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Proudly Supporting

Our Kids are Clever, or Clever Enough

By Carol Duncan - 2nd December 2010

We all know our kids are clever, right?  We all want them to do well, to do the best that they can, to make friends and thrive and grow. I take great pleasure in watching the small (and large) achievements of my two sons. This morning my heart stopped a bit when they both slipped into the spray jackets I bought them in the Blue Mountains during our Christmas holiday last year. Last year, these jackets were way too big...but this year, oh my goodness, they won't be wearing them next year!  

So I take comfort in the fact that continuing to feed our boys three or five or 28 times a day is having the desired results.

They're a classic pair of kids. Mr 9 is a little anxious, a bit particular and can become stressed easily. Mr 7? Well, if he was any more relaxed he'd be unconscious. Somewhere in the middle for both boys would have been great.

Here's the thing: there's so much attention and pressure on children 'achieving' at school, going to 'good' schools and getting good results. I want this for my boys too, but where do I draw the line? Mr 9 is wrapping up Year Three and Mr 7 is finishing Year Two. Both of them are doing just fine academically and socially, although I think the social aspect is easier for Mr 7.  But as early as Year One it was quietly suggested that we "might want to think about a selective high school" for Mr 9 (then just seven himself). I was very flattered and proud of my son; he's a highly academic child who loves learning and classical music and science and so on. But he also knows that he's 'not like the other kids'. The other kids don't share his taste in music, or his ability in many areas of learning. Fortunately, he is still proud of being able to apply himself and get good results.

But Mr 9 is my somewhat more anxious firstborn child, and I am loathe to apply any more pressure to him than he is capable of doing himself, "Mummy, in the UNSW tests I got two high distinctions, two distinctions and two credits." The tone of his voice implied that he felt the credit awards were a bit of a let down. My husband and I have never even hinted at pressure in this area. We support their school activities, we engage with them greatly, but we never pressure to achieve. (Except in swimming lessons, that ain't optional!)

Is the world just becoming too hard, too competitive, too threatening? The desire to 'achieve', to earn a big salary, to own a big all seems now to be about bigger, better, faster, MORE...and I don't like it. I urge any of you who agonise over this as I do to read Arun Abey's book, How Much Is Enough? .

I know we still have three years to consider high school for Mr 9, but my gut tells me that he will be better off, on so many levels, going to the local high school with his friends. I imagine that he will be happier, more secure and therefore likely to thrive and achieve than he would in the more intense and competitive environment of a selective school.

Meanwhile, I will wish my boys enough. A relative always signs off her emails with "I wish you enough." Until recently, I didn't know what she meant.

If you don't know either, go to the I Wish You Enough website.

Real? Urban myth? I don't know.

But I wish for my sons to love and be loved in return.

And to have enough.

Merry Christmas. Happy Festivus. From my funny little clan, to yours.

Comments (8)

Can SO relate

Carol, I never realised your Mr 9 was so similar to my 11 yo son. A year ago we made the HUGELY difficult decision to take him out of his school (where he was with his sister) and move him to a selective boys' school. For him, it was the best decision ever as he had struggled socially in his old school and is doing brilliantly at the new. At the old school he was 'different' and always the smartest. At the new school he is just one of many very bright and intense and anxious young boys. And he was bored at the old school and is being challenged at the new. However it was a very difficult decision and we AGONISED about it.
I just kept reminding myself that I could always move him back, but I would never know how the new school would be if I didn't try.
Hope this helps.

CarolDuncan's picture


Yes, for me it's all about happiness. And resilience for the times when the happy goes a little astray.

To be truly happy involves so many facets of your life and I fear it is sometimes treated as 'pop psychology'. I suspect, also, that some of our most 'valued societal norms' can in fact be harmful to many people.

Can't change the world, but I can try to guide my lads a little.

YvetteVignando's picture

Selective Dilemmas

I have seen so many of our friends go through this dilemma and we've been through it too. I absolutely recommend you read Erin Shale's book The Best School for Your Child. Otherwise, go with your gut feeling - almost always the best guide. The fact that a school is selective or public or private is, in my opinion, rarely a guide to the quality of the teachers or the peers and that, in the end, is going to have the most influence on your child's education and high school social life.

