As a committed and aggressively pro-Education hectorer I assayed a certain kind of moral superiority over those taking children out of school during term time. Alas I too have now joined those shameful ranks and no more can I sneeringly judge those that do. In my slight defence mine was an error of timing not a pathological need to take a child to Center Parcs in Nottingham. By that I mean, despite having a university education it would seem the basic functions of life escape me every time and working off a heuristically reliant brain I made assumptions that were spectacularly inaccurate. I got the dates wrong. No sooner had I booked it than my wife came in, fulminating in her disgust at my idiocy. I checked our insurance, we had none. The flights were non-refundable.
My eldest reassured me that he would be only too happy to lie and even suggested scarlet fever as being a possible cause for his absenteeism. Given that he’s not yet 7 I felt a little uncomfortable dragging him into the web of deceit. So I bit the bullet and owned up to the Head. She was pragmatic and understanding, unimpressed naturally and quite likely suspicious of someone who was that stupid, particularly one of her governors. All of which has got me thinking – at what point does it become reckless and detrimental to take children out of school versus what potential enrichment benefits could be engendered by a well timed city break.
Snobbish perhaps but I do see a difference between going to Krakow and understanding the full horror of what the region bore witness to, versus Euro Disney. As a child of the private school system they were completely unconcerned about parents removing their kids for any reason at all. It never seemed to be greatly abused – arguably the holiday price hikes were less likely to impact the parents in any case so it was less contentious. I read an interview with Denzel Washington once who said that no matter what he was doing work wise he would make sure to take a month off in the summer and take his kids to Europe just to soak it all in and see a world beyond their own. Obviously that’s not a luxury many of us can afford but it always made me think as a policy it was a pretty solid one. When one thinks about what one would want for their kids for me it was always about giving them the holistic tools to cope and understand and embrace the world around them. Hemingway always said that travel broadened the ass but it’s possible the other epithet is right too and the mind could benefit from it. So we’re taking our kids to Rome – high on culture, low on people dressed as cartoon mice. I don’t know how much benefit they will necessarily extract from seeing Il Duce’s palace or the renaissance artists’ magnificent sculptures and paintings that adorn every corner of the city, or learning how to say thank you and greetings in another language but my feeling is that all of this is important in their growth as people. To understand there is a world beyond their doorstep or school, that in spite of our differences in language, lifestyle, food and culture we are all people who live, who laugh, who want to experience all that the world has to offer and bring it home for the enrichment of their families and communities.
And ultimately isn’t that what education is for? To shape and mould the next generation to be worldly, interested, tolerant people who work together to solve all the issues that the next 50 years will throw at us. This is something that I believe candidates are often lacking when they apply to university or hit the job market and what I encourage every student to do as much as possible. No one cares if you travel per se it’s the soft benefits it brings you. One can’t help but wonder that if more of the UK had spent time being part of the European project and integrating with it more deeply rather than standing at a parallax angle recalling the days of Edward Longshanks and eating fry ups on a Spanish seafront then maybe subsequent generations wouldn’t have lost out on the most culturally significant relationship available to them.
Or maybe that’s just a middle class justification for not looking at the bloody calendar.