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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

DSA and My Kids

In the education of my children, I had certain core values that I held onto no matter what form the education system took. These core values were...

- Independent learning (i.e., no tuition)
- Extra-curricular interests
- Work smart not hard
- Character building

Parents Can Push Back at the System
If the education system pushed against my values, I simply pushed back. Back then, I did not realise that my values were that strong and that I had it in me to be such a badass. I just took one step at time and at every step, I looked to God for guidance.

If I thought that schools were testing more than they were teaching, I simply procured materials and made The Son study up on his own. Many people say it is easy for me because I can teach. The truth is, I am illiterate in Chinese and clueless in Science. Yet, my son had no tuition in Chinese nor Science. He really studied the materials on his own.

If I thought my son was given too much rote-learning HW, I pushed back and wrote excuse letters to protect his time. School HW was only done if it was worth doing. Heck! The Son skipped months of primary school at a time because school attendance did not help him learn.

Pushing Back At the Then System for The Daughter
More than a decade ago, in the days when academic results got you everywhere, and many parents considered CCA a waste of time, I jumped enthusiastically at the CCAs offered by The Daughter's school. I had always wanted to learn ballet so I made my little girl take ballet. She hated it with a vengeance. She hated everything about it from the frilly tutu to the leotard and the "hopping around like an idiot". That was my short-lived career in forcing things down my children's throats.

I asked The Daughter to pick a CCA, any CCA.

She picked gymnastics. Forgive me, but seriously? What is the difference between gymnastics and ballet? To my untrained eye, there was no difference at all except that gymnastics leotards were brighter and more colourful and I did not have to buy ballet shoes. The "hopping around like an idiot" looked pretty similar to me.

As the years went by, she looked less and less like an idiotic bunny in gymnastics class. Meanwhile, she scored in the bottom 25% of her cohort in the school exams. Yet, it never occurred to me to stop her 3 times a week gymnastics classes. When we left to stay in the USA, I searched out a local gymnastics club for her. The club sent her out of state for competitions. I didn't mind driving her out of state or out of town. It was her love and her passion. I supported it because it made her happy.

The last thing on my mind was DSA. I had no clue that there was even such a thing. Simply, I believed that children should develop in a CCA because it was fun and it developed them in ways that the 4 PSLE subjects did not. I also thought that since she was so dumb (scoring in the bottom 25% of her cohort) she might grow up and be a gymnastics teacher. That would be an honest livelihood.

Then, lo and behold, her coach gave me a DSA form to fill. That was how she got into one of those schools with the impossibly high cut off points.

Pushing Back At the System for The Son
Years later, when The Son got into primary school, the education system had become over geared academically. I pushed back at that system by deleting low value add HW and by helping him to skip school.

Clearly, since he did not go to school for months at a time, he could not take part in school CCAs. My belief in the educational value of a CCA was so strong that I searched for something he could do outside school. We tried many things from gymnastics (too inflexible and clumsy), wushu (too blur to remember the steps), swimming (not fun), horse riding (just a plain no)... and one day, I signed him up for a holiday class in shooting.

It was love at first shot.

I also looked askance at his choice of CCA. Shooting as a sport is nothing like Chow Yuen Fatt appearing at the doorway, a gun in each hand. Shooting is a very boring sport. Spectators are not allowed to cheer. The Son trained for hours at dry firing. This means you face the wall and hold up a gun and pull the trigger. Nothing comes out of the gun because it isn't even loaded. Pellets are costly and you spend more time practising without the pellets than with. Basically, you're just an idiot pressing on a trigger for 2 hours at a stretch.

Nonetheless, I was happy that he had found a CCA he was passionate about. I did not have to like it. He did. Diligently, I drove him to the shooting range 3 times a week and also drove him to his mini competitions.  I was completely clueless that his coach was actually THE coach of a school with impossibly high cut off points.

All through those years, The Son and I obsessed about the PSLE. To me, it was important to work towards a good t-score NOT because he needed to go to a good school. We had other contingency plans in case he did badly. I wanted him to do his best because it was a challenge. If he could face the challenge and win through to a good t-score then the PSLE years would be the crucible where fire would burn through The Son's dross to get to the gold within him. It would mould his character to go through that hell. Plus... literacy and numeracy are important skills in a holistic education.

No matter the stress of the PSLE, we still invested time in shooting 3 times a week because I did not want a son who could only study and do nothing else.

Then, lo and behold, his coach (also the coach of That School) gave me a DSA form to fill. I did not like That School because I did not like the ethos I had observed at the open house. So, I sat on that form and did not fill it out. Character development was also a core value I had in mind for my son's education. That School did not impress in this area.

Imagine that! I declined to DSA into a school with a far higher cut-off point than the Desired School. I had no guarantee that The Son would make the PSLE t-score to get into the Desired School. It looks like stupidity. However, again, I was pushing back against the system. This time, in the opposite direction. I could feel that the system was gearing up on the DSA front. I pushed back. I did not want my son to go through secondary school forced to compete tooth and nail in a CCA, to the detriment of his academics.

Why? Because I believe that academics are important too! He cannot be forced to dedicate the better part of 4 years of secondary school to winning medals for his school. There are so many other things to explore in secondary school. So, I challenged him to make it into the Desired School on the strength of his PSLE t-score. Then, he would have the flexibility to decide what other activities he wanted to do in secondary school.

