Updated: Sep 17, 2019
“We still have a role as parents." That's what my husband said a few months ago, and it has taken so long to sink in. We had just visited a wonderful school, almost 100% aligned with our parenting style. We could totally picture our big boy spending his days there — busy exploring the world at his own pace in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. I had even envisaged swapping a 1-minute walk to school for a 30-minute bike ride with two children in a trailer.
The thing is that the school that’s 1-minute away is not really the kind of place that considers the science of learning. A short talk with an enthusiastic mother quickly informed me that children coming out of this school are the best ones in the "college" of reference (not that I mind that!) and that "average" was highly valued. "Average?" I ask. "Yes, they work on getting everybody to the same level. They do their best to get the slower ones to catch up, and don't particularly stimulate those that are a bit more advanced" she answers. Ouch!
I don't like "average,” maybe because it brings to mind an image from my childhood. Just to make fun of us, my mum used to say that it would be great if she could put me and my brother in a blender and have two average children. My mum values us the way we were (although I must admit we have given her quite a few extreme surprises, and who knows what is still in store!). We all laughed at the absurdity of her proposition at the time. Now, I realise that any mom (or teacher) who wants an average child does something exactly as brutal.
The average person does not exist. Do you know a French woman who is 1.646 m tall, weighs 65.8 kg, and has 1.89 children? The average child does not exist. Averages are used to help run institutions and give advice to people we don't know very well. If your doctor doesn't know what your child eats, when, or how, the best way to tell if they have an eating disorder is to compare their weight to the average weight of same-age children. Chances are the doctor will get the right answer. Averages are meant to study the population as a whole. They don't say anything whatsoever about the one single child you are now signing up for school. So, what is the point of getting everybody to resemble this one non-existent child?
To cut a long story short, we do not particularly like the school my child is supposed to start in September, in spite of the fact that it has a very good reputation. But (you have probably guessed it!) the fees for the school we like are exorbitant and the school is far and difficult to get to. I have been quite upset over this in the last few weeks…
…Until my husband's words came back to me: "We still have a role as parents!" No, school won't be perfect. Our son will learn history and maths and French and more there. He will get to know other children and play games with them. Then he will come home where he will be safe and secure. Here he will relax. Here he will find love and a listening ear. He will find guidance. We will tell him that nobody is average. If he struggles in one class and gets bored in another one, it only means he is human. We will try to find ways to make the first class fun and look for new stimulation to build on what he learns in the second. It will be hard work, but who said parenting was going to be easy? And it will be fun. And it will be good. Nobody in the world can provide tailored coaching to a child better than her parents.
So, I don't need to stress (that much!) about schools and averages anymore. How liberating!