Education for Tomorrow

People are often confused about my education philosophies.  My children’s father and I are both unapologetic beach bums living on the paradise island of Phuket, with no ambition beyond walking the beach each day. Our older children have all grown and flown the nest, back to our home country (UK) and making strides in their adult lives. Now, there is only Georgina left. She is our last child, and her father and I are living the last years of our parenting journey with her (or should I say, through her).

We both have seen a lot, as one does with over a decade of travelling, living in foreign lands, meeting unusual people and raising five kids. Oh, the wisdom we have acquired from the road, it is nothing like what the books tell you. Of course, as parents, we want to impart the real-life wisdom to her – after all, what parents don’t.

A couple of the important things that we have learned: happiness is internal (therefore don’t go chasing big job titles) and in a world that has become increasingly fast-paced, we have to hold on to good old-fashioned values. And thus, we tell our child, you get the best learning at home (well, on the beach) and in church.

But here’s our dilemma – we have a child who is gifted (I hate the word) and who storms ahead, propelled by her curiosity of the world around her, her impatience at not knowing answers, and her desire to rule the world and see her name in lights.

With the benefit of hindsight, experience and years on the road, we want to tell her this:  a lot of what you obsess about is not important, anymore than exam grades are.

Fortunately, we live on a holiday island and she attends a progressive British international school, so the focus on exams is missing from her psyche. Thank goodness.  I could not have coped with exam stress for the second time in my life (coping with my own was bad enough), and exams say nothing about a person’s capabilities anyway.  I give you an example: despite her tender years, Georgina is one of the most erudite, vocal and critical thinkers I know, and English is her mother tongue. Yet English Language is one of the subjects that she consistently scores lowest in exams.

But dear parents, it does not mean that we just let our child’s fertile brain just rot. We teach her. Teach as in giving her the building blocks to build her own framework, rather than telling her what she has to know. Because a lot of what we know is rubbish anyway, come tomorrow, but the learning process remains and paves the way for future, yet-to-be-known experiences.

Here’s what I mean: whilst I was at Oxford, the superstar of the Astrophysics department was a young scientist called George Efstathiou, who was heavily lauded for discovering cold dark matter. A few years later, his theory was found to be flawed and cold dark matter was dead. And then, it revived again….it goes to show that nobody really knows The Truth, not even parents.

Georgina’s father has a Bachelor in Education degree, so I derive some degree of comfort in the fact that at least one of us know what he/she is doing when it comes to educating this child. We want to educate her for a better world (she, and all the other youngsters, are our world). It sounds rather pompous, so in company, I always say, “Education for tomorrow”.

And this is it about education for the new world: our children are going to grow up to be someone’s husband/wife, parent, employee, employer, leader, friend, helper, and a whole gamut of unofficial occupations. Look around you at these people in your life – what do you love and cherish about them? What do you admire about them? What is it about that special person that makes the world better?

Now turn the mirror inwards to your parenting self. Are you raising that wonderful person, or are you too obsessed trying to create a genius out of a moderately clever child?

I often post on social media about the challenges of raising a child who does not want to follow her parents’ footsteps and live on the beach, existing solely on love, fresh air and sunshine.  I post about her asking questions on isotopes, grammar rules, marine plywood, universal proof and a whole lot of other things that are quite frankly beyond my rusted brain. I often struggle to find the answers and have invested hours rereading my old books and doctoral thesis to bring myself up to date.

However, my intention is not to create a monster – sorry, I mean genius. I have no ambition whatsoever of raising a scholarship student either. And there is nothing I find more irritating than a precocious child spouting rubbish that he/she had picked up from the Internet or from reading unsuitable books – the saying ‘empty vessel makes the most noise’ springs immediately to mind.

No, we teach our child to learn. Relativity, Quantum Theory and other big-ticket topics that fire the imagination are merely tools for learning, and not the actual Holy Grail. These subjects teach a child that the world is not known, much as we like to think it is, and orders are rapidly changing.  This is why Ptolemy is proven wrong, whilst Einstein’s legacies are work in progress. Learning how to think is expansionist and cannot be converted from textbook learning.  It is from a different branch all together.

For background, Claudius Ptolemy was an influential mathematician, astronomer, astrologer, geographer and poet. Ptolemy was famous for a number of discoveries, out of which the most famous was a theory that expounded that the earth was the centre of the universe (though some might argue that Ptolemic system holds true for some isolated cases). We now know that the earth is not at the centre of the universe, and nor is the universe the centre of other universes. There is no centre, though no one knows for sure, not even the ‘experts’ with their space-age, multi-billion dollar toys. And this is what I answered to a mother today who suggested that I seek experts to help my daughter with her maths: there is no expert, and the best teacher for a 15 year old child is her parents. Maths knowledge – or any non-contextual knowledge for that matter – will not make her a better person, or a happier one, or a successful one, if your definition of success is a balanced, productive adult with a fulfilling personal life.

