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?