I didn’t realize it at the time, but rearing young children is a doddle compared to trying to help young adults navigate their way through school, to college, to their first job, through peer pressure and all the angst that comes along with growing up and growing away from ones parents. The problems faced by us parents at a time when what is important to our children is that “so-and-so said such and such to me and I’m not their friend any more”, seem huge at the time, but are nothing compared to the angst suffered by our young adult children in their search for the right path. Simply put, the stakes are higher. Simply put the pressure is greater – on them and on us as parents helping out on their behalf. Had anyone sat me down when my children were younger and said to me, it gets harder, I would have laughed. Having three children under the age of four was tough. It required a type of organization and effectiveness that was at times hard to juggle with the actual realities of life with three small children. They didn’t want to co-operate with my efficient plans; in other words, life got in the way. The best-laid plans very often went astray within the first few hours of the day, but to be effective (and you have to be with such small children), I learned to roll with it as best I could, as often as I could.
“Don’t worry, its gets easier”, was the refrain I heard from older mothers. “Don’t worry, they don’t stay small forever” etc etc.. No they don’t; and the problems one faces change too. I have not much to complain about. My children were all fit and healthy for most of their life. A bout with chicken pox that crossed the blood brain barrier in my three year old daughter was the only time I came face to face with an illness that was potentially life altering. But it wasn’t and she recovered after a spell in hospital and all became right again with the world, with my world.
My kids were all diagnosed with dyslexia in early childhood. For a time, I lost all focus and perspective. When my oldest son Gary was diagnosed, I felt at the time ‘there goes his future…’; all the plans I had for him were now down the toilet. But again, order was restored to my world when I put his difficulties in perspective and went about ensuring he had the help, support, understanding and commitment of all his teachers, his tutors and a workshop where I enrolled him to help with the difficulties that arise with dyslexia. After he was enrolled, then my daughter was diagnosed, and then my youngest son. Coping with one dyslexic child is easy compared to the commitment it takes to cope with three of them. Getting them the help they need is costly; workshops are expensive, tutors are expensive and then the time you as a parent need to invest in their education seems at times exhaustive. I gave up work for five years and ferried them to tutors, to workshops, I educated myself as to what exactly this means for them, I sat on school boards, the parents association and the board of the Dyslexic Association of Ireland all with the express purpose of helping my children to the best of my ability.
Then your children make their way through school slowly and not easily. Every parent teacher meeting and every report goes pretty much the same; teachers telling me my child is a bit unfocused and must try harder and me telling them about their dyslexia and how it affects each child. Some teachers embraced my knowledge, asked for more information and in collaboration we helped my child(ren) through their years in school. Other teachers scoffed, dismissed the diagnosis, vetoed my suggestions as to how to get the best from my child and openly discouraged my intimate involvement with their education. I was, I suppose the epitome of a pushy Mum. And I make no apology for that. I did whatever I could, whenever I could. I championed their cause because at that young age, they could not advocate for themselves.
As they got older however, there comes a time when you have to let go of their hand and let them walk alone. Towards the end of their time in secondary school I did that with mine, I let them take responsibility for their education, but I never let them do it alone. I was always there, at the sidelines, ready to take up the baton at a moments notice.
My eldest received what is termed “accommodations” during his state exams for the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate state examinations. He got extra time, a reader and a separate room where he could concentrate to the best of his ability. The accommodations he received were not in any way to give him an advantage over any of his peers, it was simply to ‘level the playing field’ so that he could complete his exams to the best of his ability. He has a reading, writing and processing deficit that puts him in the lowest 2% for his age group. His IQ is above average. But the slow processing, writing and reading speeds, put him at a distinct disadvantage when having to sit examinations even with the ‘accommodations’. Simply put he tanks!
I understand this, he understands this, we realize that the results he gets in examinations are not the true measure of who he is, or of his ability. Unfortunately for people like my son whose difficulties are profound, they are measured by the results of exams and nothing more. Pathways to third level education are only through the results of examinations. In the past when private colleges would accept students on to courses according to the ability to pay, not the natural ability of a student, it meant that there was some hope for those who didn’t quite make the grade in their exams. All that has changed now. I understand the reasoning behind it, of course it is to protect the ‘integrity of the examinations process’ and to ensure that students who would not have the ability to complete a college course don’t start it. It is to protect them from failure. But what if failure in examinations is all they have experienced? What happens to this person? What is to be their life, their future? So much emphasis is placed on examinations that in a few years time will mean absolutely nothing. So much of a persons future is determined by what they can or can’t do once they leave school and head on for college – or don’t. Years ago, it was not such a big deal if you didn’t attend college. My generation is filled with people who still managed to make a success of their lives and create a successful career without ever sitting in another classroom once they finished second level education. That is however not the case for this generation, the generation of my children. With so much competition these days for any sort of a job, getting even a start-up or part-time job is extremely difficult. You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. And by the way, do you have a degree??!
So for young adults like my son, the route to a ‘career’ will be a much longer and more arduous one. When I think of what he is capable of, but is hindered by, it makes me extremely annoyed at our current system. It is also the most heartbreaking thing to watch, seeing your young adult child devastated because of another failure and reaching the end to a particular path they wanted to journey on. Knowing that as a parent I can do nothing to help is one of the most difficult things to accept. There is an inherent unfairness in a system that measures ones ability simply by a series of results in a test. Because you received the points necessary to study to become a doctor does not mean you should be one, or would even be a good one. So this ‘system of measurement’ is flawed. It is the only one we have, but it doesn’t mean it is right.
William Butler Yeats said that “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”. Our system of education fills the pail. Any education system that only fills the pail and doesn’t light or ignite the fire for knowledge or thirst for learning for learnings’ sake is doomed to fail in the long run.