Thursday, 14 November 2013

Burning the books


 Burning the books
14 November 2013

Now I’m sure most of you have heard of the term, “hitting the books”.  It implies studying.  And attempting to gain knowledge from written work.

But my fifteen year old, might have misunderstood the saying.

He’s currently waging an all out campaign and “burning the books”.

At present, he is writing his Grade 9 final school exams.  And to be honest, this is not pleasant. 

Yes, yes, I know.  When are exams ever pleasant?  But the problem is this, in South Africa, pupils in Grade 10 get to choose the exact subjects that would most benefit their future career path in life.  Which means that in essence, they scale down from eleven subjects, to seven.  And therefore a huge focus during their Grade 9 year, is choosing which subjects they should take.  This includes general subject choice meetings, where parents are reminded and urged to take extra care to advise their children well, as this is the single most important decision your child will ever make.  A choice that could affect their whole future.

No pressure. 

Then follows a lengthy process of aptitude tests, a meeting with a school guidance councillor, who is able to interpret various aptitude tests taking during Grade 8 and 9.  They also look at the child’s IQ, natural ability and inclination towards certain subjects.  And based on all of the above, including discussions held at home to identify exactly what your kids wants to do with his life one day, finding tertiary institutions that offer courses in this field, what their entry requirements are, etc. subject choices are made.

Simple.  Right?  Well no.  Not actually at all.

It is a rather intense and difficult decision to make.  And it is super important. 

And the main reason this is so difficult, is because most fourteen and fifteen year olds have no inclination as to what they want to do.  For a large portion of them a perfect future life includes, playing PlayStation all day long, eating take-aways, gorging on sweets and treats, hanging out with friends, wearing branded clothing, never bothering with laundry, never having responsibility, never worrying about money, never worrying about studying or homework.  I think for them (in their perfect adult world) the most stressful thing, would be having to take the rental PS game back to the shop at a certain time.

Naturally, money would just come to them.  Clean laundry too.  Cooked food a given. 

And a part of me empathises with this.  It is a really young age, to make such a difficult decision.  I would guesstimate that a mere ten percent of people (if even that much) end up doing that which they had envisioned they would at age fifteen.  Furthermore, many people study, and never work in their supposed career field.  It is tough. 

Still for us a decision was finally made.  And in hindsight, I have realised, that this was but Phase One – Choosing Subjects.  Rather unexpected for me, was the fact that the following phase would be even more challenging.  Phase Two – Studying for subjects that you know you are going to drop, that you have no affinity for, that you detest, and that you see no point in studying for.  And a part of me certainly agrees.

But at the same time, I can’t just let Luke off the hook.  He can’t NOT study for Accountancy and Economic Management Sciences, because, “I’m-going-to-fail-it-in-any-rate-cause-I-just-don’t-understand-it-and-I’m-not-even-taking-it-next-year-again-so-what’s-the-point?”

Exhausting!!!  This exact same reasoning applies to Design, Technology and Geography.  And Luke uses various degrees of the same principle over and over again.  “It’s-such-a-lame-subject-and-I’m-never-going-to-use-it-in-any-rate.” is another oft heard refrain.

And thus I’m an awful mother.  One that makes him study for subjects that-even-she-agrees-is-partly-pointless-but-he-has-to-put-the-effort-in-nonetheless-because-failing-due-to-lack-of-interest-and-studying-diligence-is-just-not-good-enough.

Yes, I’m hugely popular.  I’m sure you can imagine.

And so, every day, when Luke comes home from writing one of his exams, he puts his school bag down, fishes the offending books out of his bag and starts a protracted process of annihilating and obliterating that book completely.  Not the text book, of course – cause those you sell to the next sad sap who has to take those subjects.  Rather he burns his class work books and all old question papers and notes he made throughout the year.

In fact, he’s become rather creative.  His pyrotechnic abilities have grown in leaps and bounds.  Why, just today, after completely tearing up his Technology book, he painstakingly emptied out the “gun powder” out of whole bunch of old Tom-Thumb fireworks crackers – because they’re flammable.  In addition, he laboriously sprayed each and every page with a combo of deodorant and Raid insect killer – because they’re flammable. 

And to give him his due, today’s bang was much louder than Monday’s Accountancy and EMS one.

Perhaps he learnt something in Technology after all.

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The charred remains of Accountancy and EMS

The last visible evidence of Luke's Afrikaans classwork book

Please note, that although I took absolutely awesome pics of Luke-the-pyrotechnic, I have decided not to share them. He'd have a cadenza. Furthermore, I rather prize my rocky relationship with him.

Fahrenheit 451 made a huge impression on me. Both the book and the movie. And I've never forgotten it.


  1. Helene, I HATED "Domestic Science" at HHH and could not WAIT to drop it, and then Daddy got transferred to Natal. By a cruel twist of fate, due to stupid streaming rules of subject choices which I cannot remember how it worked s at PHS in nineteen voetsek, HOWEVER I do remember that in order to take Biology AND Geography, I ended being forced to take "Housecraft" from Std 8 to matric. Yuk!! Fashion shows and cooking! Had something to do with not taking the Science route. AND it was only taught in Standard Grade! I hated it! I think all I retained was heating up an oven before you bake a cake! What a waste! Wanted to take Accountancy instead but nought. Ok so there were so highlights, but I thought it was very rude! I am sure I never even took it in std 7. The subject choice combinations did improve.

  2. I can imagine the glee with which Luke would do this!!
    It would take extreme self control not to burn the next book too!