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This is a blog I wrote in April 2015. In April 2019, following the scandal of celebrities and the well-heeled ‘cheating’ to get their kids into college it is just as relevant.

Education, and parenting, can provoke heated debate regardless of where in the world we happen to live. The ‘tiger mom’ of Amy Chua, who espouses a structured and highly disciplined approach versus the ‘panda dad’ of Alan Paul, who believes “it stifles creativity and innovation”.

Then you have Texas Lt Governor Dan Patrick’s Grassroots Advisory Board, who believe pre-K education is a “godless, socialistic” plot and “a threat to parental rights”.

Like most things there has to be a median way.

In his book Anatomy of Restlessness, Bruce Chatwin wrote, “Children need paths to explore, to take bearings on the earth in which they live….” He believed some of our earliest memories are based around paths, whether to school, to the end of the garden, to the shops; in essence wanting to find out where a path may lead. The journey being as important as the destination.

My “I’m nearly four” year-old granddaughter recently started kindergarten, and is thriving in an environment that allows her to learn, to find her own path and to have a few hours a day independent from her mother.

And there’s the nub. Independence. It seems to me, our role as parents is to set our children up to succeed in whatever endeavour they decide to undertake. We try to guide them. We hate to see them suffer, whether from a snub in the playground, a lost ballgame, a bad grade, or a first broken heart. But if we try and ensure all failure is taken out of their little lives, how will they know how to handle failures that will inevitably face them as adults? There are very few of us who have not had a disappointment of some kind, and it is how we manage those later failures that gives measure of the man or woman we have become.

An article on the BBC website triggered thoughts on how much pressure we put on our children to succeed. Parents in Hong Kong taking extreme steps to ensure their toddlers are accepted into “the most prestigious nurseries.” Only then, these parents believe, will their children gain entry to the best primary, and secondary schools, and ultimately the best universities. One mother has a tutor for her eighteen-month-old daughter, who will need to know how to build a house with bricks, know where the eyes go on a felt face, and in the more extreme nursery interviews, be able to identify different kinds of eggs. Really? Of the five eggs pictured, I felt reasonably confident I got three correct. Tutoring is set to begin for this child’s brother when he reaches the grand old age of eight months. These toddlers are also tutored, and tutoring does not come cheap, in ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and not to be greedy, not to hit little Jimmy, and so on.

Parents in the US desperate for their daughters to get into a sorority have been known to spend up to $8,000 for a two-week sorority prep class, wherein their daughters are taught how to behave. Call me old fashioned, but I thought that was a parent’s job. A study by the University of Mary Washington, published in Journal of Child and Family Studies, reported that children with hovering parents were more likely to suffer from depression, and a lack of self-worth than those with parents less inclined to micromanage their offspring.

There is, of course, a difference in giving children a leg up, and all out cheating. A photo doing the rounds on social media recently showed parents climbing the walls and hanging from the windows of a school in Bihar, India, waving cheat sheets at their children inside taking end-of-year exams. Apparently US colleges expect applicants from China to have falsified transcripts, fake letters of recommendation and not to have written their own essays.

But it’s not just in Asia this proclivity to cheat for our children occurs. Tutors writing college papers for wealthy students is not unknown here. One young tutor earned enough to pay his own college tuition from such an undertaking. An extreme example is of an American mother, Catherine Venusto, a school secretary, who hacked into the schools computers to change her child’s grades. Not just once, but a hundred times. Again, really?

I do understand, and agree, education is the way out of poverty, but parents cheating for their children is not going to help them think. If we want independent, free thinking and confident young people we have to allow them to think for themselves, and to make some mistakes. That does not mean abrogating responsibility for their safety. It means giving them the opportunity to find their own path, even if it means some fraught moments for us. And parenting is full of those gut-wrenching moments. 

In a recent guest blog for on the ‘empty nest syndrome’ I wrote, “Helicoptering our children has I think made the ‘empty nest’ that much harder to bear. Our children have become the focus of our lives, rather than a very precious part of it; necessary of course when they are tiny and truly helpless but not so much as they grow.”

We have to let our children go in incremental steps and a good first step is kindergarten, but on their own merit. Not ours.

When I began writing a blog, I was advised by my publisher, to stick to one area. To become a pro. My realm of so-called expertise was to be expatriation – the good, the better and the best, as well as the occasional blip. As many people have learnt over the years, I don’t always take advice. And so, six years after starting this writing gig, I have covered many topics, often though with recurrent themes.

