Sunday, March 21, 2010

On my mind - Precious, Idiots and the Texas Board of Education.

Education has been on my mind for some time now - last night, I had another of my frequent and completely unfounded anxiety attacks. I had a wonderful dinner with friends - the occassion was the visit to Seattle by a friend who moved to India after over a decade of living in the USA. It's a common enough occurence these days -and something more and more of expatriate Indians are aspiring to. I know that we have discussed it at length in our household - do we go back, do we stay, what are the pros and cons? The biggest topic of discussion is always, "What about the kids? Will the kids adjust?" We've all dissected, at length, the merits and demerits of the education system in India and America and where our kids are getting the maximum advantage.

We talked last night about how schools and kids in India are so competitive. It is something that I and all my contemprories who grew up in India are so familiar with -the pressure cooker, one dimensional approach to "success" - work hard, study hard and get good grades. Actually, get the best grades - beat your friends, beat your foes - fight with the faceless millions competing for the same seat in the same elite college. We've all had countless dinner party conversations around the topic - how we never had a chance to follow our dreams, how we were evaluated on academic success above all and we've all concluded with a sigh of relief that our kids have it so much better. Things in India are different now, I beleive, and kids who are growing up here in America have an embarrassment of choices about classes and activities from the mundane swimming and baseball to fencing, pottery and line drawing. There is less pressure here on kids to compete - at our first parent teacher conference, Puneet and I exchanged looks as the teacher stressed to us that we shoud not force the kids into extra work at home, fearing that we might turn them agains the concept of learning. I'm guessing the parent teacher conferences my Mom and Dad went to sounded very different.

My panic attack last night was related to just the above - we've followed the herd and scheduled Arjun in multiple after school activities - Martial Arts, Chess, Basketball and so on. School, meanwhile, is putzing along - he breezes through his weekly spelling tests, gets good report cards and in general, is well adjusted. Things appear to be fine. But of course, that's when, like a good Mom, I start to worry - is everything really OK? Are we doing too much extra stuff and not enough academics? Am I setting him up for failure by not pushing him to work harder? Should he be stressing a bit more about work? Should I have been prepping him for the gifted program? Is he learning enough? Will he be able to compete when he has to?

Puneet thinks I look for reasons to worry and I am sure I do - but I know I'm not alone in this. Dont we all worry about our children and want the best for them? I just read this article that led to a fresh set of worries about what our kids are learning - how much of their world view will be shaped by the decisions of bureaucrats and ideologues.

At the same time, as I work myself into a tizzy over these thoughts, I was reminded of the movie we were watching yesteday - Precious - the movie that won Monique her Oscar nomination. The movie about this teenager from Harlem who had every odd in the world stacked against her and yet, perseveres and goes on. It gave me the chills and made me come back to realization that I've had a few times now as I've gone about the process of raising my kids. This is my philosophy in general - If we are worrying about the children and their welfare, the kids will be OK. That's all they really, really need - parents who love them and want to do the best for them within the means available to them. Everything else, the best school over the good, the cursive handwriting or advanced placement class in algebra, is icing on the cake. It is hard to stay true to that belief while functioning in the soceity where parents, including us, worry about every aspect of parenting - from spending enough time to spending enough money - not too much, not too little - the elusive just right balance. Which leads me to my next observation - the more we have, the more we provide for our children, the more we worry about them. While millions of people worry about the basic necessities of survival, do we really need to be stressing that my child is "only" at the 92nd percentile of reasoning ability? I think not - it does not mean I do not do it. It only means that I stop and take a breath before breaking out in hives over that baskeball class registration deadline that I missed.

So while the worrying itself is not productive, I've accepted that it is part of parenting and perhaps an indicator that, in fact, ALL IS WELL! For those of you not up to speed on your Bollywood happenings, I suggest you head on over to YouTube and check out 3 Idiots. Let me know what you think!