We are fast approaching the time of year when exam results are going to be received either with joy or despair. This assumes that these few weeks in summer will determine success or failure for the next fifty years.
Sadly, the people that wait for these results are not the those taking the examinations, but parents, other relatives, and teachers. So, one must question why so much stress, pressure and expectation is put on the results of a few hours of solving problems or writing essays.
Is it because of the need of parents to have bragging rights over their friends? Is it because they see it as a measure of their success as parents or teachers? Is it simply because they do not understand that there isn’t just one route to success and happiness? Is it because they are too busy deciding what is best for their offspring to find out what they really want, or is it that they do not know how to find out what they want?
I often hear parents talking about becoming a taxi service as they take their children to clubs and events that parents believe will be good for them in later life, because that is what they did. The parents even moan about the monetary cost as well as the drain on their time. But did they ever ask their children if it was what the child wanted?
How many fathers have attempted to relive their childhood on the touchline of the son’s football team? How many mothers have dragged their daughters along to dancing classes?
If you were to tell a parent that they did not know their child, they would round on you immediately. But if you asked them what their child most liked to do, they will usually respond with something that the parent think is good for them.
With the advent of the toy superstore, it has become so easy to buy a toy to keep children occupied, particularly as the long summer breaks are around the corner. But where are the challenges of making things themselves with boxes, paints, glue, insides of toilet rolls and so on? Do you even have a box of creative junk let alone the challenges to give your children to make with the contents?
The worst example of parent driven exam results came in my early days as a teacher. At a parents’ evening I was extolling the performance of the man’s son. “You must be joking,” he replied. I showed him the marks for the child’s homework to confirm my opinion. “Oh, that,” he responded, “I do that, so he stays in the top stream!”
Over the next few weeks, I will be looking at ways in which education can help to encourage children to follow their own paths, to realise that life is not a straight line, but a series of dips and bends, that one wrong turn doesn’t mean you will not get to the party in the end, and that life is their choice not that of teachers, parents or anyone else.
But in the meantime, as results approach, let the young people remember the story of John Lennon. When he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he replied, “happy”. His teacher told him he didn’t understand the assignment. John Lennon replied that the teacher didn’t understand life.
And if the results are not what your family or teachers want, console yourself with the words from the Broadway musical “seesaw.”
It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.
It’s not how you go, it’s how you land.
A hundred to one shot, they call him a klutz
Can out-run the favorite, all he needs is the guts.
Your final return will not diminish
And you can be the cream of the crop;
It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,
And you’re gonna finish on top.