Work hard and you can be whatever you want to be. God know how many times I've heard parents rattle that line off to their kids.
It sounds good in theory but the truth is very different as clearly demonstrated by my son when he was six.
"Dad," he said after returning home from a school trip to a marae. "I want to be Maori when I grow up."
How could I let the kid down gently?
Because no matter how hard he tries he's not going to be able to change an ancestry that is 100 per cent European.
It's a silly, but true little example of the dumb stuff we fill our children's heads with.
Sadly it's also typical of the sort of crap many teachers are equally guilty of promoting.
I'm talking about the view, through rose tinted spectacles, of an adult utopia where all men ( and women) are born equal into a world where there is no such thing as an A, B,C or D grade and where everyone is a success - even if they can't read, spell or write properly.
Both of my offspring have struggled with their school work since day one.
And year after year the concerns shared by my wife and I have been shrugged off by teachers working within the confines of a politically correct system that prohibits direct honesty with parents.
Any effort to find out where your child ranks among his/her peers, therefore allowing you to determine how far behind they are and what needs to be done to improve their lot, will be met with resistance.
Any sign of a direct indication of that same kid's weaknesses in a school report is also highly unlikely.
In fact anything that indicates your children aren't up to scratch is going to be avoided at all costs.
We persevered and amazingly got to the point where a problem was acknowledged and an action plan was put into place by management at the primary school concerned.
It should have been called an inaction plan because nothing ever happened.
The teacher, when cornered and grilled finally relented - "I don't have the time," she said.
A relative who retired from the profession a few years ago was able to enlighten us further and confirm our worst suspicions.
She was old school and struggled as a new way of thinking suddenly saw her draft pupil reports returned by the principal for sanitising and rewriting before being distributed to parents.
Behavioural problems were not to be mentioned and learning difficulties were only to be touched on if absolutely necessary - even then they were to be veiled in a shroud of positivity designed to soften the perceived blow.
And the old grades that once spelled a very clear picture of performance were replaced by a complex mix of non-specific ratings and teacher-speak that appeared to tell you plenty but actually said nothing.
Add to that our own experience of large class sizes (32 one year); unmarked and/or uncorrected homework and constant assurances that spelling isn't important at this stage (after six years I wonder when it will be).
The concept behind national standards was therefore welcomed in my household. It's just a shame the school we were associated with at that time chose not to comply.
Hopefully the new performance-based pay plans so widely opposed by teachers and their cloth cap representatives might pack more of a punch and deliver the results we expect.
And maybe an emphasis on quality teaching, rather than quantity of staff, isn't such a bad thing.
But we're not holding our breath.
We lost faith in the system some time back now and just hope our naively blind faith during those first few years won't have a lasting detrimental effect on our kids as one heads into intermediate school and the other legs it to college.
Meanwhile we'll continue putting in the extra hours with them at home and hope the private tuition ($40 an hour) will also get them up to speed.
What else can we do?
And maybe, just maybe, my son will grow up to be the astronaut he now wants to be.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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