Denying a child’s individuality

Sunday July 15, 2012

http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2012/7/15/education/11612116&sec=education

By VALENTINE CAWLEY

Attractive as it may seem, children should not be enticed in large groups into participating in record-breaking events, for they will not be able to show off their respective creativity and skills.

I HAVE been most unsettled by a “mass performance” of children. It might seem odd that I should find such a performance disturbing, but it did.

What’s more, it could have been damaging to the psychological development of the children involved.

Let me explain. I recently attended a charity concert performed by children. It was organised by a Malaysian preschool. To me, it was the most offensive performance involving children.

The reason I found it so, was the total disregard shown towards every child at the performance.

In one of the presentations, there were 390 children, one of whom was my son, crammed on the stage.

Each child had standing room only. It was almost impossible for them to move, let alone perform on a stage that was not meant for such a large group.

I am certain that not a single parent in that auditorium — apart from the privileged ones at the front — would have seen their child perform.

So why the need for the performance?

Creating a record

The reason soon became clear — the school wanted to create a Malaysian record in which it had the most number of children performing in an event.

To do so, they squeezed well over 1,000 children into its various presentations that night.

The emphasis was on quantity, not on quality. None of the children seemed to have received proper instructions on what they were supposed to do and how to perform.

Those responsible for the event had no regard for the children’s health, comfort and state of mind.

My son was forced to be at the event and I had the feeling that he was unimportant and that his individuality meant nothing. He was just a number, like the others on stage

During the entire duration of the performance, the children had the opportunity to feel their nothingness, their triviality, their “unimportance” to the school.

As a parent, this offended me deeply. There was clearly no respect shown to the children .

Once I saw the 390 children on the stage, I knew, at once, why my son – who usually loves performing – was reluctant to do so.

What occurred was not even remotely a performance experience.

It was an act of psychological denigration for both the children and parents present.

Regrets

I should have listened to my son. I should have pulled him out from the “performance”.

On the day of his rehearsal, he had complained they were not provided with enough refreshments.

Yet, on the day of the performance, those responsible made a big show of feeding the kids.

This hints at the true nature of the organisers. I have learnt my lesson.

If the school ever came up with a stunt like that, we will not allow our child to participate.

The only reason he is at the school is because it is the nearest school to our house, and the most affordable. It is economics alone that dictated our choice.

The school broke the record for having the most number of children performing on stage, but, in doing so, it also broke whatever notion the parents might have had about it (the school) caring for their children.

Education should never be primarily about money. It should be about nurturing a child to become a person with good values.

Putting children in a situation like this just for a record-breaking stunt, is certainly not about bringing out their best.

I remember my son enjoying a different experience when he was a three-year-old child.

He was in a school in Singapore, which was not part of a big chain. He had to perform a dance at the school‘s concert.

It was great to see him up there on stage with a few others. Every movement was fluid and elegant and synchronised perfectly with the accompanying music.

However, I cannot say the same of his current school. Our son has never had that opportunity to present his skills, style and talent.

The school has lost sight of its original ideals in bringing out the best in each pupil, focusing instead on organising an event involving so many children.

None of the children had the chance to develop or hone their skills and talent in the performing arts. It was indeed a great disappointment.

Insignificant

Such “mass performances” must come to an end.

Parents should resist the trend of allowing others to hoodwink their children into creating record-breaking feats.

No child should be made to feel insignificant in performances of such a large scale.

Parents should insist that those organising public performances that include children, should ensure that every youngster is allowed to demonstrate his individuality and talent.

Having smaller groups would ensure that those responsible, be they schools or organisations, cannot cover up their flaws.

Many organisers tend to hide their weaknesses in choreography and other areas like singing and acting, by having a larger group of performers.

By doing so, the audience doesn’t have a chance to scrutinise the flaws of each child, or performer.

Let me reiterate that the true joys of performing will be evident only if children are allowed to develop their individual styles and talent in small groups.

Organisations or individuals should never use children for record-breaking feats for they are mainly a public relations gimmick.

Every parent should be allowed to have memories of their child, on stage, for the first time … memories of their first dance, their first song, their first play.

Let Malaysia be a nation, in which every parent has that chance.

● The writer, an Irishman based in Kuala Lumpur, is a psychology researcher focusing on giftedness. He is also chairman of the Research Committee of the National Association for Gifted Children, Malaysia (NAGCM). He was an actor, writer, magazine founder and editor, physicist and teacher.