Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Time for a bit of a rant...

During my always-fun Tube ride home today, I found myself standing beside a little boy who was wearing a school uniform and looked about 10 years old. He was carrying a small blue book that his father took out of his hands and started asking him questions from what was written on its pages - that after awhile sounded like Latin conjugations.

So what was a little boy doing reciting Latin on an Underground train two hours after the school day has ended?

I can guess...

---backtrack to our third week in England---

Jeremy and I were watching TV in our temporary flat one night. There was a program detailing the work that several children and their families were doing to get their kids into the "proper" schools here in England.

Not the public schools - the privately funded ones. These schools have entrance / admission examinations that kids spend up to 4 months studying for. These exams are written in 3 hour blocks in testing rooms that closely resemble rooms I've written university exams in...

I got pretty pissed off watching the show, which showed some parents putting extreme amounts of pressure on their children to get into these schools. To quote one child during their interview:

"if I don't get into this school - my whole life is pretty much screwed up".

That little girl was 7 years old.

Under what circumstance should a 7 year old child (still so much a baby) feel like something they do will affect the entire rest of their life??? It's maddening to think about the things that her parents must have been saying to her that created this belief in "succced or else". It was so sad.

The efforts of an immigrant family to get their son into their school of choice chronicled 4 months of studying 2-3 hours per NIGHT, no playtime or downtime at all, and dreams of going bike riding "in a few weeks once the tests are over". This little boy wistfully mentioned missing spending time with his friends, but he too was concerned about "messing up his life".

Jeremy made me change the channel - I was furious.

---return to present day---

When I say that little kid on the train being quizzed on Latin verbs that I didn't understand, the memory of that show came rushing back.

I don't know if he was studying for entrance into one of those schools, but I'd be willing to be money that he was...

Teachers in Ontario (and I'm sure many other places in North America) often complain about all of the pressure we're putting on children, and have personally witnessed the (somewhat unreasonable) expansion of our curriculum to include more and more work for students to complete each year. Work that used to be done in grade 5 is now part of grade 3 curriculum. Teachers must find a way to cram a LOT of curriculum expecations into one year of schooling, in hopes that every student will be able to "get it" as soon as possible so they can move on.

Being unfamiliar with the private school system, I was fortunate to only experience the stress of trying to get into The School when applying for university, my Master's in Psychology (never did get into that), and then Teacher's College. It was extremely stressful, requiring completion of a test called the GRE (hated every second of studying / writing that damn test) and waiting for several months to hear about my fate.

I can't understand putting a CHILD through this. It doesn't make sense. They don't have the defense mechanisms or stress management skills to handle worrying for months about getting into The School or worse, disappointing their parents. These kids will likely benefit from learning to take responsibility for their futures, but enough is enough. They need time to play outside with their friends and be kids.

And every more importantly - if they don't succeed - they need their parents to be supportive, comfort them, and make sure that they know without a doubt that they didn't let them down. Of the 6 families profiled in the show we saw, 3 sets of parents failed to do this, leaving their child looked despondent and miserable. One kid mentioned having 11 sets of examinations to complete before they could have a break (a set could be up to 4 three hour tests on various topics, usually with an essay portion).

The parents of the children who got into The Schools looked so proud, often mentioned rewards, dinners out, and major celebrations with the entire family. The kids looked proud and happy with themselves and much more confident that most grown-ups I know. They were / are the lucky ones - they didn't "disappoint anybody" or "ruin their lives".

The ones who didn't get in?

They were the reason Jeremy made me switch channels.

The parents were terrible. Not once did I hear the phrase my own parents said so many times in the course of my childhood (and even now), "As long as you tried your best - we're proud of you no matter what".

One parent actually commented "Your best isn't enough unless it's better than everybody else's best - you have to try harder than everyone"


I hope that kid on the train just really wanted to learn Latin.

Each day teachers face classrooms full of young people who want so much to learn and succeed in life. These kids need the support of their teachers and parents to help them develop self-esteem and self-confidence so they will grow up strong and confident that their dreams actually are within reach. Regardless of what school they attend.

To any parents reading this - please tell your children how proud you are of them and that their personal best IS the best. Help them to always know that you're in their corner and that when they fail in life (cause at some point, we all do) - you will be there for them. Because no child should ever feel like they have failed in the eyes of their parents.

"And will you succeed?
Yes - 99 3/4 percent guaranteed!"

- dr. suess (Oh The Places You Will Go)

There aren't any guarantees in this life. The only thing we can do is help the children of this world to grow up and do the best they can... because when it's all said and done that's all we can ask of anybody.


  • At 7:09 PM, Blogger Beechball * said…

    I couldn't agree with you more!

  • At 12:20 AM, Anonymous MOM said…

    Again we think so much alike. When I was studying for my primary specialist in 1986 I had to choose an article to comment on. The one I chose was called, "The Super KId Syndrome" and basically it was about the pressure parents put on kids to be not only involved in multiple extra-curricular activities but to strive to be the best at everything they try. The kids had literally no time for "free play" Even though one of the main philosophies pertaining to kindergarten in the 80's and 90's stressed the importance of learning through play more acedemic activities are squeezing free play out. Only time will resolve this. To the parents who put this pressure on their kids remember to love your child now. To the acedemic institutions who plan these barbaric tests, smarten up. Our future is better off with well rounded citizens.


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