1) Fear of comeback: “What do you know? You have never taught, you don’t work in education, you don’t understand.”
2) Fear of the dreaded grammatical or spelling error, which will be pounced upon by the grammar police, and needless to say, this will render your view invalid.
3) Fear from the lack of familiarity with “terminology.” I have lost count of how many acronyms I have had to google since studying educational blogs/Twitter.
4) Fear of being thrown in to the “bad” parent bucket because of your views and, in my opinion, this is the worst fear.
I decided that I am old enough, wise enough and tough enough, to overcome any of these fears. So here goes:
Whilst encouraging my child to study for his GCSEs last year, I mentioned that, at the school meeting they had suggested revision timetables. I received a response, “Mum, you don’t understand – all the school are bothered about is their targets.”
I looked back to my own days, of O level revision. I was conscientious, I made my own timetable. I did not always stick to it, but I made the effort. That was my choice. It was not inflicted on me by my parents – though they always encouraged me to do well. I certainly had no concept of my school achieving “targets” and me being responsible for that. Don’t get me wrong, I have no complaint with my son’s school, just the “system”
My own son is very capable, but should I inflict something on him he is not happy with? Should I force the issue? Am I letting him down if I don’t go through the agony of the arguments over it? I concluded that, for our family and for my child, the best option was to explain the fact that you have to put effort in to life and that I did not want him to have any regrets in later life.
He never did do a timetable and, in my opinion, did far less revision than he should have done. He passed all his subjects. Could he have done better? Yes. How will this impact his life? Well, I guess, unless he has his mind set on Oxford / Cambridge or some other top university then I don’t suppose it will. I hear cries of “this is typical of the low aspiration culture.” I guess that is down to what you value in life.
I don’t judge success on earning a high income. I have great admiration for those who do achieve, who are intensely intelligent and contribute to medical, scientific, industrial research etc. etc. and for those who are innovative and talented. I am astounded by the knowledge and talents that people demonstrate. I am impressed by their dedication to their work and I don’t begrudge anybody the lifestyle that they have worked so hard for.
What I do object to is misrepresenting reality. We can not all be medical surgeons, or research scientists, I think it would be morally wrong for me to suggest to my son that he could be. Parents do know their children. It is also rare that a child’s extraordinary talents go unnoticed at school, so if my child was destined to be an astronaut, or spectacular in any particular subject, I trust both myself and the school to have identified this.
To me, it is not about low aspirations; it is about accepting the person that they are. Making them feel good about the things that they can do, rather than pretending they can be something that they can not. My son’s friend really struggled with his maths. There were tears of pride from myself and his mum, when the Xbox stopped saying “Search and Destroy” and became a tool for maths revision. This demonstrates qualities in my son that I am intensely proud of, qualities I have taught him to aspire to. My son’s friend got his C. It was a fantastic achievement. He has since gone to College on a plumbing course where he is flourishing and excelling.
I believe children are made to feel failures academically, when it may be beyond their control. Try to teach me rotation on triangles now - and I would still fail some 30 years on. I liken it to trying to teach someone who cannot play football, to kick a ball proficiently, and, if by Year 11 they can not get Grade C, then, they have failed. It would be torture. Some people are highly intellectual - put a football in front of them and, sorry, it just will not happen. How cruel would it be to make them endure a sense of failure for something out of their control?
Can we go back to accepting that children are different, that talents lie in all areas, that not everybody wants to, or needs to attend, or, indeed is appropriate for universities and, if you are not, you are just as capable of contributing to society as those that do go?
Window cleaners, dustbin men, the van drivers delivering my parcels and the staff serving in Asda are all important and valuable members of society. Why do we feel the need to make people feel they are” better” because they “earn” more, or are “cleverer”. Can we not breed a culture where we have respect for all and stop making children feel like failures, before they have even started in life?
Finally, a quote, from my father’s school report “This boy seems satisfies to obtain the decent obscurity of mediocrity” – Hmm. He did okay, thanks. He has now sadly passed away. He contributed considerably - in more ways then one. He became a professional, self-employed businessman, refusing, at times, to charge the “going rate” to small clients for his services. He was the founder member of a successful charitable organisation in his area. He was absolutely committed to that charity and gave his all. He was also a school governor at both primary and secondary schools in the community. If his life sums up the “decent obscurity of mediocrity”, then I am comfortable with that for both myself and for my child. If this makes me an “enemy of promise” then I can live with that too.