IT'S THE CHATTERBOXES WHO
DO WELL AT SCHOOL
I once stayed with a young Maori family in suburban Auckland. The first morning, their four-year-old son took me down to the local shops. All the way there and back he chattered about everything around him, so that by the time I returned I had been told all about who lived where, what they all did, what you could buy at each shop, what the doctor did when you went to see him, what savings banks were for, how you caught the bus into town, why men dug holes in the street, and a hundred and one other things.
‘Real Little Chatterboxes’
Rather surprised at finding a little Maori boy so talkative, I mentioned it to his mother. She smiled, “Yes, Patrick's a real little chatterbox. I suppose it's because we've always made a point of talking to him and getting him to tell us about everything he sees.”
Patrick is now making excellent progress at school. His younger brother started recently and is also doing well. The three smaller children in their turn are becoming “real little chatterboxes.” When the boys come home they are always full of news about what happened at school, and usually they bring home some treasured piece of work for their mother to admire. When Dad comes home they tell him about it all over again. After tea, Dad might read them a story while Mum is putting the little ones to bed. Both parents are actively interested in their children's education. Mum goes along to all the school functions. Dad is chairman of the school committee, even though the district is mostly Pakeha.
Too Busy to Help
In another part of the country, seven-year-old Wiki is just home from school with a newsletter for her parents. Mum looks up from the stove.
“Put it on the mantlepiece and get yourself changed. You can feed the fowls and get me some kumara.”
Wiki then has to feed the little ones and put them to bed. After tea there are clothes to be ironed for school tomorrow. About eight o'clock she brings out her homework and settles down by the fire.
“Mum, what are savings banks?” Wiki has to give a morning talk next day.
“Don't they ever teach you anything at school? I'm too busy to tell you now.”
No Use Asking About School Work
Her big brother gives Wiki a pitying look. He learned long ago it was no use asking Mum and Dad about school work. You were supposed to find these things out for your yourself. He offers her a scrap of information.
“That's where you keep your money, if you got any.”
Wiki writes it down. A savings bank is where you keep your money so it is safe. Satisfied, she puts her book away. So that's all a savings bank is, she thinks.
Dad gets home from work about nine, has tea, and goes to bed to read Best Bets. He tells Wiki to wash his dishes.
Wiki's talk is a dismal failure, and the teacher is cross with her. She says Wiki didn't prepare it properly.
A week later the newsletter is still lying on the mantlepiece. Nobody has bothered to read it.
Some Points to Consider
Wiki's home is a good one in most respects. But have any of these points got a familiar sound?
Wiki's parents are always too busy to help her with homework.
When she was younger, nobody gave her a great deal of help in learning how to talk.
Almost the only time her parents talk to her is when they are telling her to do some job or other.
She has given up trying to tell them about all the things that happen at school. They became impatient every time she tried.
Her childish questions were nearly always ignored. Sometimes she was smacked for being a nuisance. (Maori children use that word “nuisance” a great deal. You can understand why).
Nowadays, if she talks to her parents at all, it is only to ask for something.
None of this is anybody's fault. There isn't much communication between parents and children in a great many Maori homes, and I think this causes a lot of our troubles.
Maybe They Expect Too Much
Can Wiki's teacher really do what her parents seem to expect? Wiki is only at school 5 hours out of 24. She has learned at home that you mustn't ask adults too many questions. This belief will be reflected in her classroom behaviour. When she does finally ask a question, the class may laugh at her ignorance and she may not try again for quite a while. Even if she is lucky enough to have a sympathetic teacher who understands the real cause of her difficulty, she still has to share that teacher with 30 other children. Maybe Wiki's parents are expecting a bit too much.
Little children are very curious about the world around them, and it is only natural for them to ask a great many questions. I know that you adults get thoroughly sick of it. You want to talk to each other, and not be pestered with silly questions all the time. But are the questions really silly? Isn't a child's question an attempt to learn something? If it is, then surely it ought to be answered.
Talking to the Children
Without realising it, a lot of people seem to think there is something wrong with adults talking to children. If I happen to get talking with the kids when I visit many Maori homes, the parents will tactfully but firmly draw me back to the adult conversation, which is probably football, racehorses and local gossip, and I am left with the impression that I've been doing something that just isn't done. Patrick's parents are the exception. In their home everybody talks to everybody else, and all conversations are equally important.
There aren't so many Maori families where everyone sits down together to have a good yarn about something, where the kids can join in and say what they think. Does your family do it? How long since the last time? Or maybe you still think education is what happens at school, and that's all there is to it? You've got a lot of wisdom and experience that your children could benefit from. Getting them to think for themselves can be fun, too. Could be that you might even learn something from them.
What about that homework that you don't really understand? You never learnt anything like that when you went to school, it was all different in those days?
The World Was Different
Of course education was different. The world was different. Don't be ashamed of your ignorance. We're all ignorant in some way or another. Do you think your neighbour's a poor type because he can't drive a car? Of course you don't. He's probably never had the chance to learn. Even if he kept failing his driving test you still wouldn't hold it against him, because he can do more with a vegetable garden than you ever could.
Your children will understand your not knowing about their school work if they realise that you are wise and clever in other ways. But surely you're not going to let your kids beat you. If they can learn it, why can't you learn it with them? You could start by reading their school books, and asking them a few questions. You could even make a game out of it. Pretend you don't know and get them to teach you. Before long they may be telling you quite a few things you didn't know before. Please remember to enjoy this if it happens, because that will give them a really good reason for learning their work thoroughly. And if they give you a full explanation, won't that help them to understand it better themselves?
You're probably going to hand me the excuse that you haven't got time to do all this. I don't believe it. Think of all the times when you said you were too busy, and yet you somehow managed to make time for that rather important job that just had to be done. Isn't your children's education just as important?
This article is published with acknowledgement to ‘Te Kotuku’, the newsletter of the Whanganui Educational Advancement Committee, in which it first appeared.