So, I would choose a school where you think the Principal is fabulous, where there is a core group of stable staff, where the staff go out of their way to create experiences beyond the call of (teacher) duty, and where they have an excellent and caring eye on boys' social development. Also, if your child has a particular interest, e.g. music then see if the school can provide the opportunities. The label "selective" will not help you make your decision but there just may be a selective school that fills these criteria, AND, that you and Mr 9 feel good about.

And finally, a teacher I respect immensely has told me that if you choose a selective school, to make sure that the cohort at that school does not have a culture of all work and no play (i.e. kids being pushed by parents to focus on academics only and/or being coached after school and having no interest in social, sporting or other aspects of school life). I know of selective schools here in Sydney that are not like that at all - but it is worth seeing what you can find out in each case.

At the end of the day isn't

At the end of the day isn't it about our kids being happy. So why not ask them what they want. Kids are so smart and a lot of the time they will surprise you with their answers. It may take a bit of a dig to get to the core of what they really want, but I guarantee you will. And then you can decide a way forward together.

CarolDuncan's picture

Both really good reasons for

Both really good reasons for considering what's 'best' for your kids. I swing between the options - public comprehensive, selective, private ... my husband is a very good example of good public education as both an accomplished musician and holding a PhD in applied physics. But I also know of the difficulties he had at school - not really feeling like he'd 'found his tribe' until he started university.

I am, of course, no clearer about this than I was yesterday.

Great post. My son is

Great post. My son is finishing gr 5 and so we are wrestling with this now... no toss up re selective, as those generally strat at Yr 9 in Melb, but between public and private. We can afford private and I want to give my kids the best they can- my daughter is very academic and driven, and my arty son needs care and pushing. Perhaps unfairly, I wonder if they will get those in a state school. Then again, are we wasting our money- money that could be spent travelling with our kids or helping out with Uni fees/an apprenticeship- if our local state school is "enough". It's killing me! Kylie Ladd.

I know quite a few kids who

I know quite a few kids who have recently finished at our local selective high school, some that are there now and some that will be attending next year. From all accounts, the kids have loved their years there, or are excited to be going. They have been friendly, well-adjusted kids and the constant factor between them seems to be that they love to learn for learning's sake, not for achievement. And most importantly, all of their parents did not pressure them to achieve, just looked at the opportunities and made a decision based on their children's happiness. Many of these kids were a little lost at primary school, because it just wasn't providing the mental stimulation that they craved. They have thrived at high school.

I believe our local selective high school encourages such an attitude, and seems a little different to those in other larger cities, which sound a lot more competitive and results focussed. It is still hard work, but for the kids I have known, the work has been what they have been looking for all along to challenge their amazing minds. Their biggest asset has been that their families have always been careful to keep the pressure at a minimum, and ensure that their kids have plenty of opportunity to switch off and enjoy their teen years as well.

My own daughter will be starting at our local non-selective high school this year. In her early years selective schools were mentioned, but her personality didn't unfold that way. Schoolwork comes easily to her, but she can live without it. Her mind is happily occupied with the regular work and she doesn't crave more. Thankfully it has meant an easier decision for us this year. I wish everyone who has to make a choice the very best.

SusanW's picture

selective high schools

I have recently submitted the application for my oldest child (now 11 and in year 5) to sit for the entrance test for the local selective high school. I'm still not convinced it will be the best choice for him, but he asked to be allowed to take the test and I figure we aren't commiting to anything by allowing him to do so.

I am also concerned about the impact of attending such a school on his self-esteem. I know for some students, attending a school with the type of academic opportunities and focus of a selective school allows them to become more comfortable with who they are and really thrive. For my son, I think being part of a far more diverse environment would be better for him in many ways.

Fortunately, his current school runs a 'Middle School' system covering Yr 6 - 8. He will experience 6 months of Middle School before we have to make a choice about his best options for high school (provided he passes the entrance test, of course). Sadly, his currently school hasn't provided any significant challenge or extension up to this point, making the decision even more complicated.

I want my children to be happy, healthy, emotionally well-adjusted, passionate, hard-working, creative - the list goes on. I'm still not sure which learning environment will be most likely to support these character traits in my son (or my younger children).

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