Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Dani McFadden
English 100
Out-of-Class Essay
December 2004

An Average Joe

Standard, typical, ordinary. Or maybe, run of the mill, common, universal, mundane, general, or regular. How many different ways are there to say average? In the piece “I Just Wanna Be Average,” Mike Rose writes about one of his less-than-average experiences from school with a classmate named Ken Harvey. Ken wasn’t the best student ever, and he reacted negatively to the pressure placed on him by school authority. In one instance, Ken proved his ability to create memorable situations. Rose writes: “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 effect), ‘I just wanna be average.’ That woke me up. Average?! Who wants to be average? … I thought Ken’s assertion was stupid, and I wrote him off…” (28). After further pondering, Rose reconsidered his first judgment of Ken. Rose may have thought that Ken made an unintelligent comment, or spoke without thinking first. He also might have believed that being average is a bad thing to aspire towards, but I do not.

My own experience of elementary school through high school is probably something like what Ken Harvey was mocking in Rose’s recollection—average, except I enjoyed school. It was my normal every-day life routine. I had no major areas that needed assistance, no learning disabilities. I did well in almost every class: no D’s, no F’s, strictly an honor roll student. I had good friends, a supportive family, and loving boyfriend. I connected with the teachers and staff on a personal level. In high school, I joined clubs, volunteered, stayed after to get help, attended all the school plays, football games, etc. I wasn’t a drugee dropout. I didn’t sneak out of the house in the middle of the night to go to a KISS concert, or ever smoke just to spite my parents. I definitely wasn’t the “Oops, now I have a kid,” kind of girl either. I never drank, or went to loud parties, skipped class to avoid a test, or was the weird girl who came back from spring break with a new body piercing and a rebellious tattoo. 

This is not to say that I was an angel, devoid of human imperfections. I wasn’t the valedictorian, a perfect 4.0 student. I wasn’t the one who always raised her hand in class, the one who always knew the answer—the one who you thought needed to get out more. I wasn’t Miss Peppy. I couldn’t be “cheerleader”, or be on the dance team, and I certainly didn’t have enough spirit to become part of the student body. I wasn’t smart enough to handle all the money as secretary-treasurer, or personable enough to be PR/Historian. I definitely wasn’t going to be class president. The spotlight was not the place to find me.

I was just plain in the middle. Nothing electrifying. No “This just in…” news broadcasts of my accomplishments or failures. I went to school, then work, and eventually home. Wash, rinse, repeat. That’s the way I liked it.

Quite often, I felt as though others tried to make school more significant to me than it was, but school was always just school. Throughout my life, I have always regarded school as an essential tool in getting me where I want to go, but little more. I wonder if it’s acceptable for people to be that way, to be themselves. Or does everyone have to be excited about school?  I can’t recall one terribly important memory, or life-changing experience that school left me with. Because, it is not the only place where children go to become the people they are destined to be. There is more than one way to learn, more than one motivation for learning, and more than one interest in this world. Perhaps, this is why so many struggle. With such a monotonously strict view of what should be taught in school and how it should be taught, it’s hard for those who have very different interests or abilities. Education has one objective, to educate—teachers know that. They would do their very best to educate the world if they could. This is a wonderful fact, to know that there are those out there who care about our education so much. However, there can be a down side to a teacher’s constant push for the best.

I struggle with watching others shunned because they aren’t as fast, or as intelligent as the rest of their classmates. Students aren’t allowed to be happy with who they are at school, even if that’s not perfect. They aren’t recognized for a job well done unless it’s the very best out there. Instead, students are faced early on with harsh criticism if they receive 75% instead of 100%. Should we not congratulate them on their 75% earned and let them decide if they desire to be more than average? Our educational system is designed to only allow a “well done” if the students reach maximum performance in the only areas available to them. There are different areas in which one can succeed in and outside of school, and to believe that school is the only way to intelligently excel in life is not a well founded conclusion. Students, and people in every area of life, should be allowed to be as normal as they want to. If they want to go for the gold, or be the best, good for them.

I believe that students—like Ken Harvey—should not be labeled as dumb, weird, or boring just because they’re happy with who they are. When asked, most teenagers would say they thought of themselves as being normal: not perfect, but not below average either. It’s not the students who want to stand out and shine, or be labeled as a certain kind of person. They’re happy with just being an Average Joe, and that’s how it should be.


Work Cited

Rose, Mike. “I Just Wanna Be Average.” Lives on the Boundary. New York: Penguin,

1989. 18-37.


Copyright 2003
Danielle McFadden


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA