Because You’re Special


The walrus and the carpenter weep over the loss of the oysters because they ate every last one

I promised that during Native American Heritage Month (November) I would look at issues through a Native lens.

The purpose is to encourage me and to encourage readers to spend a moment considering how a story, a gesture or a song would feel through Indigenous eyes.

Today, while listening to chat-radio, I heard an Indigenous writer talk about the disjuncture of “being special” and being authentic.

The writer told the interviewer she was singled out by a grade school teacher for her creative prose at an early age.

She shared the exciting news with her mother.

But the writer’s mum just shrugged and told her daughter she wasn’t special, and that she didn’t need to please the teacher.

That’s a hard lesson: we learn that being special gives you a leg up the social ladder.

Yet, we discover a contradiction when we also learn that being special applies to everyone.

When my kids were little, they sometimes participated in sports where “everybody wins.”

On some occasions, everyone won a prize.

One of my friends told me last week that her neighbor was vacationing during Halloween.

The neighbor asked parents on the block if they would give out candy a few days earlier for her kids.

That’s because they are so special, I said.

I regretted being so judgmental.

But I was disturbed by the underlying message.

My kids are special so please get your candy ready for them a few days early.

As a college professor, I have been asked by more than one parent to twist the rules so that a son or daughter could:

  • Take an exam early
  • Hand in homework late
  • Write their own exam
  • Skip a test altogether

I’ve even been asked to change a grade from a failing grade to a passing grade.

Many of my colleagues won’t even use the F-word.


But sometimes students fail an exam, skin their knees jumping rope, or leave town for Halloween.

I would rather have a student fail one of my tests than get fired for failing at work.

Childhood and school should offer safe places to flunk a test or lose a soccer match.

That’s how we grow.

Turns out the Native writer dropped out of school for a while but continued to plug away at her craft.

And she’s now a best-selling author.


Day Three: Native American Heritage Month

3 November 2018
















About Cynthia Coleman Emery

Professor and researcher at Portland State University who studies science communication, particularly issues that impact American Indians. Dr. Coleman is an enrolled citizen of the Osage Nation.
This entry was posted in nativescience. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s