Thick Parent

Schools are much more scary now than they used to be.

My son Jake has just started secondary school here in Braine l’Alleud in provincial Belgium. This is always a big transition but I have been amazed at how much is expected of an 11 year old child.

I skipped through high school doing my homework at the last moment, or a day or two late having been given a ‘disappointed look’ or occassionally even being ‘told off’. OK, yes, also on the bus or during registration if it was for a particularly scarey teacher (Mr Semley – Maths). I worked harder during my first degree and post-grad study too, but still always right at the last minute. At school at least, doing the least amount of work possible, while looking like you were putting in at least a decent effort, was part of the game.

But at Jake’s (11) secondary school, or Ben’s (9) primary school, you just don’t get away with that. They are incredibly organised, and the basis of this is the school diary or ‘journal de classe’. I have to sign this every day (for Ben) or every week (for Jake). It’s a tyranny.

A missed piece of homework is immediately highlighted and I have to sign to acknowledge this – and offer any remarks I have on the subject. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to say, but it certainly feels like an immediate accusation that you’re an indolent parent and that a full and profuse apology is required.

The detail in Jake’s journal de classe is even scarier. For every day of the year the classes he’s had are set out, along with what he has covered during that lesson, and any homework he has to do. There’s also a section for teachers’ comments and another opportunity for parents to apologise for their inadequacy.

I’ve so far done my best be a responsible supportive parent but I have a serious handicap. I don’t understand the question. It’s not exactly a question of language. I understand the words ‘matieres’, ‘syntheses’ and ‘contrôles’… but I haven’t got a clue what they mean in a Belgian school and what is required.

For this reason Jake now has to go the supervised study class three times a week. This is normally reserved for kids who have academic difficulties, or need extra supervision to make sure they do any work at all. Jake has to go because his Dad’s a thickie.

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