First Is Just the Name of the Street


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? 




3 thoughts on “First Is Just the Name of the Street

  1. May Be says:

    Good point Amit. But I think, on a larger base, good academic track record does ensure, if not anything, at the least, professional success. I was ‘average’ in academics, say about rank 20-25 in a class of 50. I had reading issues, writing issues, very bad academic memory, so much so my mom used to help me study till grade 10. As the number of subjects started dwindling from grade 11 onwards, it did help me get rid of subjects that I hated, and got me a little bit more focused, and grades improved. That still did not help me get into an engineering college, and had to do the dreaded, seemingly useless, B.Sc. That leaves you with no other option but to get a government job.

    I have been pretty successful in my professional life. I have worked in senior technical roles, to heading global businesses in very large companies, without an engineering or a management degree. But even today, I would not sum up the courage to advice anyone to be OK with a weak academic record. When I look around, I see CEO’s and entrepreneurs who are engineers from top notch colleges, or with management degrees, all around me, Then I have a feeling that, may be, I am more of an exception than a rule.

    When I look back, I see a few qualities that ‘may’ have helped me to be where I am. The strongest perhaps is being a rebel; I would do what ordinarily will get you embarrassed and a marked man in school. Like taking part in a dance or a singing competition, when you don’t have an iota of a clue or skill in either of them. Or reach for the ‘high school’ drama auditions when you are in 5th grade. (I still have a good laugh, when I realize how idiotic is was then). I traveled 50 kms to appear for the regional (first) round of the Math Olympiads, because I wanted to. I took part in a table tennis tournament, in 6th grade, without knowing any rules, nor having my own racquet. The point being, I failed again and again for years/decades, but the experience I collected from each of these many foolish endeavours, were worth their weight in gold. Writing about many other odd qualities I had, may make this reply bigger than your original post, so will save it for some other time.

    The key question is whether I would be OK, like my parents, if my kids have an academic record as average as I had in school? The short answer is yes, but then, I would also want them to carry those mutations which I had, and if not, I want to ‘sign’ on some good grades on their report card.

  2. uneducated says:

    Impressed with the simplicity you put your thoughts into words. And yes it scares the shit out of me too for my 5 year old. Our education systems is nothing more than converting our kids into tamed pets for the world circus and the self proclaimed successful professionals are perhaps just the best performing circus animals. Perhaps the only option we have is to either choose the circus or the zoo for our kids.

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