Thursday, April 30, 2009

And Sometimes, You Win.

Ohhh, yes.

I've talked off and on about the struggles in educating Elder Son. If you've been around here for a while, you know he gets bored as hell with the regular schoolwork. Sure, he's disorganised and he flies off on his own tangents, and he's likely to ignore little things like schoolteacher noises (which does NOT make his teacher happy) but the bottom line is that it's not just him who's off the mark. He may not be naturally inclined to rule off his margins, tuck in his shirt and pay attention to the detailed disposition of his books in his drawer -- but the school doesn't seem to be well prepared to challenge him in the areas where he greatly exceeds their curriculum requirements.

I find it hard to believe that the best we could hope for from his schooling would be neat books, attentive and obedient response to commands, and an ability to obey rules without question. I can understand that the school wants him to be a more co-operative, more properly socialised student, and to a limited degree, we want that too. It would be nice if he paid attention the FIRST time we asked him to find his shoes to go out, for example. But -- and this won't surprise any of you who have met me -- I don't see it as an urgent priority, y'know? I'd rather he actually LEARNED something, and in particular, I'd like him to discover how to enjoy learning.

To be fair, the school has been willing to let Natalie and I get sincerely proactive in all this. The recent post about his study of Tennyson's "Blow, Bugle, Blow" here at home is a case in point. And they're doing their best: he's in an extension math group and all. But you may recall that when we organised a meeting between myself, a few of the school people, and the local chap in charge of Government programmes for the "gifted and talented"... well, the Government programme-chappie wasn't much help.

He told me I seemed intimidating -- this before I'd said anything more than Hello, my name is... -- and expressed concerns about my "expectations" and the pressure on Elder Son. And when he was pressed as to what particular help he could offer our situation, his replies were -- shall we say evasive, to remain diplomatic?

Nevertheless, the school itself has done its best. And one of the things they did was to get together with a few other local schools, talk to the Queen Vic Natural History Museum, and organise an excursion day of Science At The Beach. Elder Son was invited to take part, despite his relative youth. The day was aimed at years 5 and 6, and he was the only one from his year invited.

Natalie and I were a bit trepid, to say the least. Elder Son has a history of being bolshie when faced by new things... and sure enough, on The Day in question, he started to champ at the bit. Didn't think he really wanted to go, apparently.

Not that it made any difference. We're used to this by now, and he wasn't particularly vehement about it, so we just told him flatly he could go, or he could spend the day in his classroom at school. No problems. He went.

And oh, my, didn't it work out well. When he came back that afternoon, we couldn't shut him up. Apparently, the curator of the QV Natural History department spotted him, realised he was genuinely curious and excited, and took him under her wing. He told me in detail about how he got to take photos with her shiny new touch-screen camera. And then he told me all about filter-feeding molluscs that eat micro-organisms, and about the effects of planetary gravitation and the moon and centripetal force on the tides, and he talked about predatory molluscs using their raduli to bore through the shells of simple bivalves, and he talked and he talked and he talked and...

Yep. He bloody loved it. Not only that, but the QV curator in question sent a business card home with him. It included an invitation to bring the boy to the museum for a full backstage tour, including all the exhibits and stuff they don't have on show.

Well, you can bet we jumped at that. I've been trading emails with the good doctor, and she seems lovely. She's a scientist through and through, and says that when she was young, somebody offered her the same kind of opportunity she's putting in front of Elder Son, and it changed her life, so she wants to pass it on.

I can understand that.

Even better, though: she's already suggested that she might be able to set Elder Son up with the museum's Astronomy chap too. That would just be fantastic -- he loves space, stars, planets and telescopes.

I can't readily convey how delighted I am by all this. For a struggling parent, trying hard to keep his kid from sinking into the same school-based quagmire of boredom and social disaster that marked his own childhood, this is a full-on three-cherries-on-the-slot-machine jackpot win. First the Prof from Oxford, and now this! I'm so damned happy I don't really know what to do about it -- and to see that kind of enthusiasm and joy in my kid just takes my breath away.

But you wanna know the absolute fucking cherry on top of the double cream vanilla icing on the cake? Turns out there was another person along on that beach-side science excursion. Can you guess who?

Yep. It was Mister Not-Very-Helpful "My, You're Intimidating" Government Programme For The Gifted And Talented Bloke. Which means he got to see Elder Son in full flight, being singled out of a crowd of kids years older and farther up the ladder than him.

