Tutoring A Different Kid

A few days ago, I was perturbed by a Singaporean mum who wanted me to tutor her son.

This parent is understandably anxious. After all, her child didn't do well despite attending tuition at two other study centers. There is a slim chance that he may be able to pass his end-of-year math test such that he can opt for the Additional Mathematics course next year.

His exams will take place 5 weeks later and I'm supposed to help him improve sufficiently. This quantifiable goal with such a tight timeline is a rather tall order.

Please don't be mistaken, I love such challenges. I love teaching a child to enjoy learning. The priceless sparkles in their eyes as they grasp universal laws, the gradual improvements in their morale as they learn to cater to the demands expected of them, these signs are wonderful.

Tutoring can be an inspiring activity - for both the tutor and tutee - if not for the presence of overly concerned parents. 

As the mum listed the rules that her son has to obey, I felt a little sorry for him.

He can't stay back in school to study because he may be distracted and waste precious time. He can't go out with friends after lessons because he's too young to tell who are the people he should hang out with. What if he goes out with the wrong crowd? That would be terrible. He can only be trusted with such decisions when he's older and wiser. He can't even eat sweets.

But how does her son learn to be wise then? Wisdom isn't not related to age, not at all.  A person can be 75 years old and yet be unwise. Another may be a 15 year-old precocious thinker.

Wisdom is about making mistakes and learning from them. How can her son ever be wise enough to make decisions if he isn't allowed to make mistakes? It's akin to expecting a hen to give birth to a hamster - unnatural, if not utterly impossible.

This is Singapore, I suppose, and citizens aren't expected to make mistakes. They're expected to pop out of the wombs as children with the paradigms, wisdom and experiences of old people. Some mums would rather handhold their children then allow them to walk, simply because they may trip and fall.

So what if they trip and fall? So what if they injure themselves? So what if they walk on uncharted routes in unexplored territories? Is it really that bad?

The high school years - the best years of her son's life - are wasted on inconsequential rules. Transmogrified into a stale, boring and dull existence.

I wonder how to tell the concerned mum that I was a loiterer too - once upon a time, many twilight years ago. My friends and I played catching in the neighbourhood, crawled through the drain next to the bus stop, pretended to study at fastfood restaurants. My childhood was all the more richer and my grades didn't suffer. This highly educated mum probably had a similarly vibrant childhood herself, littered with precious, wonderful, life-improving mistakes.

Perhaps what her child - and what every child - needs isn't more rules to protect them. Perhaps what they need is the freedom to fall and pick themselves up.

Most parents, thankfully, don't do this.


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