Smoke and mirrors in school-based education

Somebody commenting here suggested yesterday that I am prone to ‘bashing autonomous education’; a preposterous notion! To even things up a bit, we shall today look at the phenomenon of parents working away hard at their children’s school education and then forgetting that they have done so. As Old Mum correctly divined, the aim of this stratagem, both for schooling and home educating parents, is to make their children look more clever than is actually the case.

We looked yesterday at a couple of home educators who made great efforts in getting their children to read or take the necessary qualifications to get a place at college and then forgot what they had done. This kind of thing is by no means exclusive to home education; although there are certainly some stunning examples in that field. As a matter of fact, most of the parents I have known who have engaged in these games have had children at school. Before we look at how this works for those who are not home educating, I want to look at the motive for these deceptions. I say deceptions, but in many of the cases which I have known, the parents had actually managed to take themselves in as well; in fact they had come to believe their own myths! I rather suspect that the parents at whom we looked yesterday fall into this category and were not setting out deliberately to deceive others.

So what is the motive behind all this? It is pretty simple. Look at my own activities. When my daughter was two and a half and reading English fluently, I decided to teach her to read Chinese. This was very successful and she was making great progress until my wife put her foot down. Now as this stands, it is not much of a story. It simply shows the child’s father in a poor light as an insanely pushy parent. Let us imagine though that I made the same claim that the parent in yesterday’s post made to a newspaper about the kid reading English. Suppose that I told people that my daughter had learned Chinese herself; just picked it up, without any help from me at the age of two. You see the difference? This is much better; I have been transformed from a pushy parent into the father of a genius. A great improvement indeed! Telling people that we as parents have done little to encourage and help our children makes their achievements look much more impressive. They become very bright kids and we can portray ourselves as laid back parents without a pushy or ambitious bone in our bodies.

In the last few years, my wife and I have seen the children of friends get places at good universities after passing tough, academic A levels with As and A*s. Every one of their parents has claimed that the children didn’t study hard or revise, as well as making out that they themselves never bothered much about their children’s education; just leaving them to it. This is simply another version of the autonomous educating gag. What is astounding is that these people seem genuinely to have forgotten all that they did to get their kids to this point. The best local school is the Davenant Foundation. To get in, you need a ten year record of church attendance. Some of these parents spent a whole decade feigning belief in the Deity in order to get their kids to this school! How’s that for dedication, ten years pretending to be religious and all for the sake of your kid’s schooling? Once there, they paid for tutors to push the children academically, shouted and argued with the children to make sure that they took the right options at GCSE and A level and arranged a hundred different leisure activities and hobbies; to all of which they drove their children. In most cases, it would have been surprising had the kid not done well at A level.

Despite all this, the parents pretend to have done little or nothing to help their children’s studies. They tell everybody that their son or daughter never did any homework, didn’t pick up a book until a week before the exam and so on. This makes their children’s A level results look all the better, which is the aim of the gambit. Returning to home educators, we saw a marvellous example of this last year when a parent whose two children are famous for being autonomously educated claimed that her daughter had passed a science GCSE with flying colours, despite never having studied the subject and just flicking through the textbook a fortnight before the examination took place!

Speaking for myself, I have not the least objection to people claiming that their children gained GCSEs or A levels without any input from them, any more than I disapprove of parents making out that their children taught themselves to read. It is human nature to wish to present both your children and yourself in the best possible light. These tactics have the dual effect of both making you look like a relaxed and confident parent, while at the same time casting your kids in the role of infant prodigies. It’s a great game to play, as long as you don’t lose your sense of humour and start getting tetchy when others take your claims with a pinch of salt.


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