Monday, September 29, 2008

Circle of Knowledge

At my older son’s school, they put up what they call the ‘Circle of Knowledge’ on the notice board every month – a circle with radiating spokes giving a ‘before’ and ‘after’ snapshot of what the children knew about the topic that was covered the previous month.

Last month’s topic had been plants, and I noted with wry amusement that the net contribution by my son was all of zero comments. A quick count of the number of spokes showed that there were fewer comments than number of kids in the class, so naturally, everyone could not be represented. And since some names appeared more often than others, clearly it was a question of who shouted the fastest and the loudest, not necessarily of who knew the most.

“So, are you going to give your mother the privilege of seeing your name up there at least once before the end of the year?”, I joked.

“Definitely”, the son replied, before we both walked into the classroom.

While coming out, I saw another mother scrutinising the chart, with bored looking son trying to drag her into the classroom. I wondered, as I always do, whether that mother read any of the comments or just checked to see what her son had to contribute. I did not have to wonder too long.

“You are so stupid”, the mother exploded. “Why don’t you participate more in class?”

“But, Mamma, …”, he stammered. All his bravado evaporating in an instant.

“What Mamma-shamma? You are so stupid”, she reiterated. “How many times have I told you to speak more in class?”

“But Mamma, I answered.”

“What answer-shanser? Look, you have said only three things. This boy other boy has said five things. Why do you have to be so stupid.”

To say I was stunned would be a slight understatement. Anyone possessing basic mathematical skills could see that if you divided the number of comments by the number of students in the class, you got a figure of less than one. So if the kid contributed even one comment, the kid had actually fared better than average. And if this child had indeed made three comments, he was something like four times the average. Had I been in that mother’s place, I would have been delirious with happiness. Instead, she was yelling at her child for not being as good as (what she defined was) the best in the class.

I am a very ambitious mother myself, and often yell at my son for not performing as well as I would like him to academically. But I demand from him what I think he is capable of, not what someone else is able to do.

Kids all evolve differently, and at different rates. If the parents and the teachers do not realise that, would any of the kids be able to achieve their full potential? And how can you yell at someone who is doing so well for not doing better?

Come to think of it, was it the fault of the mother or of the school? When a school goes out of its way to announce that it doesn’t believe in competition, and that everyone is a winner in their own way, would it not make more sense for them to put up an anonymous ‘Circle of Knowledge’?

Or am I just overreacting?

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