“The boy’s DAP (draw a person) test is a very small stick-like figure drawn at the bottom of the page. It had no ears, mouth, nose, neck and hands. This appears to indicate feelings of inadequacy, a tendency to withdraw and a need for autonomy. He perceives himself to be different from his peers who are more confident and assertive; hence, his tendency to withdraw socially.”
This was one of the passages taken from a 1995 report marked “CONFIDENTIAL.”
I am a nervous boy of seven years and four months. It is a Saturday and instead of playing with toy cars with my yaya, I am brought by Mom to see a woman who would “make me better” in school. My Mom uneasily smiles and giggles as she talks to this tall woman with large earrings and an extremely colorful top.
I am uncomfortable about being left alone for five hours with a stranger named Mrs. Cortes, but I say nothing and obey. She asks what I want to be when I grow up, and I answer that I want to be a lawyer like my Dad and to be a good writer like my older brother whose work gets published in the newspaper even though he is only in high school.
When she asks me how I feel about my siblings, I hide the fact that I think they are always smarter than me in everything and just tell her that they are “OK.”
She asks me to draw myself. I panic and explain that I am not good at drawing and I would rather describe myself with words. She tells me not to worry as it isn’t graded.
As I attempt to draw myself, I become increasingly apologetic to my instructor. I continuously correct my work over and over, until the paper itself has scars of folds and small tears caused by frantic erasing.
“He reads words phonetically, such as reading ‘useless’ as ‘a-se-less.’ He cannot read words with vowel pairs, like ‘courage’ which he reads as ‘cowrage,’ and ‘pier’ as ‘pare.’… The child’s weaknesses fall in the area of language: verbal comprehension, language, long-term memory and verbal reasoning. His emotional needs include a need for independence which would not only improve his emotional but his cognitive development as well.”
I am 10 years old and have since spent an excruciating 4 hours a week (a lifetime) every Friday and Saturday with Mrs. Cortes. I have been made to recite the alphabet over and over and to correct the way my tongue curls and moves in order to produce the proper sounds to letters and words. None of this matters to me, but it seems to be important to the adults. I don’t want to do this, I tell my Mom, but resign myself nevertheless to this routine when it evidently makes her sad each time I say so.
I ask my friends in school if they have to attend something similar every week and they look at me weird and ask why I need to relearn things already covered a grade lower.
I tell them that Mrs. Cortes says I am dyslexic and that I need more help learning. My classmates giggle and begin calling me “dyslexo” for the rest of the day.
I don’t understand and I don’t know enough to explain what I am feeling. I smile nervously and look forward for school to end so I could play at home.
“In the upper grades, he may encounter some difficulty in subjects, such as history, civics, government and literature. His responses to the test seem to reveal that he needs to be encouraged to think and act independently. When asked, ‘What are you supposed to do if you find someone’s wallet in a store?’ His answer was, ‘Get it.’ The correct answer to this would have been to try to find ways and means to return it to the owner.”
I am 29 years old, a man, and still inside a classroom. But instead of answering tests, I administer them. I speak legal doctrine from memory and enjoy the way the words roll off my tongue as I enunciate them with biblical significance.
I enjoy the challenge of speaking to an audience and the need to captivate them with anything from literary theory, corporation law, to the exciting life of being an entrepreneur.
Speaking publicly is an art that requires confidence, a flair for the dramatic, and most importantly, mastery of both the spoken and written word.
In solitude, I craft essays for publication and experiment with science fiction plots for short stories which I hope would rival Isaac Asimov’s in the future.
Looking back at the academic and psychological evaluation of my youth has reminded me of the important role that teachers and parents play when it comes to building leaders and overall happy people.
My parents and Mrs. Cortes do not get enough credit for their unimpaired zeal in propelling me forward so that one day, I would get the privilege of doing the same for another.
I look back at my stick figure of 22 years ago with pride and realize that while I still can’t draw, I can finally get away with the task by instead telling its story.
* * *
Rafael Conejos, 29, is a lawyer, writer, entrepreneur, and professor of law at De La Salle University Manila. His work has been published in Inquirer Young Blood a number of times, as well as in other newspapers. He says he dedicates this piece to his parents and “to Mrs. Cortes and the other invaluable teachers who help the youth achieve their dreams.”
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