Could someone fully explain to me why it was assumed, and still is, that the majority of children who attended Grammar schools came from wealthy or “privileged” backgrounds? My older brother and most of his friends who passed their Eleven Plus and went on to attend Ilkeston Grammar School did not come from such families. After he had left the Navy at the end of the Second World War our dad worked as a milkman for the Co-op, he shovelled scrap on the furnaces at Stanton, eventually working his way up to foreman. Our mum, like so many other local women, worked most of her life in local hosiery factories, even operating a knitting machine in the front room of our two-up two-down terraced house on Hobson Drive to make ends meet. We also often hear talk of children from poorer backgrounds not being given the same opportunities as those from better off families or of children not being able to reach their full potential. To me much of this is utter twaddle and I suspect the politicians, academics and general tree huggers know the truth but dare not speak it. Most children are born with a brain which is an empty void or palette as one might say, save for its natural instincts of course. When we had our first child my mum advised us that the first four years of a child’s life are probably the most important time because it is during that first four years that parents have a chance to fill that child’s head with as much information as possible. Talk to them, read to them and communicate with them; however young they seem their minds are absorbing information almost from day one. This is the same advice I gave my own daughter when she gave birth a few months ago and already the results are noticeable. By the age of two our son could recognise and pronounce every letter of the alphabet! I used to ask my daughter to tell me what colour each car was that went by (though admittedly it was invariably yellow). We would walk around a supermarket asking our children to point out and identify fruit and vegetables, where the bread was, which meat we were buying and so on. Much to the puzzlement of many who probably thought “what’s the point of that, a tiny child can’t possibly know the difference between an apple and an orange”. Ah but it was a start. Perhaps why some children today have no grasp of where food comes from? And so to my latest gripe. How many of us see young parents on the streets, in cafes, on buses, glued to their i-pods, i-pads, i-phones, or whatever fatuous piece of modern itechnology that comes to hand, often with earphones firmly wedged into the sides of their heads taking not a blind bit of notice as to whether their child is asking them something, trying to attract their attention or even attempting to make eye contact.
I witnessed a child on board a bus asking his mother “what’s that water”, referring to the River Trent. “No idea mate,” replied the mother! And that was that. Not “I’ll find out” or “let’s Google it”. No, her mother was far too busy texting someone to be bothered with such a trivial question. And now we have teachers claiming that children are starting school with little or no communication skills, unable to see further than their arms length (of course the distance the child has held the i-pad it was given on its first birthday) unable to balance properly unless staring at a tiny screen. Poor backgrounds? Under privileged? Don’t make me laugh. I used to work at the museum in Ilkeston. One day one of our regular young visitors popped in. Pale waxy skinned, red eyed, lank dirty hair, clothes clearly unwashed for days, in fact you could almost smell the malnutrition. But what did she have to show me? Her nice new mobile phone which her mum had just bought her. Price £75!
If only political correctness could be put aside for just once then our teachers, politicians and numerous tax funded educational experts would have the courage to speak the truth. That education and the ability to learn and advance ourselves begins at the very start of our lives and more often than not has hardly anything to do with class, wealth or privilege. Those parents who find they can’t be bothered to talk or read to their children because they’ve got incoming texts or emails or back to back soaps and chat shows to watch will often blame the schools, or claim their children have one or more of the multitudes of syndromes going the rounds at the moment before they will realise let alone admit, it was they who let their children down and condemned them to a poor start and a life of missed opportunities and to make the same mistake when their turn comes around to have children.