Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
FOR A LONG time, I wasn’t into schoolwork. Ziya was barely seven or eight years old. My own expectations didn’t fit the overly academic approach of Caribbean education. I disagreed with the teaching philosophy and psychology that gave children homework at ages five and six, required revising for tests, and substituted chalk and talk for learning through play.
I disagreed for many reasons. Primary schooling undervalues emotional development and social skills. It often leaves children bored and stressed, and emphasises competition and hierarchy, rather than compassion and collectivity. A fear of making mistakes or doing anything other than what you are told sets in, leaving children less inclined to ask questions than to reproduce established answers.
Children are being trained for a single, ultimate survival of the fittest that could determine their life chances. Dreaminess has no real place and certainly no rewards. There’s a formula they must learn to fit in.
I also disagreed because I teach bright university students who are worried and intimidated by everything: getting in “trouble,” what others will say, being seen as “weird,” and the risks of challenging power, injustice and hierarchy of all kinds. What’s the point of being smart, but passive or high-achieving, but individualistic or imaginative, but afraid?
Finally, I disagreed because I remember being good enough in primary and secondary school, but not particularly high-achieving. I remember feeling less smart and less of a success because of it. None of that was necessary. I began to love my classes and naturally excelled at university. I was determined not to reproduce pressure that at best is pointless and at worst causes harm, from a failure to recognise that children don’t have to always do well to do well eventually.
So Zi and I would trek to coasts and rivers, and spend hours adventuring on weekends. I didn’t pay attention to her school marks because she’s a child and, frankly, they do not matter. I admired homeschooling, but as a working mother and breadwinner, couldn’t manage. Our compromise was a brief, blissful period of being in the school system, without being bullied by its demands. Providing a bohemian break from regimented reality during our time together was my personal priority.
You have to know your child in a way that no one else will, and commit to her developmental needs, her need for free time and outdoor openness, her obliviousness to scores and rank, and her dreaminess in a way no one else may value.
Then, last week, after her school’s achievement day commemoration, she came home with her certificates, and said she wanted to do well enough for a trophy. I wondered if all this time I had prevented her from being as proud of herself as she could be, but knew it was best that I waited for her to be motivated on her own and ready.
So this weekend we began. We bypassed the beach and spent the day on math and grammar. It was long, but she had a goal, and my role was not to push, but to support her. On Monday, when tests began, I could see her greater confidence and certainty. She had grown up a little while I wasn’t quite looking, in her time and in her own way.
She came home, proud of her test results and prepared for more revision. I started to think about what it would mean for my time, my career and my sacrifices to be with her every step of the way, not because marks matter, but because feeling good about the results of aspiration and hard work lights a spark which lasts a lifetime.
How remarkable to catch when your child enters a new stage, requiring reflection on how you must grow too. My dream is to enable her to avoid the pitfalls of subordination to school, to empower her to excel but also to know how to escape, to emerge with fearlessness, kindness and dreaminess intact, and to nurture her instinct to learn from Orisha festivals, feminist marches, waterfalls, museums, and groups as diverse as market vendors, jab masters, URP workers, and LBGT activists.
While TT stumbles through its myriad inequalities and failures, there’s one small person who most needs what I can uniquely contribute. This seems unimportant to write about in the face of national headlines. Yet it matters, for so many mothers like me lie awake at night thinking about what we can get right one child at a time.