Being an Asian mother is sometimes a bore. One is brought up to think of education as the be all and end all. In this education straitjacket one must slavishly follow the national curriculum and anything else that the educational establishment throws at you. Horror of horrors if one dares to question any iota of the system. Horror will visit upon one in the shape of Asian disdain (scarier than Damian from the Omen).
Here is a practical example, my daughter is studying Religious Studies(RS) as part of her AS cohort of subjects. My mother was extremely disapproving over this because she thought RS was a rather ‘soft’ subject and not academic enough. Never mind that my mother has no idea who Bertrand Russell is. In the Asian quest for academic excellence only ‘hard’ subjects are worthy, e.g maths, physics.
In fact every time my daughter talks about reading History or Classics at university I have to mentally steel myself against shouting “What will people think?” My mother and our numerous relatives (large Asian family stereotype here) would probably say something along the lines of “there is no part of the world that has not been discovered so what is the point?” or, even worse, “go to the museum and learn about all that Greek stuff there not at university”.
Every exam and every test has to be taken with a high degree of solemnity that even Catholics can not muster when a Pope dies. If there is no stress and anxiety involved then it’s not education.
Don’t get me wrong. I am hugely ambitious for my daughter. The name of this blog was ‘Ambitiousmamas’ but hardly anyone was able to grasp the concept of a mother being ambitious for her child. I got fed up of explaining and changed it to ‘Feminist Mama’ (Google blogger does not let you change the URL). I do push my daughter to get A grades. I constantly drum it into her that good results is key to having choices in life later. I believe in social mobility though I don’t know why given the ever growing gap of inequality. I expect her to get As most if not all of the time.
All this comes with a big BUT though which is that my definition of education extends beyond the curriculum and SATS and other exams. Academic brilliance comes from a wide pool of knowledge. That wide pool of knowledge must have the inherent qualities of an academic rigour and be multi-disciplinary. I doubt that concentrating a young child’s mind and efforts in a narrow and concerted way will benefit that child in the long-term.
A recent poll on the well being of 8 year olds showed that England ranked 13th out of 16 countries. According to Professor Bradshaw, professor of social policy at the University of York, children were unhappy about how they looked, body image, poor relationships with their teaches and being dissatisfied with their performance in school, among other factors.
These findings are extremely familiar to me. I was brought up in Asia where children like me were only judged on one thing – A grades. They were made to feel stupid if they didn’t achieve and these supposedly poor performers were humiliated and stigmatised. There was no recognition that some children had talents in other spheres outside of the core subjects i.e maths and sciences.
It is for all these reasons that I admire the parents who are pulling their children out of school. These are parents who recognise that education milestones can be millstones. It takes some courage to try and buck the system. I can honestly say that I would not have had the nerve to do the same.