never did because I never finished, let alone did well. Everybody would share their scores, every single one being better than mine. So, I would lie. Yes, that was easy. Yes, I got an A too. Yes, I was in 7th grade and still felt just as dumb as I did in first grade. Following 7th grade, I went onto experience new difficult classes and new teachers. I felt my self esteem being ruined by attending school everyday. I felt like I didn’t have the values that were supposed to make a good student. I felt like something was wrong with me because I learned differently than everybody else.

A few days ago I read an eye opening article from Education Today. The article
was talking about the ongoing knowledge gaps which form when classrooms are taught at high paced speeds, leaving everyone else behind. The article also talked about the effects of being “slower” in the classroom, “As a result of their inability to match the learning pace of their peers, they might consider themselves lesser than others. This will affect their self-confidence and self esteem.” Reading this was shocking because I felt so connected to what the writing was saying. For so long, I felt like the students around me thought I was dumb. I felt like teachers believed I was dumb. I felt like my friends and family thought I was dumb. I started to believe it.

Today, as a junior in high school, I’ve started to overcome these negative thoughts. I’ve become a person who’s accepted that everyone is different, including the ways we learn. Attending school has been hard for me, but it’s taught me a lot about who I am. I haven’t achieved full confidence while I attend school everyday, and I most likely never will, but I’m learning. After being put into an educational system designed for one type of learner for almost 11 years, I’ve started to grasp who I am as a student. I am slow. But, I’m smart. I take longer to finish simple tasks. But, I work hard. I have a hard time understanding the first time. But, I’m brave enough to ask questions. I’m a slow learner. But, that was never my fault; it will never be my fault;
it’s just the way I learn; that’s all.