You’re Not Dumb, You’re Ignorant

8 03 2020

Some years back I told the story of how elementary school was very difficult me. I wasn’t Rock _na good student by any means, I didn’t understand much that was taught, and I was teased, laughed at and ridiculed whenever I was called on to answer a question in class because I would generally get it wrong. So, the early days of education for me were, if I might speak bluntly, pure hell! Had it been possible, I would have dropped out of school by the 5th grade and went to digging ditches for something–anything that wouldn’t have reminded me of how dumb I was. It wasn’t until I was held back in the 6th grade that a dear saint of a woman by the name of Esther Cobb became my personal tutor.

I met Esther when she would fill in as a substitute teacher at the school. I really liked her because she had such a calm manner especially in her teaching techniques. If you got a question wrong, she wouldn’t make much out of it and never allowed others to do so either. She would explain what the correct answer was with patience and gentleness. So, I was happy when I began meeting with her privately for lessons. Still, frustration followed me as I made a feeble effort to comprehend all she was teaching me. One afternoon that frustration boiled over while trying to read. Pushing the book away, I said in an exasperated voice, “What’s the use, I’m never going to get it. I’m too dumb!” Dear old Mrs. Cobb took the book, closed it, folded her arms and said gently, “Johnny, you are not dumb, you’re ignorant.” Now as the old saying goes, I knew I wasn’t the sharpest pencil in the box; but it was my belief the two words meant the same thing, just one was just a little fancier than the other. Esther could see my confusion, so she continued. “Suppose I said you have been selected to pilot the next rocket into space what would you say? My first thought as a child was “Awesome!” But truthfully, I had to say I couldn’t do that. She asked, “Why not?” “I don’t know anything about rockets. I’d do something wrong right away and would probably kill myself and anyone else who was with me.” Leaning towards me she then said, “That’s ignorance. You don’t know because you’ve never done it or had it taught to you. It has nothing to do with being dumb, it’s about lack of knowledge on the subject. It’s the same way with schoolwork; you don’t do well because you don’t understand. And we’re going to fix that!” This precious old gal was right. Up to that point it was safe to say I couldn’t read, and no one had caught it. I had memorized a number of words, but how letters came together to form those words was a complete mystery to me. Looking back, I’m not sure if I scraped through by the skin of my teeth to elevate each year to the next grade, or the teacher just wanted to get rid of me to become someone else’s problem. Continuing with her gentle admonishment she said, “Johnny, I know you’re not dumb, you’re very smart and we’re going to bring it out of you for the world to see.” Now she really had my attention. “How do you know I’m smart?” No one had ever said that to me before. “Because I see you have a great deal of common sense that few have at your age, and we’re going to tap into that to help you learn.”

(Okay a little side note here. Perhaps Lady C saw something that I and others didn’t. Over the course of my occupational career, I’ve had to take several aptitude tests. On two occasions I scored in the top 1% of all taking that had taken this test in the category of common sense. Of course, those scores and $5 will get you a Happy Meal at Micky D’s! Okay, back to the story.)

So, we began anew and there were times if I didn’t understand she would use a different technique or strategy to approach the lesson. Little by little letters became words. Words became sentences. Sentences became paragraphs and pages in a book. And the world of comprehensible reading became vibrant and exciting. The door to understanding didn’t just open, it came off the hinges. People were wrong about me. I was wrong about me!

I recently read this quote shared by Gospel recording artist TobyMac. “God has a tendency of picking up a nobody, to become somebody, in front of everybody, without asking anybody.” Often what the world perceives of you, and what you perceive is not what God knows nor has equipped you to accomplish. It’s up to us not to buy into the lie so that each can become what God meant for us to be. For some the path is easy. Others, it’s more difficult; but perhaps it’s that way to teach and instill something that’s long lasting, something quite possibly to pass to another. Which brings me to the reason for this writing.

There’s a young person that has crossed my path with the same mindset I had back then. They don’t think they’re worth anything; they’ve been told as much. In the 50 plus years since sweet Esther poured her heart and soul into not just teaching; but convincing me I was worth more than I realize, I’ve attempted to tell and guide others in the same way. To the one who I’m specifically writing to tonight here’s my advice. Stop listening to others; they don’t know what you can do. Stop believing the negativity that’s hurled at you. It’s wrong! Start talking to God daily to help and show you what you need to be doing. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Max Lucado sums up how God feels about you with these words. “Remember, you are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.” Then get started. Here’s a process I’ve used for years. “Inch is a cinch. Yard is hard. Mile is a trial.” Don’t rush the process, learn at a speed that you can handle.

There you have the educational path that this “Traveler of the Rock Road” had to endure in his early days. I might have been ready to give up on myself, but God wasn’t. So, He sent an earthly angel by the name of Esther Cobb to help and guide me. That sweetheart showed me I wasn’t dumb, just ignorant. And that’s not a bad thing.

Hey, perhaps I didn’t just write this for one person. Who knows? Bet God does.

See ya next time you awesome people!




2 responses

10 03 2020
Beverly Crane

Very inspiring story. A copy should be displayed in every classroom. Thank you John.

10 03 2020

Thank you, Beverly. You are always such an encouragement.


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