Advice to mother of Leaving cert boy

Tue, Apr 3, 2012, 01:00

TO BE HONEST:An unheard voice in education

I am writing in response to the TBH column on March 20th titled ‘I can’t blame my son for his lack of interest in the Leaving Cert’.

I nagged the hell out of my teachers with questions about the point of the Leaving Cert while I was in secondary school (Sligo, 1994-1999). I still wonder. The questions both you and your son are asking are on many of our minds. A lot of the way we go about life seems wrong and stupid – education very much included.

Try not to let him get sour about the dour academics of secondary school, but also try not to let him get sucked in further to the system by taking the path of least resistance to the megapub known as university in Ireland. That would be the real wasted opportunity.

Encourage him to do a bit of app creation or computer mash-up stuff, maybe he could do a bit of chef training or some other trade and travel a bit.

I can speak Irish, mostly because my parents speak it well and I had a certain in-built ability to blather on as Gaeilge. However it was my worst Leaving Cert subject. All those daft poems that Michael D Higgins borrows so freely from in his speeches. And yet, there are some old Irish poems and songs that make my hair stand up: “Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár . . .” or “Is gurbh é gléas a bpósta a bhí dá dtoramh, a Rí na Glóire nár mhór an feall”. But, a full grasp of the conditional tense? Yeah right!

I have better things to be doing.

Now, Shakespeare. A nodding familiarity with this genius won’t do him any harm. Try and get him to grapple with Shakespeare on his own terms. Don’t take the teacher’s analysis for granted. If he thinks Macbeth is doing what any of us would unremarkably do in his situation, let your son argue for that. Even if he gets a D for his trouble. Shakespeare himself would hate to be taught in the conventional way your letter describes. He is much more subtle and subversive than a didactic English lesson can allow for. Hopefully your son can practice the English essay as a vehicle for his humour.

On mathematical equations – most people will have to do a bit of mental or calculator arithmetic most days of the week. And maths is one of the things you won’t really learn later in life when you leave the intensity of secondary school.

Stick at the maths, even though you will tear your hair out at times. But you tear your hair out at anything worthwhile. Some of the equations will never see the light of day again, but loads of us use them all the time and it is a lot easier to do well in maths exams than English, Irish or French.

My overall advice?

It’s three months before the Leaving Cert. He may find the Leaving Cert a joke; just try to get him to see it through to the punchline.

If you need help with Shakespeare or mathematics you are welcome to ask me. I ended up as a Shakespeare-loving physicist!

This column is designed to give a voice to those within the education system who wish to speak out anonymously. Contributions are welcome. Email