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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Poor Little Boy

When I look at Little Boy, I lament the loss of a childhood. My only consolation is that I left him pretty much alone in lower primary to be a child. I gave him no enrichment classes at all. I didn't even send him for the Gifted Education Programme (GEP) screening because I thought GEP would be too much hard work for a child. I kinda figured that as he got older, school will just get more and more challenging, and so he had better indulge in being a child earlier than later.

So, Little Boy spent the early years of his primary school catching grasshoppers in a forbidden school field, harvesting caterpillars off our orange tree for sale, tending to his moss culture etc... He had very average grades indeed. But well, the PSLE is coming up next year and I can't let him waffle along anymore. This year, 2011, has been a high stress year. The stress began last year when we realized that he was scoring in the 90s for every subject but Chinese. So began the Memorize-Recite Chinese project, which lead on to the current Memorize-Write Chinese project.

I think I begin to understand how Mothers in China must have felt when it came time to bind their daughters' feet. Foot binding was a custom practised in well-to-do families in China up until the last century. Mothers would break the bones of the arch and toes on their daughters' feet and bind the foot in long swathes of cloth to prevent it from growing out. See photos here. In that particular cultural context, women with bound feet were much honoured. As a result, Mothers who loved their daughters and wanted to give them a good future, made sure that they inflicted all the pain necessary to buy that future. It was a world where women were chattel. They had no education. They could hold no jobs. Their only hope was to marry well. Women with bound feet married well. Some Mauritanian women still inflict terrible pain on their daughters today.

These seem such a strange and barbaric customs no?

Am I doing anything different to Little Boy though? We evolve in a cultural context that prizes academic achievement. Little Boy has to compete with children who have been attending enrichment/tuition classes since Primary One. He has to compete with children whose parents paid large sums of money to train their children to do well in the Gifted Education Programme screening tests. He has to compete with all these kids and be better so that he can pip them all and get into his first choice secondary school.

As a result, 2011 stands out as the year where we covered 4 years worth of Chinese, and 2 years worth of content in the other subjects. Through it all, Little Boy has been nothing but co-operative. To bring him up to speed in Math material his school tested but had not yet taught, I passed him books that he read and then practised with. To bring him up to speed in Science, I bought Science guidebooks and he spent hours researching independently on the internet. Then, he did practice exams till they came out of his ears... and he marked the exams himself too. At one point, he wrote one Chinese composition every day. And all this was done whilst we also did impossible things with Chinese (like Memorize-Recite and more recently Memorize-Write). When I told someone (so completely bilingual that she can do real time translation) that he could write out a 2100 word Chinese composition from memory after 2 days of practice and study, she was very very surprised, and I felt very very guilty. I didn't know it was that difficult a thing to do. For the sake of a better future, I am breaking the toes and arch of my son's spirit and imprisoning it in long swathes of suffocating love.

Today is Sunday. On Sundays, Little Boy never does any schoolwork. Sunday is play day. It has always been. But we are leaving on a long holiday soon, to which we will bring no books. So, I convinced Little Boy that he should work today. He agreed. This morning, it was painful to look at his face and see his disappointment when he was reminded that whilst today might be Sunday, he still needed to write out his 2100 character Chinese composition again.

Ohhhhh... I am sorely tempted to ditch that silly compo and let my son play. Should I? Oh should I?


Anonymous said...

Only you can answer the question Petunia...Little Boy appears to like to learn and has an excellent memory! I don't think you're binding his spirit, in this country kids play too much and learn no discipline, and you're preparing him to live in your culture where education is still prized. I believe you are trying to walk a path between freedom and self control/self discipline for Little Boy...and I believe you're doing it quite well!

petunialee said...

Theanne - Thank you for the words of reassurance. Little Boy chose a half day. He finished the write-up in about 3 hours and then went to play.

My Sinfonia said...

Ah boy has such amazing memory. Does he play the piano? Anyway ah boy jia you! Won't be long before your holiday

petunialee said...

Sinfonia - Nope... he doesn't play the piano. I am rather amazed myself at how well he retains material too. He spends 25% of his time on all the other 3 subjects, and 75% of his time on Chinese. In the other 3 subjects, he has no time to review. He needs to read, learn and retain all at once. I'm amazed that he CAN retain.

Blur Ting said...

I'm glad you both came to a compromise. At least he got to play on Sunday. It's school holidays too!

petunialee said...

Ting - Now I feel a wee bit guilty again... So poor thing right? I was reading up on foot binding and it seems that the little girls themselves go through the pain willingly because they know that small feet are good. My son also just chose to bring along some ting xie. What price success? Is it worth it?

Wen-ai said...

Little Boy is a really smart kid. I'm sure he will excel in Chinese soon. Once the foundation is secured, Chinese will be easier in time to come. I do hope he has the chance to really enjoy his holidays, so no Ting Xie for the trip! ;)

petunialee said...

Wen-Ai: Heehee! At this moment, ting xie is the last thing on his mind. He is busy doing farm chores like feeding the sheep. Sinfonias cat Miss Mao is following him around trying to kaypo... and Little Boy is OVER THE MOON because he gets to CUDDLE those woolly creatures. I have no heart to make him do ting xie.