A Gross Generalisation…

Each Monday I receive my Wallbook Weekly from Chris Lloyd and the folks at What on Earth? I usually skim over it during the first train ride of my commute (there are three each way every day you know) but this week’s I flagged for a more detailed reading.

Why Children Fail.

It was the headline that caught my attention.

We have just emerged from another school year in the UK. One of supposedly higher than ever pass rates and higher still expectations that university should be the chosen path. For many, not offered a place at the instution of higher learning they aspire to, this may be a financial blessing in disguise as the inevitable outcry over increasing university fees – to be or not be – sallies forth once again.

So what will these bright young things do with themselves? And how will parents help them to navigate the uncharted waters of the fact that sometimes life isn’t fair and you can’t always get what you want?

It’s a provocative point Chris makes in his article suggesting that there is an unconscious expectation for the education system to be entirely responsible for educating while in fact the most deep-seated behavioural learnings for young children are acquired in the home.

“What we are witnessing are the catastrophic consequences of the misplaced impression, ubiquitous today, that teachers, schools and the state (with all its laborious examination regimes) are what really matter when it comes to the education of young people…as any adult who takes an active role in the upbringing of their offspring knows, the ultimate teachers for any youngster aged between 5 and 12 are their parents. 
Chris Lloyd, Wallbook Weekly, 12th September 2011

Yes absolutely, I think, casting my mind back to a childhood filled with chores to do, ‘best behaviour’ to master and honesty generally being the best policy – if I’m going to be found out (and I ALWAYS was) best to ‘fess up and get it over and done with.

Then I am reminded of a debate recently held over the lunch table at work, bemoaning firstly the ‘nanny state’ which does not ‘allow’ parents to discipline their children as they see fit and secondly, the vociferousness of the young in proclaiming their right to be heard/have opportunities/be paid for etc which does not extend to ‘washing the dishes’ and contributing as part of a (family) community.

And in catching up with a friend this week, we remarked what a sad indictment it was to have a colleague of his (who works with teens) comment on what a great job he and his wife had done – because his kids were not involved with drugs.

Of course this is a gross generalisation. Or is it? Shouldn’t we aspire to greater things than this – and I’m not referring to the ‘trappings’ either?

I’ve just finished re-reading Little Women and if I ignore the ‘God’ stuff (apologies if you are religiously minded but it just doesn’t do it for me), the lessons are all there – family, humility, honesty, pride in one’s work. The ‘just getting on with life’, the ‘picking yourself up’, the ‘try and try again until you succeed’. You know, those life lessons that, with not much ‘life’ under your belt, you need your parents to guide you (whether you like it or not). Chris Lloyd’s’ Ministry of Home might not be too far-fetched an idea.

So in the midst of this maelstrom, I must admit to feeling a little relieved. Is it wrong of me to say that my no-children policy seems to be the best decision I ever made?

What do you think?

6 thoughts on “A Gross Generalisation…

  1. Thanks Jane. I was fortunate to have not only my parents but one set of grandparents who lived close by as well as friends I grew up with until I was 10 next door and down the street so the influence of behaving myself in other people's homes was very strong. One thing that does confound me a little bit now though – is it still rude to ask for the last biscuit/sausage/piece of cake/chocolate?

    As I've grown up and worked with many men, it can be a bit of a muddle if the subtleties of the rules you learnt as a child leave you at cross purposes. I often get caught out at work when we are entertaining guests: I think I should wait for them to start as our guests but invariably they are waiting for me (usually being the only female) so we all wait for each other for a while.

    Manners can be so confusing!

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  2. Conventional theories on raising kids go against most of my instincts. Children are genetically programmed to be self absorbed and selfish to survive, that's why they need parents to teach them morals, ethics, tolerance and caring about others. School is for academic learning, home is where you learn about life.
    I'm a big believer in it 'takes a village to raise a child'. Children learn about community, getting along with others. It provides them with a solid framework to develop as individuals. Rules give kids something to kick against, no rules and we do all our kids a great disservice. They never have an opportunity to value themselves.
    Great article Kym

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  3. Charlie, the whole 'social experiment' idea rings very true but I think that's more the way of life generally.

    And given your predeliction for writing, I can't believe you were almost tempted into teaching Maths!

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  4. The last twenty years seems to have taken us into new territory. Though I suppose the sixties marked the big change in attitudes, both towards children and each other in general. Bit of a cliche, but the whole principle of respect has been hijacked and changed.

    I think Stephen Fry said something like, it's a big social experiment and when we know the outcome it's too late.

    One things for certain, being a teacher must be a lot more difficult than it was 30 years ago. I very nearly became a Maths teacher, I'm glad I didn't.

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  5. Thanks for your thoughts Linda.

    I like to think that I've been well-brought-up and it's actually a quality I admire most (or near the top of the list anyway) in others. My thinking is that there's no right answer as such but we constantly seek the black and white in life so anything that falls short – with kids in particular – occurs as not getting it 'right' and therefore, wrong.

    And there's that lesson again – try and try again. Didn't Edison say he had hundreds of 'failures' before he cracked the light bulb?

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  6. Of course it isn't wrong of you to have a 'no child' policy. That's the beauty of life in this century: choice, options, personal decisions.

    As for the article, I agree parents play a large role (or ought to), especially if they actually demonstrate an interest in continual learning rather than preaching at their children.

    I definitely don't believe in doing everything for your children (or living through them) – how are they going to learn to figure things out, stretch and grow if you do? It's a fine line between encouraging, providing reasonable support, helping them to dust themselves off, etc. Do we get it right? Not often. That's why one of the most important lessons we can teach our children (and ourselves) is to keep trying.

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