I was eleven years old when I was diagnosed with Dyscalculia. Dyscalculia is known as a learning disability involving math with a connection to working and short term memory. Besides my learning disability, I had problems with my ears and had to undergo several surgeries that resulted in temporary hearing problems. Further, in class I was a dreamer, an observer, incredibly curious and impulsive in my questioning and answering despite kids telling me I was ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid’ for the things I said.
From the moment I was diagnosed, I undertook extra tutoring at school and additional practice at home with my parents. I also had to study math with a group of students who were one grade lower than my classmates which meant I had to pack my things and leave class every time it was math hour. In high school, I received a card which I had to put on my table during exams that gave me extra time during tests. Although I hardly ever needed the extra time, I had trouble with concepts related to time and this card helped to put my mind at ease in order to complete the test.
Looking back at these events, I feel, on the one hand, very grateful that the educational system in the Netherlands developed the extra support that I needed to get some sort of basic knowledge in my foundational academic years. On the other hand, I feel sad as there seemed to have been a constant focus on my disabilities as problematic areas. As a result of bullying and the constant focus on the things I was incapable of doing, I had accepted that I was stupid and dumb and my tutor in high school had to invest tremendous time on working on my self-confidence. This is still something I struggle with from time to time.
Once I started the MA Program in Peace Studies at the University of Innsbruck In September 2012, I was confronted with education on a complete different level. I got introduced to “Elicitive Conflict Transformation,” in which the facilitator of a class provides the frame but not a prefabricated model. I did not learn about peace and conflict through a teacher who just prescriptively transferred knowledge in front of the class. Instead, the MA Program in Peace Studies required me to participate in facilitated spaces in which I actively had to engage with communally held knowledge of each and every person who was present. The facilitator, in this context, uses methods to hold that space and everyone involved was an essential part of the learning and training exchange. In this type of educational framework, my questions, answers and self-reflection were needed and valued. I suddenly was given the opportunity to take an active role and a responsibility which was far away from my well known and comforting dreaming mode as a student.
Although I can appreciate the combination of different experiences and educational systems that made me who I am today, I do still have criticisms regarding the classic educational system that we find in most educational institutions across the globe. I am critical because of the ways in which this dominant model creates a sense of fear whenever one is wrong, incapable of completing a task or not outstanding enough. I believe that mainstream education systems would benefit from a sense of appreciation towards the wisdom everyone carries to enable an educational exchange involving children, teenagers and adults more actively. By creating an elicitive space in which students can learn and challenge themselves without the fear of doing something wrong, more time can be spent on finding and improving their potentials.
What saddens me when reflecting on my story is that I realize how much I have gotten used to criticizing and lowering myself in comparison to others. It is now my personal goal to continuously work towards seeing my potential both in group and individual dynamics. My story also makes me feel incredibly thankful that such space was given to me through the MA Program in Peace Studies. It has allowed me to truly experience inclusive and empowering education which triggered a journey of self-discovery and appreciation for who I am and who I can be. This experience has allowed me to again daydream and creatively imagine the possibilities of what education can look like when all the aspects of our individual beings are embraced and nourished.