I was once asked, when I was giving a talk at the Science Museum London, what I thought about Einstein’s Relativity equations.  Thinking on my feet, I responded immediately, “They kind of work, because Einstein left gaps in it for things that he did not yet know.” I was terrified of being misquoted afterwards, as it was a high profile event and I shared the stage with Professor Michael Rowan-Robinson and A.S. Byatt. To compound my worries over my unscripted grandiose statement, the ultimate head of my department at that time was Professor Christopher Llewellyn Smith, who was the Director General of CERN, the European multi-billion pound research facility in Geneva. The dressing down never came (maybe I was correct, but who knows), and a few weeks later, I won the Department of Trade & Industry’s SMART Award.

I don’t use any of it. Except maybe to win arguments with my child.

But this is the important lesson I learned from Einstein: as time passes, we will continue to grow and gain a deeper understanding of things, and we will see things differently. We must allow for the empty spaces in the present.

As my child succinctly summarises, “Oh, the textbooks are not always right then.” And neither are parents.

Real knowledge has to be discovered, either in the real world or within the unplumbed depths of your mind. It does not come spoon-fed to you, either in books or the Internet. And that is what we are teaching our child: to think critically, to question relevantly, to search effectively, to create workable frameworks, and most of all, to find joy in the living and meaning in the caring.

I dedicate this article to my dear friend Richard Boyle, who understands what I am trying to teach my child, keeps me inspired and gives me much joy.

25 thoughts on “Education for Tomorrow

  1. Moonie

    Interesting posts you have
    But it will be very much appreciated, if I could respectively asked you not to use the label “Asian parents”

    Truth is many (not all) Asian parents came from poor families. education is the only way they knew that would lead to good career with salaries. But you will be surprise how many asian parents are not what you thought and assumed.

    Try to see world with a bigger heart and bigger mind. And be less judgmental towards other races. That will mean a lot to the rest of so called “Asian parents”

    You misguiding your readers and made the world felt that all Asian parents are so typical like you said.

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    1. Thank you for pointing out my generalisation, which I apologise for. However, I write it, based on my experience as a Brit living for the past ten years in Asia, and also mostly because I write, with Asian parents in mind (against the mindless tuition phenomena that many kids suffer from), to show that there is another way other than the education route because it is a torture for the kids who are not academic. I am part Asian, and have this battle within myself too 🙂

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      1. Moonie

        Many Asians live in countries that do not offer health care and wealth system like western countries. I truly understand the parents insecurities. (Since I grew up in those type of environments). I’m lucky enough to move to western country now and have the luxury and flexibility to educate my kids similar to the way you raised yours. But to my fellow friends who still lived in Asia, esp Malaysia and singapore, I truly understand the challenge and limitations they have in those countries.
        I’m counting my blessing. But at the same one I tried not to judge them.

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  2. My intention is definitely not to judge, because when we judge others, we are judging ourselves (even when we judge others for judging). I am a strong believer that there is no perfect system, East or West, there are flaws in both, BUT we should not feel so insecure or defensive that we dare not voice our observations. If there is no dialogue, there will be no widening of our perceptions and perhaps a learning. I for one, the Lazy White Mother, have learned much from Tiger Mums of Asia, and embrace the Asian in me.

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  3. And re-reading this article for the 10th time, i could not find any statements within it that I am blatantly being racist or judgemental, unless promoting my way is seen as being racist or judgemental.

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  4. I could not find reference to the word ‘Asia’ or ‘Asian’ in this article at all. The closest I found is ‘Phuket’. Perhaps mentioning progressive British international school is racist? Hence I used the word progressive.

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  5. Indeed, Moonie, I agree with you there. That’s why we have been living in Asia, to understand the culture, for the past ten years. We have also lived in other cultures.

    And I do understand about lack of opportunities and being marginalised, because my children’s father comes from a family where his father had to work on three jobs (bus driver, roofer, mechanic) just to keep his family fed, and the only way to stay above poverty line was hard work. My writing, apart from my UK politics posts,have always been about giving children a magical childhood, sharing my blessed journey in the hope of inspiring others, rather than judging and all that negativity. My writing is just a mirror, for readers to reflect about themselves and take what they wish from it, be it the negative or the positive.

    You will also find that I poke fun mercilessly at myself.

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  6. I also seriously don’t think that promoting a carefree childhood is by any means criticising Asian mums. I can be a Tiger Mum. I am a shouty mummy. I am 75% Asian. I want my children to have strong work ethics and strong family values. I just don’t want them to get screwed up by too much exams. Am I finger pointing at Asian mums? NO. In the UK, children as young as are suffering from exam stress. That’s why my child is in school in Phuket, ASIA, rather than in the UK, and she is at a PROGRESSIVE British international school (because there are unsatisfactory British schools too, that push kids too hard). UK schools and UK mums are doing the same thing too, as some Asian mums.

