Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I believe (cheese warning)

I don't know about anywhere else in the world, but South African schools are big on school songs. And I don't mean some arbitrary hymn from the school hymnal chosen to serve the purpose. A song is specially commissioned for the school. Kind of like the school's anthem, which is sung to mark special occasions.

None of the state schools my kids have been to in the UK have had one - I suspect the whole notion is somewhat frowned upon within the culture, here. But I'd like to take a moment to reflect on some lines from my own school songs. I confess I don't remember them all, but it started like this (and you practically needed a ladder to hit the top notes!)

There's a school upon the hill, and our hearts are turning
To the many paths that lead toward the goal of learning
Many knocks will come our way, in our work and play
Yet with ringing voice we say...
Of course, we can argue that learning isn't the goal, but rather that which the learning enables us to achieve. I'm not so sure. As a learning professional and consummate geek, learning is pretty much a goal in and of itself, but that's probably just me.

My primary school (or at least the last primary school I attended) had a song which included the words:
"Consilio et animus" is the motto we all know
We promise to remember it wherever we may go
...and blow me down, I have!

When my elder son started school, the chairman of the board of governors addressed a special assembly for the new intake and their parents. Of course, the school song was sung (of which I remember not a word or a note), but he expressed his heartfelt wish that the school song could be changed to the chorus of a song that was heard often on the radio at the time. He spared us his singing, but he read out the words to us. Most of us knew them already, but hearing them in that context? Well there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Sadly, leaving South Africa also meant leaving that school, but I long to encounter another school with an ethos that matches the lyrics of the song he read. As we go through the process of moving house and changing schools, I find myself hoping against hope (yet again) that this new school will be it, that we will finally have found the place that encourages my kids to believe:
If I can see it, then I can do it
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it
I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away
I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly
I know, I know, pure cheese. But I want my sons to embark on every task with an expectation of success, and I'd like - just for once - to be able to count on the school to back me in this.

So what got me thinking like this? Well, my elder son returned home from school to share a story his hero-of-the-moment, the PE teacher had shared.

The teacher in question is a rugby player of some note in England, who plays at a pretty competitive level. The team had recently travelled to Cornwall for a match. Arriving very early, he and a teammate went for a stroll around the area, stopping in at a pub for a pint (which, for those of you outside the UK, means a pint - 600ml - of beer or lager). When they returned to the fields on which they were to play, another team member approached them and was horrified that they had been drinking before the match.

The teacher telling the story is something of a wannabe stand-up comedian who often has the kids in stitches with his anecdotes. This is all well and good, but when he - a SPORTS teacher - sends up someone who wants to go out there and give it his best shot and try to win, I am stunned! Oh, how funny it is to be competitive. Oh how silly to try to win. Oh how laughable to want to do your very best.

My son took the story on board to such an extent that he came home to share it with us and expected us to join in the mocking laughter. My son the sportsman. My son who is desperately looking for a decathlon coach and bemoans the lack of opportunities for and investment in sporting excellence. My son who is as puzzled as I am by the prevalence of tall poppy syndrome. I wanted to storm up there and have words with the man. Instead, we discussed the matter with our son, hopefully restoring his belief that he can fly and his determination to try. But what about all the other kids in the class? And those who will hear the same story next year, and the year after that?

There is too much of a tendency towards "If at first you don't succeed, remove all evidence that you ever tried," and I'll not be having that with my kids! They might not succeed at everything they try, but by golly, they'll give it a go, and they'll do so in the full knowledge that there will be one daft woman and one slightly less daft, but no less supportive man rooting volubly for them from the stands.

There's more than enough space in the world for a couple more over-achievers!


Mark Berthelemy said...

My old school, Gravesend Grammar School for Boys (says it all!) had a song:

Link to wikipedia article

It was written in 1926, and I can still remember all the words! It still brings back memories of end of term - especially the school shout:

Headboy: School! Selah! C'est a dire!

All reply: Alors! Oui, bon. Oh, aye. Oh, aye, aye.
Zen, Zen, Zen!

Anonymous said...

@Mark I might have guuessed that it would be a phenomenon limited to grammar (and no doubt private) schools! I'm not sure I understand that last bit, but I'll bet it was fun to do - especially if you had a headboy with a booming voice!

What I like is the line "Play for the side with your face to the ball". What a heartswelling rallying cry.