As a child, I remember being encouraged to stay in the academic race by my mom, mostly. The rest of the family was kind of unconcerned about it. My father, who would have been hard-pressed to know which standard I’m in, rarely bothered with my progress, or progress card. I had to bother him, rather, when the progress card had to be returned to the school signed by a parent — which, an unwritten law seemed to imply, meant father. The irony of my father — who never had any scholastic ambitions himself, or from both his kids — having to sign the card that meant hardly anything to him was lost on me then. But then, at least that unwritten law meant my father had to glance at the report card every once in a while, and nod “good” or “nice” or “well done”. The thing is my sister and I rarely gave him any cause of concern, being there in the top whatever percentage of class that used to be considered adequate.
But for my mother, who had been a good student in her time, and had missed opportunities by a narrow margin, adequate wasn’t a word that meant much. And for years, she would tutor me and my sister. And in return, she expected that we were up there, on the podium, so to speak. The top position, that only one in the class can have. My sister used to oblige more often than not. I stuck to number two, till my mother persisted with the “studies” — which would probably have been forever, if not for my sudden realization that I didn’t really need anyone to “prepare” me for exams, and my new-found belligerence to say that out loud and clear. The confidence was of course misplaced, as I realized soon after pretty much shutting her out of my studies. For my rank kept falling down and down, although still well within the adequate range. But I didn’t care. I felt free, and in control of my own life. That was before I knew about existentialism, of course.
Today, with a 5 year old kid, the questions that I could answer for myself when the time came seem so much more difficult to answer as a parent. Although it’s still early days, but when I look at the landscape, it scares the shit out of me. I see people whom I knew as basically sane beings go pretty much insane with the kids education thingy. I see schools going crazy, in turn driving parents crazy, who are in turn accused of forcing schools to go crazy in the first place. It’s like sanity has just flushed its identity papers down some plane toilet and taken a refuge info some godforsaken country with no name. Because it’s hard to find her anymore in day to day dealings where kids are involved.
When I try to look at the data from my past, that podium which my mom coveted so much for her kids, seems such an absolutely useless predictor of success, even the ordinary, practical, professional success — the criteria that most middle class parents had in mind when they pushed their children that little harder. I’d be very curious to know if that pattern holds up in larger data sets, but I suspect it would, for scholastic success demanded so little imagination, out-of-box thinking, even reasoning or logical abilities, that it would be a miracle if it were to have a strong relation to success later in the life (and I’m not even talking of countless other criteria to measure success). There may be a possible benefit of the so called scholar kids having a better belief in themselves due to early successes, but even that is debatable, as that can be a two edged sword. And the immense stress some of them have to go through to basically just follow patterns set by somebody, has its own cost.
And yet the frenzy all around is unnerving. Plus it will, in all probability, only get worse. To bet one’s child’s future over an alternative worldview requires a lot more guts than to bet one’s own future. What if First, Second, and Third are more than street names, after all? Will my child forgive me for giving him a stratagem that’s at best escapist? Will I?