For whom the bell (curve) tolls

Last week my 6 year old daughter Prima received her first school report.  Her class was graded in key areas such as English and Maths on a bell curve and she was ranked on the middle of the bell.  Not the top, not the bottom, but in the middle with most of her year.

I am embarrassed and ashamed to admit I was deflated by this, disappointed even.  I may be her mother and not an educator but I think Prima is special. My reactions to the report covered diverse emotions:

Disbelief – How was it possible that Prima’s obvious intelligence was not obvious to her teacher?

Outrage – How did her teacher not realise that Prima’s rightful place is at the top of the bell, not the middle?

Confusion – In Prima’s previous school in London she was at the top of her class.  Despite what we see on Eastenders, I can not believe that the average Australian is smarter than the average  Brit.

Concern -Is Prima’s profound shyness masking her true intelligence and giving a false impression of her abilities? The impression or perception of intelligence being just as important as its reality.

Guilt – How have I failed my child and should I be doing more to support her education?

Fatigue – How much more can I actually do to support her education?

Paranoia – Will this clearly false impression of her intelligence, formed when she was only 6, prejudice the next 15 years of her education?

Super paranoia – Will this clearly false impression of her intelligence prejudice the rest of her life?

More guilt – Am I a bad mummy for thinking the above thoughts rather than simply being satisfied with the report and Prima’s achievements in it?

To put all of this into some perspective (and to offer a weak defence), Sri Lankan Tamils are the kind of people who:

– compare their babies’ apgar scores with (and against) each other;

– instinctively want to get “full marks” on all tests, including the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Test;

– ask “what happened to the other 2%?” when you manage a grade average of 98%;

– want to have more of anything than other people, even if they really didn’t want the anything in the first place;

– don’t believe doing your best is good enough if Your Best is not The Best.

I’ve tried hard to shake off my cultural conditioning.  I’ve had years of expensive life coaching to control the over-anxious, over-achieving lawyer within me and the impulse to compete and compare.  Instead, I religiously repeat the following mantra to my children: Doing your best, trying your hardest, learning and having fun is the most important thing mummy wants.

I wonder if my children sense I am faking it.

Today Prima had one of her friends over for a play date. The little girl’s mother and I hesitantly chatted about the recent school report.  Valiantly, I feigned delight and enthusiasm for the report for a while. Eventually the pressure of the pretence was too much.  I broke down and admitted to my disappointment about the bell curve.  I felt like an overbearing alpha mummy who was foisting the full weight of unrealistic academic expectations on my daughter’s slender 6 year old shoulders.   I was relieved when the mother (a non-Sri Lankan) confessed to exactly the same disappointment and embarassment at her own feelings.

Laughingly we agreed that:

– such craziness was thankfully not confined to one culture;

– the bell curve was anachronistic, misleading and clearly flawed;

– we were both either completely justified in our concern or we were both overbearing alpha mummies. Either way, we were certain we were at the top of the bell curve.