A Critical Response to Mike Rose’s “’I Just Wanna Be Average’”
In his essay “I Just Wanna Be Average,” Mike Rose details his school life in South L.A. Now a professor of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, Rose moves through secondary school at Our Lady of Mercy on the Voc. Ed. Track, revealing why the standardized versions of this “educational system” betray the core values behind liberal, humanistic education as we understand it. As Rose wants to stress the value of all individuals, the discrepancies between their actual intellectual capacities and how the system classified and treated them, he paints his fellow students in Vocational Education in great detail. His title comes from Ken Harvey, who, among the many colorful characters and lively Americans Rose met, dropped the defining one-liner of his entire Voc. Ed. Experience: We were talking about the parable of the talents, about achievement, working hard, doing the best you can do, blah-blah-blah, when the teacher called on the restive Ken Harvey for an opinion. Ken thought about it, but just for a second, and said (with studied, minimal affect), “I just wanna be average.” That woke me up. Average? Who wants to be average? At the time, I thought Ken’s assertion was stupid, and I wrote him off. But his sentence has stayed with me all these years, and I think I am finally coming to understand it (Rereading America, 186). Rose goes on to attempt to clarify his understanding of this one-liner and how it fits in America’s education system. He reveals how Ken Harvey was trying to protect himself, “by taking on with a vengeance the identity implied in the vocational track” (187). Rose himself was lucky, switching to College Prep and meeting a belated beatnik intellectual-turned-educator named Jack MacFarland, and a hard-nosed science teacher named Brother Clint. These characters brought a college preparatory curriculum to a place and students who had never seen it before. And Rose reveals how...
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