For a few weeks, I've been giving English Classes to an 11 year old. Lets call him Sam K. for the time being. Sam, an only child of two scientists, is in Seventh Grade and scores above 90% in all of his subjects except in English where he scored 84%. And I am brought in to give him an hour long class, four days a week after his school.
Sam : a voracious reader who reads everything from science encyclopedias to Harry Potter; a science wiz who can spend an hour just educating me about the black hole and also still a pre-teen who sometimes complains to me about his mother who, he says, nags him a lot and about a certain classmate who sometimes bullies him. Sam, the smart kid who argues with me for 30 minutes on why 'Scylla and Charybdis' should not be used as such an idiom because with Charybdis, the whirlpool, you still have more chances of survival. His argument? The right centrifugal force and inertia can propel your ship right out of the giant whirlpool. I didn't have a comeback for that because it's been eight long years since I've read about centrifugal force, inertia and all that jargon.
This evening, I just spend a couple of hours with Mrs. K discussing about Sam's progress and drawbacks. And I am taken aback by what is expected of him. I can't blame the parents. It's a competitive world after all. But somehow, deep in my heart, I feel pity for the 11 year old boy who is already in Seventh Grade and who is under a lot of stress and pressure at that age. Mrs. K talked about her concerns with Sam, his performance and also his relations with his classmates in school. She noticed a lot of personality change in the past two years and she, as a mother, is concerned when Sam refuses to discuss what is happening in school. In short, she literally wanted me to dig into Sam and learn about his personal problems in school, get him to talk and learn what is bothering him so that the parents can take certain measures. And here I am, with the overwhelming responsibility of 'shrinking' Sam, an 11 year old who is already fluent in four major languages of the world.
On my way back, as I hugged my cardigan against the chilly evening wind, I could not help but compare the 11 year old me with Sam. I was in Class 5 when I was 11 and made my first major slip from 'O' grade to 'A' grade in my second term exams. My parents were unhappy with me but somehow let it slide. After all, there were only two 'O' graders in my class. I don't know half the things that Sam knows, yet I don't have half the pressure that Sam has. My mother, a high school teacher, never nagged me into doing my homework but helps me when needed. But if I didn't do my work, my teachers in school were more than ready to cane me or give me extra work. I was never forced to take extra classes or tuition classes after school as my parents were contented with my grades. I know it is unfair to compare my life with Sam's when I was his age a decade and a half ago, but I just could not help it.
My uncle in Aizawl wanted to put his 8 year old daughter in a boarding school in Delhi ever since she was 5. "I wanted her to have better opportunities" he told me. My cousin, a strong-headed girl for her age, strongly refused. Last summer when I went home, my uncle told me to somehow coax her to come to Delhi. "She looks up to you, she will listen to you" he quipped. When I talked to Esther, her little face fell and she cried when she said she doesn't want to live in a place where she can't see her siblings everyday. I stopped then and there. I never resumed the conversation again. I thought the coaxing is unfair to her.
I cannot say the way we were brought up was the best. My parents never raised bars too high for me and my brothers. One sibling is never compared to the other. 'Each of you have your own personalities and your own calibre' my mother used to tell me. So we grew up contented with whatever marks and results we got. My parents never had the finances to send us to boarding schools until we finished high school. My mother told me she never found the need to send me to a boarding school, when I got accepted in 'the best school in Aizawl'. I don't know if that would be the same, had we the finances.
Everyone in my generation grew up wanting to be doctors, engineers or IAS officers. Though we don't even know what those were at first. Kids, these days, grow up wanting to be much more - dancers, artists, rockstars, CEO's, lawyers, cardiologists, astronauts. I wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid but I decided I wanted to teach during my secondary school. My parents were fine with me when I changed my stream in college and my dad was ecstatic when I decided I want to go into research after a Master's degree instead of hunting for a job. The case, I believe, might not be the same for another generation.
I want to be a mother at least by the time I'm 35. Sheesh!! I cannot say I will have the same attitude as my parents with my (future) kids. The bars will certainly be raised by the time they get to high school. After all, it will be a more competitive environment than the one we had. But will I make my son go through the stress and pressure Sam has to go through everyday? Will I want to send my daughter away to a boarding school at a tender age in order to give her 'better opportunities'?
I know that my children cannot have the sort of childhood that I have. It's a changing world after all. But I would want them to have a stress-free, pressure-free normal childhood where they grow up with their siblings. I would want to share their test marks, their school picnics, their first crushes and their turbulent teenage years instead of sending them away to a boarding school. But then again, 'normal' changes after every decade or so. So by our kids' generation, maybe a stressed, pressured childhood would be the 'normal' childhood. To each his own. But then if the case is such, I will definitely teach them how to 'live outside the box'.
But then again, why do I even write a post on such topics?? I'm not even married yet! What can I say? I am, but, the myopic girl who suffers from perpetual hypermetropia.