Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Parents, schools and To Kill A Mockingbird

After a little bit of wheedling, I managed to talk hubby J into reading Harper Lee's book. "It's an American classic," I told him, although I also warned him that there would be expressions and nouns he wouldn't know the meaning of, specific as them seemed to be to 1930s Alabama.

J is more than halfway through the book now and commented to me over breakfast that the state of education hasn't seemed to have changed much in the United States.

"State of education?" I asked.

"Yes. I see there is still a model of trying out various 'modern' techniques on children, with censure for those children, like Scout, who don't comply with the new method of doing things. After all, it's obvious that Scout's language abilities exceed that of her peers. And yet she is being punished for it."

This is a topic near and dear to our hearts and the reason we took the non-trivial decision to homeschool our children for now. We know all about the odd child out being picked upon by their educators. We couldn't escape it in Australia and the pattern has now repeated itself in Malaysia.

The Wast, being asked to build a model of where he'd like to live, was criticised by his teacher when he built and furnished a small cardboard warehouse. He was told he wasn't being "creative" and "it's complicated" to build a home. Hmmmmm, considering that, in his ten years, The Wast has moved across four countries and three continents and watched as we set up at least one home in each of those countries, I considered the comment to be, shall we say, less then helpful.

Telling his Living Skills teacher that he did some cooking at home earnt him laughs from his teacher, joined by the rest of the class. He obtained the sobriquet of "Nonsense Boy" as a result. Making a remark that indicated that he disagreed with his Moral Education teacher, the close-minded and vengeful Miss Susann, resulted in a two-stroke caning.

While what Scout endured was benign in comparison, her run-ins with her teacher got both J and I thinking about attitudes towards children. Who does it benefit to laugh at our children or treat them with disrespect? Does it benefit the children? Or is it for the sole purpose of mollifying adult insecurities? And what does that say about societies where such adult insecurities take precedence over a child's way of thinking?

Both J and I admire Atticus Finch but what we admire about him is not so much that he stands up for the rights of others in public. A lot of people do that and, to us, that is not the strength of To Kill A Mockingbird. To us, the one pure strength of Atticus Finch is that he carries that attitude with him even within his own home, where there's nobody there to impress. He treats his children as he would like to be treated, talking and listening to them with respect and love, and that's why he tops our list of Parent Role Models. Do you have any from your favourite books that you'd like to name?


http://abebedorespgondufo.blogs.sapo.pt/ said...

Very good blog.

Charles Gramlich said...

It is is a shame how often a child's thoughts and imagination are belittled. It's some kind of inferority issue by adults who see kids as safe targets for their own self loathing.

Liane Spicer said...

Ah, Mockingbird, one of my all-time favourites. Can't think of anyone who comes even close to Atticus, though.

When my niece was in kindergarten she coloured a cat blue. The teacher scolded her for getting the 'art' wrong, and asked her if she'd ever seen a blue cat. The child was too terrified to answer that yes, she'd seen one in her auntie's encyclopedia, called a Russian Blue, at that.

Oh, the stories I could tell - like the ones about my son being ridiculed for calling birds by their correct names. Charles hit it right on the button. How dare a child be better informed or better spoken than a teacher? *eye roll*

I swore, based on my experience in that jungle called primary school, that I'd home school my children. Turned out I couldn't afford to. Good on you and J for taking this initiative although I'll say this: the crap they're exposed to in school prepares them well for the crap they'll meet later on.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I only got introduced to "To Kill a Mockingbird" as an adult and it is now one of my alltime favorite books.

Like you, I've had some issues with my child's school, I just can't afford to homeschool.
When my daughter entered kindergarten reading, she communicated to me that she was not allowed to read in class because she was not supposed to show off.

It took two years of school for her to conform to rules that are meant to stifle creativity. So I try to support her creative habits at home even when it's just plain out weird.

Kaz Augustin said...

Exactly, Charles!

Liane and Jewel, I'm so sorry to hear that. Because J and I have often been called "difficult", "too demanding" and "too intense", I thought it was only us who had such problems. And we're extremely lucky to be where we are in place and circumstance; I'm well aware of that. Thanks for your comments.

KeVin K. said...

In my area homeschooling is usually the refuge of ultra-fundamentalists who regard concepts like critical thinking as demonic. When I hear "homeschooled" I expect a jingoistic automaton devoid of imagination or social skills. Probably bound for Liberty or Bob Jones universities.
I have been pleasantly surprised over the years by the bright and well-rounded exceptions I've met.

I was a public school teacher for many years. As an instructor I gravitated toward atypical learners. But while the creative and "gifted" children intrigued me, I realized the "at risk" children needed me more. I became part of an outreach program aimed at keeping children from the state housing projects in school and for a decade taught those labeled with conduct disorders and emotional handicaps.

Based on my insider's view of the public school system -- its philosophy and attitudes -- Valerie and I lived on beans and rice to send our children to academically and intellectually challenging private schools. (Like most private schools in the south, Cape Fear Academy began as a white-only refuge from desegregation, but grew into one of the best schools in NC.) We were not alone in choosing this option. Among the Porsches and BMWs lined up to retrieve children at the end of school each day my antique Ford beetle was joined by aging Chevies and well-worn minivans driven by parents who had made the same decision.
Our children suffered social pressures. Our youngest went through her senior year without a single date, being invited to a party, or going to the prom. (It will surprise no one that some of my attitudes toward the rich stem from the way the privileged scions of unearned wealth treated my children.) But those who endured came through focused and confident in themselves and their abilities. (Our youngest has just started her second year on academic scholarship at William & Mary.)

Kaz Augustin said...

Yes KeVin, I feel like prefacing my choice to everyone by saying, "I homeschool BUT I'm not one of those religious psychos!" LOL

As a socialist, I'm a public-school fan (but not in America ;) ). The kids were in public schools in Singapore and it was excellent, but that option wasn't available in Malaysia, where the default teaching language is Malay. The school I mention is the most expensive, private school in Johor. Doesn't mean a thing. It's all down to the teachers.