And then something scary happened. My daughter and I noticed a woman talking VERY loudly on her mobile phone. She was there with her 7-8 year-old son who had just finished a game of Australian Rules football on an adjoining oval. It was one of those conversations that was difficult not to hear, or not to listen to, as painful as it was. I kept wondering (as did my daughter), is this lady serious? We eventually left the sandpit just near where she was sitting, led by the children to the next fun 'station'! But each time we came back near the sandpit, she seemed to be still talking loudly to the same person about the same content, and her son was still playing by himself. I'd estimate that her phone conversation lasted for over 30 minutes, most of the time they were at the park. The following is the mum's side of the conversation. It reflects the rough record of the encounter hastily written down later on my iPhone. The conversation of course is not continuous, but it would seem that it was rather repetitive and cyclical, so it seems almost linear:
"I'm worried about his school work."
"He's under-performing, because he's deliberately not putting in the effort because he's scared he's going to lose."
"He got 73% in maths, but that was the bottom 20 in year so he got a pass..."
"It's hard for me because I'm not in classroom. I can't control what goes on there."
"He needs a goal..like, you know, what do you want to achieve with each task. So in spelling it would be every word correct, all sentence structure complete..."
"They need to tell him, now look at your portfolio and set a goal. Don't necessarily aim for 5 [i.e. I assume the reporting uses a 5 point assessment scale]. But 2x 4's and the rest 3's...."
"That will be enough to say he's succeeded this semester."
"Then we make them harder goals next semester."
"Just like in his AFL, we need to measure success. He may not win the game, but set goals, this game.. I may lose 8-20, next game 8-16."
"I'm not going to let you bench yourself because you can't 'win'."
"He needs mental toughness."
Now, I have to say that I wasn't using listening equipment, nor was my daughter. This was an animated conversation you could hear across the park. I need also to stress, that this mother no doubt loves her son and wants to do the best things she can for him. But I found this a scary conversation because I suspect that what she is doing is not in his best interests at all. Why? Let me give you just five reasons.
First, here is a parent for whom the judgement of the worth of her son's life seems to be shaped in a major way by the need for him to be successful as assessed on a limited range of academic attainment measures at school.Second, here is parent who cannot accept that her son might not outperform the majority of his age cohort.Third, here is a mother who wants to control her child's life so much that she almost cannot cope because she can't be in the classroom directing it.Fourth, here is a mother who is failing to grasp that her son has worth that cannot be measured in the way she and the school is trying to do it.Fifth, here is a mother that has missed the chance to have a variety of rich experiences with her son that she would struggle to have in many other ways.
My encouragement to readers of this blog is that if you find yourself drifting in the same direction as this mother, take a 'chill pill', to quote some of the residents of my college. Then reassess your own expectations and ask yourself, "what is driving my expectations, and what might be the consequences if left unchecked?"