My middle daughter came home with her school report yesterday. It was not the finest and the best. We have had to talk about it.
I do not want all my children to be brain of Britain. I whole heartedly believe that skills and talents come in all shapes and sizes, many of which are not catered for by the current, UK school system. My daughter is a gifted comedienne, a sublime raconteur, a hugely talented singer and has the tenacity and survival instincts of a sewer rat. She rarely backs down from an argument, and despite her diminutive size I would bet on her in any fight you care to come up with.
She is utterly brilliant in so many ways that a grade on a school report will never be able to capture her, or indeed, pin her down.
Having said that, I do believe that it is important to work hard at school, whether you’re a fan or not. I do believe it is important to grasp the fundmental point of literacy and numeracy, not because I give a rat’s ass what your OFSTED score is or whether you get glowing SAT results, but because these things are really bloody handy in daily life. They stop you doing things like being robbed blind, or accidentally signing up for the army for twenty years when you thought you were sponsoring a small child in Uganda.
I am also a great believer in the importance of learning how to learn, and how to question things, and school is a good training ground for that, whether you buy into what they teach or not.
I do think it is important to understand that it does not matter how talented you are at something, the difference between success and failure, except in those rare occasions where luck steps in, is almost entirely down to hard work.
I do think it is important that you learn to accept that sometimes you mess up, and that if you take responsibility for it instead of telling everyone who cares to listen that it isn’t your fault, that you change things. If you do not take ownership, if you always fob the blame off on others, you have no power in your own life, and I do not want my children to be powerless. I want them to own their power, and use it to change things for themselves. I do not want them to spend their lives being hostages to the whims of other people.
We had that conversation last night after there was a lot of tearful blame shifting and impassioned cries of ‘I did my best.’ and ‘It’s not my fault.’
It was hard to explain to her that the best people, the cleverest people, the wisest people, know that their best can always be bettered. This is what makes them clever and wise.
It was hard to explain to her that I don’t care if she doesn’t know the dates of the Great Fire of London, what I want her to learn is to take responsibility for her stuff, and decide what she wants to do and do it.
It was hard to explain to her that I was not angry with her because her grades weren’t great. I was angry when she gave up so easily, when she slid the blame onto everyone else, when she refused to accept that she might be able to take control of things herself.
I was sad that she is such a powerful, splendid human being and that she was willing to give that power and splendour away for an easy life and because she is frightened of being wrong, and because she hates feeling that she is being blamed for things.
I was sad that I struggled to show her that it is ok to mess up, that it is ok to fail, that it is ok to do badly. It is not ok to shrug it off. It is not ok to refuse to learn anything from it.
I think we got there in the end, after we had both upset each other enormously.
I apologised for being clumsy. I apologised for losing my temper. I apologised for not being able to explain myself properly. I hope she could see I was trying to live what I was trying to explain.
I doubt it. She’s only twelve, and like her mother she is as stubborn as a mule.
I shall keep trying though.
Maybe I should show her this letter from David Cameron to his local council that George Monbiot has written about in today’s Guardian?
In it, Cameron complains that they are cutting front line services in the county that directly affect the welfare of residents. He is shocked. It is not good enough, and what are they going to do about it?
Now there’s a classic example of someone who has let the blame for his own actions slide greasily from his shoulders. He hasn’t even got the excuse of being twelve.