Sunday, February 6, 2011

Men and Women of Tomorrow

I now have a new yardstick for measuring children's potential. If your child can't make a Lamb Wellington by the time he or she is 12, you have failed as a parent. If he or she does not know what duxelle is and how to cook it to perfection, you have failed as a parent.

I have three nephews. That's not the same as having children. Thank God, it's not the same as having children. I never want children, because it is a huge responsibility. Having nephews means I can take them out once in a while, and buy them books they may never read.

However, seeing the kids featured in Junior Masterchef Australia and Live to Dance, I am made very aware of how far behind Malaysian children, parents, and our society in general are compared to those in other countries.

We may be ahead of say, Ghana, but that's no excuse, really.

The thing is not about creating prodigies, or nurturing geniuses, but what I saw in those TV shows are attitudes and temperament which I do not see here.

In Live to Dance, the very first contestant was Jalen, who is like, 9 years old? Maybe 10. He dances. Okay, fine. His father was the one who intrigued me. He was a man, probably in his 40s, tattooed on both his arms. For all intents and purposes, he looked like a tough guy.

But he was crying like a bitch as he said this, "I never got the support and opportunity from my parents, so it was important for Jalen to have everything I never had."

Looking at the kid and how he performed, as well as his sunny disposition, I believe that that is a happy kid with a loving father.

There are numerous other examples. Most clear are the kids on Junior Masterchef Australia. These kids are from 8-12 years old and they are cooking dishes that are usually done only by accomplished chefs.

Take Pierre, who did the Lamb Wellington - the lamb version of Gordon Ramsay's Beef Wellington. While it took those chefs years of practice and getting it right, Pierre simply did it almost subconsciously, from his cooking time with his grandma.

There's Jack, from Tasmania, who always prepares his dishes with an artistic flair. And the sisters (twins?) who will probably place in the top three - Isabella and Sofia.

They do stuff from souffles to chicken pies and whatever else that comes to mind. Even prawn with chocolate and lime sauce.

I was actually watching the adults in that show. No matter how prodiguous, these are still kids and the dishes they cook may sometimes get burnt or suffer from any number of imperfections.

But this is what was said to the boy who made the prawns with lime and chocolate sauce - "I don't want you to ever stop being creative."

I can imagine that a dish of prawn with chocolate and lime sauce may taste weird at best, or downright horrible at worst, but the reaction from the judges and the sheer knowledge of these kids show me that there are better communities to raise your kids in. Where they get proper support and perhaps get taught the kind of values that may take some time for kids in other countries to discover on their own.

I have been playing with my nephews, and even though their parents work hard at putting food on the table, and fattening them up, I sense that those three will have to rely only on their innate sense of right and wrong as well as talent and intelligence that they were born with.

This is not a condemnation. I am not going on a moral high horse, because I do not believe in morals, except for ones I set upon myself. I am not calling any parent - well, not most of you - stupid.

I am merely saying that after I have seen what is possible, I often wonder what kind of bullshit is being done on most Malaysian kids, by bullshit parents?

I come from a family of teachers, and after watching those shows, we sat down and discussed somewhat why I have never seen Malaysian kids attain that level of knowledge, security and sense of responsibility.

I am not talking about music and math geniuses. I am talking about the demeanour and how these kids carry themselves.

We all have gone through the education system, and most of us have been brought up by human parents. I guess we all see the flaws ourselves.

When I was a kid, all I was ever told was to get As in my exams. While the curriculum (which means 'chariot horse' in Latin, I was told) was done by very smart people, I believe that the culture of merely getting As as infinitely flawed.

I was never taught to have a thirst or respect for knowledge. I was taught to get number one, regardless of the consequences. I got them all, but at a very young age, I have suspected that there are more things to it.

Science was not taught with wonder and excitement, as well as a dose of history, but with notes on what kind of questions will come out in the exams.

And I see two kinds of parents - those who push their children to get As, and those who make excuses when their children don't. I see both groups as doing a disservice to their kids.

Some parents teach their kids to be manipulative and sneaky. The young people are threatened with abandonement and rejection.

I know it is hard to control five year olds. But... really?

I do not believe that it is yet possible for the adults in this country - myself included - to teach kids the kind of awareness I see in kids from other countries. There, I see the future.

This is why, I have always advised my friends who have children, to take their kids and raise them elsewhere. They might grow up to be the Mahathirs if they are left to develop here, but Dr M is but one person of 28 million.