Considering my own childhood - and I realise it must seem odd to many - led me inexorably to think about my own role as a parent trying to encourage children to learn, do homework and so on. I was about to say that by comparison with my own parents' involvement, I was a complete failure - but then I thought about the outcome for both sons and decided that was a tad sweeping. So what do I remember?
The Word Tin. Son no.1 used to produce this, when he was in P1, with a look of doom. We had to pick words out of a tobacco tin (where on earth did I lay my hands on this item?) and he had to recognise them. At the time he was four and a half and it was torture. Later, there was more amusement to be had in thinking up outrageous sentences with which he could demonstrate the meaning of words. And that, I have to admit, is all I can remember from the Primary school years. I have very little recollection of what - if anything - I did to help no. 2 son. He used a thing called the word-maker, and progressed to a sentence-maker, but I didn't seem to do anything. Could this be because by then I'd gone back to work?
When your children attend the secondary school in which both parents teach, the experience is somewhat different from the norm. I was certainly involved in helping both sons with English - rescuing one from having to do North and South for Higher by spending a whole Easter holiday studying the Larkin set texts so that he could use them in the exam a month later actually involved me in the most God-awful scene with his class teacher, who happened to be my boss. I did a bit of Standard-grade Latin with both of them. And when no.1 son became editor of the school magazine, he recruited me as the Editor-in-chief because it was more convenient for him - and look where that got us.
Actually it got me into what I see as the most important single piece of education I ever undertook. I don't know how many evenings I spent in the school while both sons in turn ran the magazine, teaching myself to do desktop publishing (Adobe Pagemaker) when they left and the boy who knew how to do it let us down, sharing hilarious pressure with successive generations of student journalists when the photocopier jammed/ran out of ink/got too hot, going off with them to competitions in Edinburgh and to the Scottish Parliament, sitting in on interviews with Frank Pignatelli, then Director of Education for Strathclyde, and John Smith, leader of the Labour party. Pupils who were shy learned to use the phone, to contact advertisers, to sell advertising; others learned touch-typing without ever taking Business Studies, coaxed ancient Macintosh Classics to work years after they should have recycled, learned to use the scanner and the value of white space on the page.
Did this make up for the fact that we had television on every night? That there was a small telly in the older son's bedroom, linked to the ZX Spectrum but also to an aerial? That they both had radios and listened to music incessantly, from an early age? That we allowed an 11 year old to have a modem and a year's subscription to BT's precursor of the internet (what on earth was it called?) so that he would come and beg: "Can I go online now?" before he was in secondary school? At the time I felt I was failing, when I'd find one of them sweating over something for the magazine the night before some important exam, but now I'm less sure.
But there's so much more to think about in this early exposure to the medium I'm using now that I think I'd better leave it to another post. It's a long way from the Word Tin ...