Lessons Learnt
Looking back, what did I learn? I learnt that it is possible for parents to push back against the system. Don't allow the system to define what kind of childhood your kids have. Go with what YOU believe is a good education.

Like little boats on the sea, it is up to parents to steer their children and keep them afloat. The sea will have storms. The system may buffet you strongly one way or another. Parents have choices. Of course, if you decide to leave it all to the system, that is a choice too.

Unknowingly and without really planning it, I focused on bringing up my children according to the core values of education I deeply held. If the system pushed one way, I pushed back. If the system pushed another way, I pushed back the opposite way. I wanted a balanced and holistic education for my kids and I would not allow the system to force my hand. 

When CCA was not important in the system, I made my kids do it anyway. When schoolwork became too much, I faced his Teachers and said, "No, he will not do those pieces of HW," or "No, he is not going to school." When I was tempted with a DSA into a top boys' school, I chose to insist that my son make it into the Desired School through academics.

If parents focus less on top schools and elite programmes and just focus on raising their children...
- by respecting their non-academic passions
- by inculcating a good work ethic
- by requiring high standards in academic pursuit
- by requiring good character
... then it doesn't matter how the system changes around you, your children will still be considered top talent.

In future, if the system becomes over-geared towards the DSA, I can well imagine myself pushing back by refusing to drive my kids hard on CCA (enough is enough... no need too much) but instead, stressing more on what the system would be neglecting by then - literacy and numeracy.

By that time, when every other kid is a great sports person and few can write well and count well, then those who are more literate and numerate will be top talent. Rare skills are rewarded by real life.

CCA, character, numeracy and literacy are all important. The system can be over geared one way or other but it is my choices that will give my children an all round education. The sea can buffet my little boat one way or other, but it is my choices that will keep my boat straight. At the end of that journey, the straightest and the best maintained boat will get to shore.

I focused on giving my kids a holistic education, pushing back against the system courageously and rebelliously, when I had to. And then, what happened? They are both sought after talent in their cohorts despite going through multiple system changes.

It takes 21 years to grow a human. What kind of human do you want to grow? Focus on that and then hang on tight no matter what the educational system throws at you.

This post is a continuation from HERE.


Anonymous said...

Dr Pet

I love this post.

I recalled you wrote about how you ahem pulled your son from school and had him work on his own instead. That was so brave!

By the way, I think I know which top school that was that you rejected.

Why ah? I have no kids aiming to go there so I am just plain curious.

That is like throwing away a golden ticket to many parents so I am really eager to know what tipped the balance for you.


Petunia Lee said...

God tipped the balance. I asked God. He said "No." It was Matthew 4:8-11 that decided me.

8 Again, the devil took Him (Jesus) to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him.

It seemed to me that God was saying that If I chose that school at that time, it was to willingly choose glory and riches for everyone knew that was (and probably still is) a well-trodden path to success. Where do I put my faith? In my own wisdom and greed? Or in God? I chose to put my faith in God.

His provisions for my son have been of such GREAT abundance in the last 4 years that I literally tear with gratitude when I think of it. My son has been given so much opportunity and helped so much to grow in unique ways I think even my daughter did not have. There are other Mothers with boys in my son's school who are not happy with the school. They have had a different experience than we did. Even in the same school, the experiences can be different. So, I can only say that God has me and my family in the palm of His hand and all that was required of me, was obedience to God's will.

It was a choice between God... or glory and riches.

Petunia Lee said...

You know, all this trying to take advantage of the system... trying to beat the system... trying to game the system... what good does it do you if the child pays a price in other ways we have no human wisdom to understand? I know I sound like a crazy religious nut but What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matthew16:26)

If The Son had entered the school, I would have earned bragging rights but I feared for the loss of my son's soul. I feared that I was exchanging his soul for my 4 years of self-glory and self-promotion. Can you imagine what it would do for my business and my book if I could brag about my son in that way?

Then, I may have lost my son to other things. So, I took God seriously when he said, "No."

Anonymous said...

Dr Pet

Thanks for sharing.

God led you to the right school for your son.

That's wonderful!

Isabel said...

Hi Petunia,

I'm a silent but regular reader of your blog for a few months now! I enjoy it very much, so thank you for writing :)

I'm expecting my first child pretty soon and suddenly realise I've a whole new learning curve to tackle in regards to parenthood. I currently live in Singapore (and am a Malaysian by citizenship), but my husband is a pastor from China and plan to return to China next year. As I'm anticipating a few more moves in the next 10-15 years, which could include international moves (because of our missionary-like lifestyle) coupled with other factors, I have started to study homeschooling for my kid(s).

I'm wondering what your thoughts are for homeschooling? I can resonate with your opinions about not letting systems dictate the learning process for your individual children. But do you know of any hard government policies I should take careful consideration of or have any strong opinions for or against homeschooling?


Petunia Lee said...

Hi... I think I wrote about unschooling in the blogpost "How To Study". You can google this concept.I am not familiar with Singapore govt policy vis-a-vis homeschoolers so the best thing is to ask the local MOE. Homeschooling results are varied. If the parent is a good educator, then results are stunning. If the parent is not, then results are dismal. I personally chose not to homeschool because I needed the social environment provided by mainstream schools to provide social teachable moments without having to myself specifically create a social community for them. I was also not prepared to entirely give myself to my kids. I needed my own space and life.

Everyone is differenr. I can only speak of me.