Guns have been an ongoing discussion – Get Your Glock Here (April 2012), Language and Guns (Jan 2013), Bang, Bang You’re Dead (Oct 2015), The American A & G Debate (Oct 2015) and today.

It’s been a dreadful year, and it’s only July. 2016 might well go down in the annals of US history as, in H.M. the Queen’s words, an annus horribilis. Guns, guns and more guns. Shootings on the streets, on college campuses, in night clubs, schools, shopping malls and private homes. Murder everywhere. All colours. All faiths. All people.

And yet there are still no adequate measures in place in America to control the purchase of guns and ammunition. If anything, the stridency of the pro-gun lobby becomes more vociferous. The President has been stymied at every turn. At every memorial service or funeral he attends, whether civilian, soldier, policeman or child, his anger, and I think his shame, is evident for all to see. Anger is easy to understand. And the shame is not his alone. It should be shared nationwide. By every American citizen, no matter colour, faith or political leaning.

There are federal gun laws dating back to 1934 to do with taxing manufacturers, or promising not to pass along guns to baddies, or over state lines, or increasing the minimum age for buying a handgun to 21. The Gun-Free School Zones Act in 1990 is self-explanatory – but as universities and colleges are called schools in America, I’m a bit hazy on the ins and outs of that. The 1993 Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act required background checks “on most firearm purchasers, depending on seller and venue.” Why ‘most’? Why not ‘all’? Then in 2004 the law expired on the Federal Assault Weapons Ban – something which beggars belief.

In 2005 the poor old firearms manufacturers and licensed dealers were deemed not liable should a crime be committed with one of their products. That little piece of legislation was called the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

But where, I ask you, are the safe guards for you and me? Particularly in states wherein ‘open carry laws’ prevail? Texas is one of them, and where from August 1st, 2016 it will be permissible to carry handguns on college campuses. Gun-free zones will be allowed, which I’m sure relieves many parents sending their children off to college. I just wonder how students will navigate the areas between those zones – the much larger areas where guns are permitted.

How can it be sensible to encourage young men and women, some at a volatile stage in their life anyway, to carry a weapon to class? There seems, sometimes, to be a disconnect between what we see on the screens of our computers and televisions to what actually happens when a gun is fired. People, invariably innocent, die or are horribly maimed.

We hear the cacophonous sounds from gun proponents that good people carrying guns can stop bad people from shooting at us. Bollocks! And, in slightly less colourful language, a growing number of police chiefs around the country are agreeing. David Brown, the Dallas Police Chief, said after the dreadful shooting of five police officers, “… it’s increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s slung over their shoulder and they’re in a crowd. We don’t know who the good guy is versus the bad guy when everyone starts shooting.”

Guns shops and shows are advertised in the daily newspapers, often offering free financing or free interest. I could go out today and purchase a Smith & Wesson M&P15 “Sport II” with an adjustable stock and A2 sights, a forward assist flash suppressor and a 30 round magazine for $699.97. Now call me naive, but what sort of sportsman needs a 30 round magazine to shoot a deer – one that has probably been enticed with feed. That, my friends, is not sport.

So many people who should not have guns, who have slipped through the very holey safety nets, have them. How can it possibly be alright, for example, for those with a record of domestic abuse to retain their firearm license? Yet another loophole in the gun laws.

I have not heard or read one single instance of those in favour of more stringent gun controls demanding the banning of all guns. No one is asking for a rewrite of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Just common sense regulations.

Maybe I did take heed of my publisher, after all. There is a theme, albeit a number of them. I do not though profess to be an expert on guns or the control of them, merely a concerned citizen appalled at the needless deaths of innocent men, women and children.

Last week I spent two days with a man, let’s call him Esteban. He was crew lead for a removal company. I was on hand for any last-minute queries about my friend’s goods and chattels, she having already departed the US.

We walked around the house, me pointing out the red dots on items not to be packed. Later, as standing before a pile of buff-coloured paper he wrapped plates, bowls, cups and saucers, we started chatting. He worked carefully and diligently as I sat, idle, at a table and chairs liberally splattered with red dots.

Esteban was from, er let’s pick Honduras, and had arrived in the US when he was seventeen. I did not ask how he arrived, though from his skimming of the details I gathered it was an illegal entry. I assume, if it was, he was one of the lucky ones not fleeced by Continue Reading…