    And before I get judged for being elitist, my daughter’s school offers scholarship to able students. There are several street kids from Thailand and a tsunami orphan at the school, as well as from UK and Brazil.

    In my travels, parents are the same the world over. There is every category in every country. Asian stereotype is made viral by the book on Tiger Mums, but is it a bad thing? NO. I learned much from that book. I also learned that I am a tiger mum sometimes, and that my pure Asian friends are often less tiger mum-ish than me.

    Today, I just posted Quote of the Day from an Asian mum: https://raisinghappystrongkids.com/2015/05/16/quote-of-the-day/

    Therefore I am most disturbed how my posts on magical childhoods can be construed as criticisms of Asian mums.

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  7. HL

    Haha Moonie, Jac does use the label Chinese aunties, Asian parents, a lot. I was disturbed initially. If you don’t read her other posts you would think she had something against Asian parents.

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  8. Moonie

    Thank you. 🙂
    I’m sure there are ways to promote your own beliefs without having to bring other people’s beliefs down.
    I attributed my success to my parents asian’s way of parenting.

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  9. The only belief I intend to bring down is the over-prescription of antibiotics, Moonie, and despicable elements who are making my country unsafe. But on the whole, I write about love, light and laughter, as my many readers will tell you.

    I cannot help if some readers perceive my unintentional texts as negative, judgemental and unlikeable based on their over-sensitivity. People’s perception is based on the glasses they wear, and ten people reading the same article will often elicit at least three different responses based on the glasses they wear. It’s like in my crazy country (UK), some Muslim radicals (who are not representative of the whole religion) think that celebrating Christmas is insulting to Islam and complained about it. I can’t imagine any schools which set up nativity plays for once had that intention. But people’s over-sensitivity has a grotesque way of twisting any scenario into something ugly.

    Chances are, many people reading this blog and my articles on Huffington Post will not see any race connotations there, merely the passion of a hippy mother for a carefree way of life. Brits and Asian mums get teased the same way, and I am both a Brit mum and an Asian mum.

    I too attribute my children’s success to their years spent in Asia, where they learned how to fear me just a little. In the UK, we are not allowed to slap children and we have many social problems consequently. Our welfare system means that teenage girls got pregnant without having to face the consequences. It is also more common for white kids to do drugs. As a ‘white’ kid, I was rude to my parents and I did drugs. And I got pregnant at 16 by a one-night stand. Do I think the white way is better? What do you think?

    The only way that I think is ‘better’ for our children is for them to have a magical childhood and grow into decent, productive human beings who love their family and God, irrespective of what nationality their parents are….aargh, now I will have the atheists and agnostics judging me for judging them about their non-God beliefs!!! Peace-lah!

    And here’s a light-hearted article published today in New York Times, just on the subject:
    http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/05/15/free-range-vs-helicopter-parenting-get-the-facts/?smid=fb-share&_r=0

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  10. Moonie

    I expressed my view pretty politely and with respect.
    I wasn’t being high and mighty. Thus there is no need to dramatize this issue.
    Thank you. 🙂

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    1. Again, Moonie, apologies. If you are in my Facebook friends, you will see that of my 1000+ readers, most are Asian mums. We have fun, we share, we laugh, without offence.

      if you PM me your address, I would be delighted to send you a copy of my book. You will see that rather than sitting at home in Asia criticising Asian mums, I am on the beach a lot, having fun and enjoying myself too much to bother about negative feelings and drama. That is not the spirit or the intention at all, but I cannot help what people perceive due to the glasses they wear.

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    1. Namaste, Moonie. I never said you were a hater. That, and the stereotyping of Asian mothers. were not my comments, but from other readers. I am not the owner of those words. Please read carefully.

      And please don’t judge me on the things I did not do – I have enough sins as it is, and I generally own up to them very publicly 🙂

      Do PM me your address, and I will send you the book. You will find much love, light and laughter in it, and none of the judgment and pulling people down that you perceive.

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    1. OK lah 🙂

      But seriously, I was concerned, because the last thing I wanted was to be racist (sorry lah that’s the Brit in me – racism is a big deal). Because believe it or not, I am partly an Asian Tiger Mum. Haha.

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  11. Moonie

    haha sorry if I upset you
    I don’t think I used the word racism at word
    You are anything but racist. U could be a little bit spoilt, self righteous and defensive. But at the same time you are a funny and interesting and loving person.
    Take it easy

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    1. Oh, thank Christ for that, Moonie!!!! if there is any suggestion of racism in anything I write, I won’t be allowed back into my country, which is controlled by those eejit bureaucrats in Brussels.

      As for your other points, you are absolutely correct. Guilty as charged. Am still spoilt, because my (white) mum didn’t get that part right x

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