Okay, so whilst I can’t say that our city break was a cultural tour de force that precisely justifies the decision to take our eldest out of school for a few days – I can say that I think it benefited everyone. I spoke before about how travel can broaden one’s horizons and counter-intuitively shrink the world. I believe in some small way we achieved that.
My four year old can now say please, thank you, hello, goodbye and tell someone they’re welcome in Italian. My seven year old stood in a heavily guarded Vatican City that Donald Trump had just exited – prompting a long and serious conversation about world politics, climate change and religion. My four month old was unfussed. They marvelled at how crossing an arbitrary line on the ground meant they were entering a new country. We walked past the Quirinale building and talked about Italian politics, we walked past Il Duce’s palace, and looked up at the balcony where he performed his (hate-filled) rhetoric. Which brought us on to good vs evil, racism and why dictatorships were, on the whole, not brilliant. It’s hard to imagine having these conversations quite so fluidly walking back from school. I know not everything will stick, I know some of these ideas are abstruse and hard for even adults to get their heads around. I choose to believe that by engaging them young, encouraging questions and discussing issues in a way that is tangible, and immediately relatable because of the physical prompters, maybe a little bit more will soak in.
Understanding who we are, what it means to be British, European, citizens of the world, human is a huge and complex inventory of questions that if you lived a thousand life times would never be satisfactorily settled. The best anyone can reasonably hope for, for themselves and for their children is that they grow up understanding their place in the world. Their place in history. By exploring the ancient monuments – the colosseum, the pantheon, the forums, the hope is that they’ll slowly begin to understand how we stand on the shoulders of giants, to truly appreciate the vastness of everything that has gone before and the necessity to honour that legacy rather than trying to rip it down for short term gain. My vain and frankly laughable hope is that Trump take something of those lessons with him back to Washington (although given his willingness to renege on the Paris climate deal it seems unlikely).
So, despite the fact that this holiday was taken in error and I just messed up the dates, and despite the fact that in a mealy mouthed way I tried to justify why it was okay – do I regret it? No, as I suspect I knew I wouldn’t. Rome serves as an interesting litmus test for all the other myriad treasures the world has to offer. When you are on the school run, or giving them dinner you might talk about their day, their homework, after school activities and so on but it’s unlikely the opportunity to discuss why the airports are guarded by soldiers, why climate change is an important topic to explore, why Brexit means other countries actively sneer at us, will come up. Rome is almost a metaphor for creating a set of parameters that allow adult discourse to unfold in an environment that doesn’t seem sterile and unnatural. Away from the distractions of television and toys, children are interested sponges that will happily engage, even in a primitive way, on a wide variety of topics that could well shape their world view as they grow up and given that you’re unlikely to sit them down with a bottle of red to talk nonsense until the wee hours as you might with friends, I reckon this is a pretty good substitute. Education is nothing without context, giving them the context, taking a holistic approach will I believe greatly enhance their educational opportunities – they will understand why certain topics are important, culturally relevant or necessary. Once they have firm ground upon which to build, they will build with purpose, the edifice will be strong and unshakeable and it is through that their ambitions can be realised, their futures defined and their chosen careers accessible.