An Open Letter to My Son

Dear A

As I write to you today, I experience a flurry of emotions. A feeling of pride, for sure, for the young teenager that you are and also immense gratitude for the person you have come to become.

You are in the final realm of your school life, and invariably you will now be told how these four years are the most important years of your school life. You know, this is so true. Because after these four years are done with, you will not get back to school. And, trust me, you are going to miss all the craziness that happens there!

But that’s what your mother is telling you! When they tell you that these years are important, they don’t mean exactly this. They mean that now is the time when you will have to face some of the unfairness of our education system and fall in line with it.

Much that I promised you that we are going to enjoy this life of learning, I am afraid I cannot shield you from it. You may say that I am a part of this system. I’m sorry I don’t know how to stand up to it. So, probably you will face it, no matter how much I want it the other way round.

But then, there are a few things that I can tell you, which may help you to see all of this in a different light altogether.

  1. Your sister has often asked me why I quit teaching, when I enjoy it so much with the two of you. Here is my answer today.

Once when I was teaching class seven in a particular school, there were two special boys in my class. One of them often surprised me with his expanse of knowledge, his insight and his vision. Most of the time, he would turn my teacher and I so enjoyed learning from him. The other one was extremely hard working and never gave me a reason to complain. His note books were up to the mark and work was so well done. He was alert in class and very responsive.

As a teacher, whenever I had to mark my students for a project or an assignment or even an examination, there was more than one thing that I would consider. Clearly, my hard- working fellow always managed to steal the show with his well-earned marks. While I longed myself to write like my “teacher-student”, I couldn’t give him marks for his sheer brilliance or knowledge.

It saddened my heart to do so. I learnt, as a teacher, that examinations mark you not just for your ability but also for your memory, your presentation and your practice. And I learnt that if you do not top, it doesn’t mean that you are not capable. At the same time, if you do top, it doesn’t mean that there is no one more capable than you.

And this is what I wish to tell you today. Whatever marks you may go on to score tomorrow, do not be deceived by them. Do not be swayed by the laurels you receive or the flak you face. None of it is for real and none of it will stay!

You also know now, why I chose to walk away from teaching. You see the predicament of a teacher!

  1. When I was in school, for a long-long time, I believed that I was good at most subjects. This bubble burst when I failed once in mathematics. But because I had never seen failure, instead believed that I was invincible, it was hard for me. Hard to see myself fallen. Hard to get up and restart. It was much later when I started studying Literature that I found my true calling. Nonetheless, I will tell you, abstain- abstain from anything that tells you that you will never falter. That builds a heap of expectations, which unknowingly only press you harder. Work towards your dreams but don’t expect that you will never fail.

A lifetime cannot be spent going up the mountain. Once you reach the summit, the downfall must begin. And the sooner you are at the top, the sooner shall you fall down. So, take a step at a time. Do not be in a hurry to reach there. If you dream passionately, it will come your way. But don’t be fooled by little accomplishments. Do not even put them aside like they never happened. Treat them equitably.

  1. I have always taught you to believe in the Dignity of Labour. I had so wished you would take after me and spend your life in reading and writing. Because I so enjoy my round table conferences with you on books and their world. But the day you announced your scientific temperament to me, I was a little heart broken. I do respect your choice and willingly accept what you choose to do with your life. Yet, let me tell you. Survival is tough in this world. It’s more practical than any of my books can tell you. Put in your energy where you want but remember, there is place for everyone in the scheme of things and the world would be incomplete without every single brick. It would be incomplete without the builders and the historians and the scientists and the teachers and the businessmen and whoever you can think of. I am not asking you not to dream big. I am just telling you that no matter what you do, you will be an essential part of this world and how it must run. There will always be someone dependent on you, and that someone must be your focus. Do not judge others by what they choose to do. They are playing an important part in their own little way.
  2. As you move ahead in life, don’t be overwhelmed- by marks, by rank, by money, by status. They don’t mean a thing. We are all walking in varied directions. Take pleasure in your journey. Walk with passion and dedication. The sea of knowledge is vast. Dive deeper but do not become Faustus.

Again, when I was teaching in another school, a certain parent approached me with a complaint. She told me that her daughter was utterly dismayed by her result in my subject and felt that there was no good studying for it. I was teaching a language. When I spoke to the girl, she complained that most students felt sad because they didn’t score well in the subject as I didn’t give them enough marks. My answer was simple.

Even as a teacher, I was never confident that I could paraphrase a poem perfectly or write an essay with absolute finish. Because nobody can. It is an ever-evolving subject and perfection, as such, I believe, is a myth. So, how could I grant perfect marks? It is so sad that education has moved from learning to earning scores!

When I see children score a perfect hundred in languages now, I feel we have failed to teach them the languages “perfectly”. Yes, the irony is that perfection in a language lies in its imperfection.

I fear if you ever become overwhelmed by your marks, you might just begin to feel like Faustus– and you know what happened to him!

  1. When I was your age, I had asked my father, why he never expressed his happiness when I did well or anger when I failed at something. He told me these both emotions a part of life, and must be given just as much attention as they deserve. Remember this always.

Finally, do take the plunge, my dear. You will have to. You have no choice. But keep in mind, these things do not define who you are, or what you will be. There is much more to that. Wouldn’t otherwise, happiness reside only in palatial homes, mark sheets, bank accounts or in the biggest offices of the most powerful men and women of the world!

Go on! And measure your life with all that matters to you!!!

28 thoughts on “An Open Letter to My Son”

  1. Poignant, thoughtful and insightful. It’s very important to have this conversation with the kids. And it baffles me how these kids score 100% marks. Maths, science … Understandable but English and Hindi?

  2. Completely agree, in the rat race, we all tend to forget that failure is as acceptable as success and success is as insignificant as failure.
    Loved it!

  3. Beautifully written, Sonia. I especially like the 5th point where you say both need to be given equal attention. It started my thinking about my journey. I was a math nerd, enjoying studying engineering but did not feel fulfilled by my job. I was never a fan of the languages as a subject but now I want to consume a lot of poetry and writing in all its forms. Life takes turns.

  4. I can resonate with every word that’s written by u. It’s so true. I have forwarded this link to my son’s email ID which I will hand over to him some 10 years later, in his teenage. But I am sure this would be even more relevant then. Thank u so much for writing with such clarity of thoughts.

  5. These are pearls of wisdom for children of today! It is about time that the children, parents and school authorities understand and rediscover the true essence of education in our country. Your letter is so heart-touching and true to every word. Loved it!

  6. Navita Bhatia

    Your thoughts completely resonate with mine here. Having been in teaching for quite a long time, I also carried a feeling of ‘quitting’ many times when I had to restrain myself from standing up against the system. And yes, we need to get our kids prepared to adapt to the same system as there is no escape route for them. More power to all of us!!

  7. Vandana Bhagra

    So true, but in the end we do end up being bullied by the system, where marks become everything, a judging parameter of what you will do next to succeed in life. And if you look back ten years down the line, you will contemplate….was it really worth it…

  8. aarti sholet

    Just loved it… wish all parents would understand this… loved the way you explained how one should not judge others by what they choose to do and how our education system has moved from learning to earning scores. We as adults, and not just kids alone, need to understand this that we need to work towards self development and growth … one’s worth should not be defined by how he/she has done in comparison to others.

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