Wish I'd been there to see it. Well, never mind. Just knowing it happened is good. I'd like to think that particular chap is now just possibly reconsidering some of his less helpful remarks. I don't suppose it's actually happening... but it makes me feel extremely good to think that it could.

One for the good guys. Nice when that happens, eh?


  1. Nice, and bl##dy brilliant. I am so sick of the alleged 'school' my girl is going to I find myself constantly thinking about home schooling her, because the stuff up in progress, i.e. her education, is not getting any better as time goes on. It is so bad I am beginning to feel like I am letting her down by simply sending her off every morning.

  2. Awesome stuff. Glad to hear he is being stretched. I agree with you, learning how to learn and enjoying the pursuit of knowledge, any knowledge is good.

  3. He actually said "My, you're intimidating"?????
    Before you had said anything, when you were about to start a discussion where he is the expert????? I am not sure he has chosen the correct career path.

    Sounds like a win for all, congratulations!

  4. Great news! I'm currently dealing with some administrative types that sound like your bloke, for Anabelle's schooling next year. Not enjoying it...

  5. That curator is a bottler. The astronomy angle as well could lead to something. Develops the interest and then finds out he needs to learn all sorts of stuff before he becomes the next museum genius or Mars hopping astronaut.

  6. To quote someone else hereabouts 'Win frosted with win'! Great to hook up with the curator too. A workmate of my missus also does work at the Museum as she has a degree in Ornithology. She is going to show about there one day too.

    Wifey and I are lucky enough to find things to extend the little bloke's interests. visit the zoo, the museum, the Powerhouse Museum (we are members there now). He can rattle off all sorts of info about animals etc.. He likes astronomy and stars too - he can identify Mars in the night sky now I showed him, and Venus and Jupiter. Knows more about the Solar System, and various Mars explorers - I caught him explaining to another parent how the Mars robots are looking for water there and if they find it then life can exists there and they may find some! Not bad for 3 and 3/4. So next week we are off to the Sydney Observatory.

  7. Dirk, sound result with the lad. As we've dicussed before schools now have real problems in dealing with students who have more abilities than others. back in the day at least when I was in school kids were streamed and placed in classes according to ability. That at least meant kids who could learn faster did feel the peer pressure not to shine.

    I'm still quite shocked that ANYONE would find you intimidating!!!

  8. Bondi: you're doing exactly the right thing with the little bloke. Unfortunately, when you hand him on to the school, they're going to look at him and go: uhhh.... what do we do with this?

    Never mind. Give him everything he'll take. At least where you are, there's plenty of opportunity. It's a little more scarce out here, which is why I'm so damned pleased.

    Nautilus: yep. The word was 'intimidating', and it was delivered before we even sat down. I'm sure he was just having a bit of an off day or something, but I have to admit I was taken aback. I mean - I was wearing shoes. I'd combed my hair. I had simple jeans and a T-shirt on. I still don't quite know what I did that was intimidating, but it wasn't a great way to start the conversation.

  9. Win frosted with win indeed (dammit should have trademarked that). I was one of those kids who got asked to go on similar sorts of big-kid excursions and advanced-student courses when not quite a big kid yet. Regretfully I didn't see the point or advantage of it at the time and basically acted up until they sent me back with my mates in the lower grades - glad to see your young lad is making the most of the opportunity. And museum curators (good ones) are great people. In fact we've just stolen the natural history curator from Otago Museum to run our research lab for us.

  10. Ah so you're responsible for that phrase! Thanks for that.

    Yeah I hear ya FH - even the public school out back of us has a 'bright kids' program. My niece has just started high school and they've bumped her up a little to get her working academically too. And my wife is on the case with authoritative literature etc..We'll take advantage as best we can and avoid what happened to me (and you from what I've read).

  11. You know, saying "My you're intimidating" might've just been an awkward pickup line, and what he was thinking in his head was, "Oh Mr. Flinty, I'd love for you to intimidate me someplace private."

  12. BTW: Chaz -- thank you ever so kindly for your disbelief in my powers of intimidation. I'm not being ironic, sarcastic or anything else. I'm a hundred ninety one cm (6'3" old measure) and about 110kg. Size alone can be a bit fearsome, I know, but I do try not to be too over-the-top any more... and I was at my meekest and most diplomatic on that particular day, which is why I was irritated to be pegged as "intimidating."

    ...because when I WANT to be intimidating, I'm extremely f__king good at it.

    As for your pickup line, Steve - I can only wish you the best of luck in your next nightclub outing!