‘THEY ARE CHILDREN!’ Mr. Wallaker roared. ‘They are not corporate products! What they need to acquire is not a constant massaging of the ego, but confidence, fun, affection, love, a sense of self-worth. They need to understand, now, that there will always—always—be someone greater and lesser than themselves, and that their self-worth lies in their contentment with who they are, what they are doing and their increasing competence in doing it.’
‘I’m sorry?’ said Nicolette. ‘So there’s no point trying? I see. Then, well, maybe we should be looking at Westminster.’
‘We should be looking at who they will become as adults,’ Mr. Wallaker went on. ‘It’s a harsh world out there. The barometer of success in later life is not that they always win, but how they deal with failure. An ability to pick themselves up when they fall, retaining their optimism and sense of self, is a far greater predictor of future success than class position in Year 3.’
—Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy, by Helen Fielding, pages 354-55
This seems like worthy sentiment, and pretty concisely phrased. By complete coincidence (I picked up Bridget off the highlighted shelf at the local Queens Library branch, and this other one I put on hold from the NY Public Library) I was reading Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Science of Raising Children but Were Too Exhausted to Ask by Dalton Conley.
So I asked, ‘How did he score on the rest of the verbal assessment?’
They proceeded to sheepishly admit that [child] Yo had scored eleventh grade on vocabulary (through an oral test, obviously, since the little dude couldn’t read) and at a twelfth-grade level on reading comprehension (again, when being read aloud to). Not wanting to alienate the teachers, I suppressed the sly smile of a proud parent, which threatened to crack my countenance…
Over the course of months and years of practice and refinement, I developed a particular style of reading aloud to them. Call it nerdish. It involves defining words along the way. In this manner, I could read texts to them that would seemingly be way over their grade level, rife with complex sentence structures and new words.
—Conley, p. 50
Conley and I went to the same high school so in some way I can see where he’s coming from. And speaking as someone who had a big vocabulary relatively early in life, I can relate on a personal level to his kids’ accomplishment. And Conley is quite frank about how much he particularly enjoys reading aloud, and I think he wouldn’t deny that he is pleased that his kids too enjoy being read to.
But when I picked up the Fielding book right afterward, I realized how hollow Conley sounds. Preschoolers aren’t judged based on their reading levels. As a parent, I know how the fantasy goes, because I’ve read it in so many Robert Heinlein juvenile novels: at some point in a young person’s life, there is the opportunity to step into a special world where one is recognized as a smart person with certain useful learned skills.
The deflating balloon of this fantasy is that even in that special society, the young person will still have to get along with other people. I will admit to having difficulties getting along with other people at times, and I will even admit to seeing these difficulties as central to several important points in my life. In hindsight, I go along with Mr. Wallaker’s central point: you have to be content with who you are.
I’m not that far along in Conley’s book, but I find his focus on hacking his kids into little superbeings to be a little misguided. Maybe later on in the book he discusses how to make his kids gentler and kinder. But that to me is the important thing in raising children, not their reading scores.