All the parents of P1 pupils have been summoned to the school hall. We’re going to hear about the curriculum. More specifically we’re going to hear about what mummies and daddies can do at home to assist the school curriculum.
It’s the moment I’ve been dreading. The moment when my carefully spun narrative over the last four years that it’s all just fun and larks begins to unravel.
I’m expecting my son to come home from school any day now and exclaim angrily ‘You mean there’s a point to all this shit?!’
The room is full of impatient parents. Mummies and daddies I’m used to seeing casually dressed at parties are wearing their smart work clothes and glancing nervously at their watches. I know how they feel. This is exactly the time when I would usually be having my first slice of cake in the cafe. I’ve made the effort today though as well, putting on a pair of trousers which don’t have an elasticated waist and getting my coffee to go.
To be fair the teachers don’t appear enthusiastic either. Sitting at the front surveying the parents like how I imagine a group of student nurses on their first day at the leper colony might look.
One of the teachers begins by noting that there are a number of babies in attendance and if they start to cry would their parents mind slipping outside. She’s very polite about it but it does make me think of a Donald Trump rally. While she starts to explain the curriculum I’m lost in some daydream where Trump is in the room, jerking his thumb at a crying baby and yelling ‘Get the hell out of here!’
I must have started giggling because mummy nudges me in the ribs. One of the teachers is explaining about learning through play.
I play a lot with my son. Often it involves him leaping on top of me and kneeing me in the testicles. I’ll retaliate by giving him an abrasive beard rub. Sometimes one of us will break wind and blame it on the other. I wonder if this is the sort of thing the teacher has in mind.
I’m particularly interested in how reading and writing is being taught. I’ve got hazy memories of interminable days copying out the letter A in my exercise book in P1 while a demented teacher lurked close behind with a taped ruler twitching in her hand. After what seemed like six months we went on to the letter B and so on. I’m able to read and write at an acceptable level so I suppose it must have worked for me. However, there were a number of my peers whose levels of literacy were wretched when they left primary school.
It’s very different now. The children learn a system called Jolly Phonics where more importance is given to learning the sound than the name of the letter. Each sound also has an accompanying hand movement. The sounds are then put together to form a word. The first sounds they are learning are S, H, A and T (I might have gotten a little bit mixed up there, there’s been a lot of new information to absorb).
The teachers say it’s scientifically proven to work. It’s a fascinating area, trying to unlock a child’s potential towards a new process. We’re told to practice sounds at home with him after school.
Maths seems a bit more fluid. No written work as such but practically based activities through structured play which encourage the concept of learning numerical concepts. I can grasp this. How many chocolate biscuits can daddy eat before he has to unbutton the top of his trousers?
History, geography and science seem to have been replaced by the World Around Us, which means the textbook I bought him on the fall of the Weimar Republic was a big fat waste of money.
Then the teachers talk about the importance of punctuality, structure and discipline. They say the single most important thing they want us to take from the day is the concept of teaching your child to do what an adult tells them.
I lean across to my wife and whisper ‘That’s us fecked then, we’ll have to look at home schooling’ but she pretends not to hear.
There is a list of six consequences for bad behaviour. The punishment the first time a rule is broken is ‘eye contact’. I’m not sure what a child thinks of this but it scares the shit out of me.
I wonder if a similar sliding scale existed when I was at school. First time rule is broken: Beat repeatedly with ruler. Sixth time rule is broken: Fractured skull, concussion optional.
The meeting breaks up without fuss or the option for questions. We have to go and sign a leaflet to confirm our attendance and to pick up some forms on E-safety and healthy packed lunches.
As we’re waiting in the queue I say to my wife ‘That went OK’ and she gives a little nod which I’ve learnt over the years means ‘Well you haven’t done or said anything stupid. Not yet anyway.’
At that moment I realise that I’m holding my paper coffee cup horizontally and the remnants of a cold, milky cappuccino are cascading all over the floor, splashing over other parents’ shoes and trousers and leaving a large sickly brown puddle on the wooden floor.
As always in the face of disaster I go on the attack.
‘Look what you’ve done!’ I bark at my wife.
She reasonably points out that she’s not holding a cup, torpedoing my desperate defence.
One of the other daddies produces a cloth handkerchief from his pocket and sinks to his haunches to clean the mess. I feel that I really should help him. I don’t.
Then one of the teachers comes over with a plastic warning sign which says ‘Wet Floor!’
She casts an accusatory glance around us. I hide the plastic cup behind my back. I meet her eyes and then nod my head in an incriminatory manner towards another daddy.
I roll my eyes.
‘Grown ups, you can’t take them anywhere.’