Bill Levin, a colleague of mine, a sociology professor, is working on a book about "late bloomers" like himself. Bill brought home poor report cards year after year as he was growing up and finally had to repeat the eighth grade. Miraculously, he made it to Boston University, but he was placed on academic probation during his first two years and was disappointed in his major - journalism. One of his professors saw something in him, nevertheless, and encouraged him to go to graduate school. In a course on "attitude measurement" he finally found his spark and his interest carried him into a Ph. D.
Bill is doing the book with Jack Levin, not related, a sociology professor at Northwestern University. Jack began his college career on academic probation, too, at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts. When he changed his major from business to sociology, he found some needed direction in his life and realized belatedly that college was interesting. He said that he also changed his friends and began associating with excellent students who enjoyed their work and talked about it.Both professors think that their experience as late bloomers has made them more empathic with students and more patient with them. "I don't give up on students. I think there's hope for everyone," said Jack.
Whenever the late bloomer becomes stimulated into changing his or her life, it is usually associated with some stimulus, what these authors call "a kick in the pants." It may be some very positive experience, such as doing very well in an interesting course, or it may be a negative one, such as an angry parent who refuses to pay for college until grades improve or a hard-line professor who scares the student. Whatever it is, the kick in the pants sends the late bloomer toward new success or accomplishment.
The Levins are interviewing numerous people who are classified in various ways as late bloomers to help them analyze the reasons this happens to people. One thing they are sure of already is that late bloomers enjoy an increased satisfaction as a result of their accomplishments, a "sweeter success."
As I thought about myself in relation to this interesting study, I realized that I am not a conventional model of the "late bloomer." I was highly successful academically in high school, started out well at college, went to live in New Zealand for two years, then came back to finish college only to find that I was on the academic skids. I spent a solid year concentrating on my social life to the exclusion of my academic life. I finally made a comeback after my own "kick in the pants."
I was taking an English literature course at the University of Utah from an interesting but difficult professor. In typical fashion I delayed a major writing assignment so much that I failed to turn it in on time. I came to class on the day it was due but without the assignment. Then I stayed up all night to finish it for our next class meeting. Fatigued but pleased with myself, I handed the paper to the professor, who looked at me cynically and asked, "What's this?" I explained that it was the paper that was due the day before and he immediately handed it back to me, saying simply, "I don't want this!"
I was devastated. I had given up an entire night's sleep and worked my heart out and this was my thanks. It was a colossal "kick in the pants" and it taught me a profound lesson, turning me into a dedicated student literally overnight. It was all uphill after that, and I eventually received three academic degrees.
So I was an early bloomer and then I was a late bloomer. Maybe that makes me a late, late bloomer. Whatever the case, it illustrates as does the Levin study, that there are many people who, at various times in their lives, do not work to demonstrate their full potential. It shows that we could benefit from exercising patience and long suffering with our students and with our children. As Bill Levin says, "You should have the same patience with your child as you would with yourself." Late bloomers often become so excited with their accomplishment of discovery that they go on to become well known or even great in their field of interest, such as Thomas Edison or John F. Kennedy to name only two. Never give up - on your children - or yourself.