Monday, March 02, 2015

Choosing our battles with Chinese

We're almost at the end of the first term of Primary 2. Things are moving at an infinitely faster pace. It isn't frenetic yet but it's slowly getting there. There is something on practically every day and the twins take it in their stride as long as they get some time to run around downstairs and shout on top of their voices. But the day they hate the most is Wednesday. On Wednesday, they spend two hours in what Packrat and I have labelled Nazi Chinese class. This was the same holiday class that the twins were doing at the end of last year. This was the same class that Evan didn't want to continue and we insisted they had to because it was good for them.

Admirably, they've stuck to the strict regime of homework that would require the entire week in between classes to complete. Chinese compositions to re-copy, spelling to practice, paragraphs to memorise and passages to practice reading out loud. But the thing is while they've definitely become more resilient in the face of great difficulty and in their eyes, drugery, we have decided to concede that it isn't for them. 

We discovered this about 3 weeks into the term but decided that we had a responsibility to the twins to make sure they see through the term. The reasons why we felt this way were that

1. Evan was demoralised. Every single Tuesday night, he would tell us how much he dreaded going to class the next day. He felt like he was being picked on by the teachers because he was slower writing. I didn't believe him until I saw the teacher rolling her eyes at him above his head. So he didn't see it but the Mommy peeping in to check if they were done caught it in full.

2. The school and therefore the teachers work on a different pedagogical philosophy than we subscribe to. We don't and have never believed in putting down a child to motivate him or her to succeed. Perhaps some children respond to that but we have never treated JED that way and therefore they recoil from being treated in that way. It has a lot to do with my mother reminding me to "teach a child from what he knows to what he doesn't know" rather than "This is what you ought to know, I don't care how you get to that point, but you bloody well get there or suffer wrath." And it didn't seem to matter that what they ought to know was various standards above what they actually knew at this point. This actually makes this Nazi Chinese class a great class for kids who want to excel. But for kids like mine that still need to have the love for the language cultivated and the pillars of the language strengthened, nope. Akin to building a skyscrapper on swampland.

3. We spent many of their pre-schooling years in schools that were bigger on nurturing than demanding excellence for results. This school was markedly different. Nurture? Where is there time to nurture? We have things to do and places to go. Flail? Learn how to swim? Can't? Then, drown.

4. Jordan was becoming too competitive. Because they put so much emphasis on who finished first, she always wanted to finish first regardless of the quality of her work.

I did blog about sticking to our guns and letting them go through it. Well, guns have been stuck to and gone through they have. We've given our notice and we're done with it.

Practically, it does leave a big hole in supporting their Chinese. And we've been trying to plug it ourselves, the way we want them to learn while we find something of the right fit. This has meant that I've had read to JED in my very rusty and patchy Chinese. It's also meant that Packrat and I have spent a whole afternoon on the floor drawing up matching flash cards for the twins just so that part of their revision becomes a game rather than mundane memory work. Perhaps this way, they retain it past the test next week.

It would be so much easier to concede as necessary the whole rote, over-teaching schtick that everyone is buying into. That way, I can, in all good conscience, keep them in the Nazi Chinese class because it is good for them and I can be sure that they won't fail at the language. My way? They truly might fail But that is looking at it only from my perspective. From their point of view,  Evan hates the language already and barely tolerates it. If I stuck him at the Nazi Chinese Centre for the long term, it might end up with him having such a revulsion for the language that once he figures out how to be more rebellious, he won't care if he fails at it. Jordan, she might pick up a bit more from it but at what cost? Becoming uber competitive and crying every time she doesn't come in first?

I wasn't fantastic at Chinese but I had neighbours that I played with, who spoke only Chinese and I loved the Channel 8 dramas. Those two things saved me from the fate that awaited my very anglo, mission school- going brothers. I didn't hate it like they did because I used it and I was conversant in it and it helped me do relatively well for it. Even if I'm no longer there, it's where I want JED to be at and my sense is that forcing what seems to be the industry's standard of what is the best down their little potato-banana throats is really not going to help this cause.

So we fight smart. We forsake this war in the hope that we will have energy for the longer battle and it might be a little bit more painless.