Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Day at the beach

I'm told, Hong Kongers are very purposeful. They're brought up by their parents to know what they want, where they're going, what they need. Employment, security, marriage in your twenties, grand children to steer through English-medium schools.

The key? The thing that is most important to all this future happiness? Academic success.

Depressingly, I think I recognise that mantra from England. School is a long, deliberate slog with rewards that become clear only at the end; learning is hard work and bound to be intentional effort; knowledge can be anchored through testing; exam performance leads surely, and steadily, to future success; your talents will be revealed by a difficult path, so do as you are told, because your parents can see the future and they are wiser than you.

Aren't those messages implied in every item of homework, every scheme of work, every statement of progress? Worse, it all seems to be pushed, like Hong Kong, as early as nursery.

I'd like to think that in England we won't accept the pressure of Hong Kong schools. That we grow a natural resistance to people telling us what to do. Maybe we have enough curmudgeonly, grumpy people to remind us there are other goals in life that give plenty more satisfactions to a person than pieces of paper from an institution (with an invoice attached).

Well, I can talk. While we're passing out the primary stage where I know what I believe - that kids should explore, follow their curiosities, let their natural inquisitiveness and delight in learning take them where want to go - I haven't yet hit the problem of academic success in the secondary years.

Of course I'm not sure. I haven't made up my mind there because I can't. I can urge routes, pass opinion, find courses, try steering and heavy handed pointing. But Shark, Squirrel and Tiger will ultimately decide. Then I'll worry. I'll worry if Shark wants to stack up ten GCSEs and I'll worry if Tiger won't try one. I'll ask, Did we do the right thing? Does it matter? Let's go straight to A levels, then who gives a stuff about a GCSE?

But I'll put off the worry for today. I know I'll come to it in due course. Whatever happens in the future, I can look back over the primary years and think it's been a success.

Anyhow, Shark, Squirrel and Tiger, they've escaped me. Today, they've run off to climb trees, clamber over rocks, play at the reaches of the sand, and splash sea water to the sky.

Catching up with them, I glimpse reddened shoulders and wind waved hair. Tiger's sun tanned face, sprinkled salt and pepper with freckles, runs up to me; her narrow eyes stare defiantly at my camera, then she runs off, defying capture. I watch Squirrel, unaware that I'm there. She's planting rocks, carefully arranging them in determined lines to challenge the sea. Shark lazily floats in the foam, staring at the waves, watching how her toes are licked by water.

I know one thing. I can't be a parent in the style of one who knows best. I don't know what these people will choose, five, ten, fifteen years ahead. I won't know what excites them, what challenges they enjoy, what aspirations they'll grow, what disappointments and triumphs they'll face. And I have no idea what quiet significant lessons they're taking now, on the beach.

Part of me doesn't want to guess. I don't want to plan their lives for them, have them live to a predetermined pattern. I want them to have surprises, make opportunities, create adventure as they go. I want for them one day, maybe years ahead, to say to me, 'Mother, you'll never guess what I'm going to do. But I knew this was what I wanted when I was watching the waves, one day at the beach.'