Monday, 10 September 2012


Profiling - a word most often associated with the FBI and psychopaths but increasingly a part of the starting/back to school process.

Part of the reams of paper that have made their way to our house in backpacks last week are these questionnaires called Student Profiles, where the parents have to fill out questions about their children. Every year I am struck by the absurdity of this process. First of all: Can anyone truly answer some of these questions? Secondly: If you can, would you be honest? Lastly: Is it of any use whatsoever?

Can you even answer some these questions about your child? This reminds me of the classic Simpson episode where Homer, after eating what he believes to be tainted blow fish at a Sushi joint (the chef takes off with the randy school teacher leaving his apprentice in charge), goes through the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, despair and acceptance - they crammed so much good stuff into those old episodes) and resolves to live his last day to the fullest. One of the items on Homer's bucket list is to pass a Cosmo-style questionnaire determining if he is a good father. He has to answer questions about his son's friends, interests, hobbies, heroes etc.

Embedded in this seemingly innocuous and helpful Profile questionnaire is a a booby-trap. If you can't answer these questions does that make you a bad parent? How does your child react to other adults? What are your child's favourite activities? How does your child respond to difficulties? What are your child's particular gifts? In the case of my one son - he's not even 5. He behaves like all five year olds - i.e a barely socialized psychopath. As for the other stuff, he plays make believe and likes to run around making a lot of noise. The older kids tell me nothing about their lives outside my immediate experience. Nothing. I'm thinking of hiring paid informants to gain intel. No parent has any idea what their kid is like away from them so how my experience will help is unclear. Those student reviews by the teachers in the report cards are always a bit of a surprise. "So and so is so patient and cooperative." He is?

Beyond ability to answer, do parents even answer these questions honestly? Parents see their kids through various lenses that do not necessarily reflect reality. "Johnny is a sensitive and gifted child who manages to combine good looks, athletic ability, artistic sensibility as well as a generous and wise soul." Have you talked to people about their kids? It's like when your friend gets a new girlfriend/boyfriend and they're all ga-ga talking about how awesome they are and when you meet them you're thinking "Really?" Asking a parent to describe their kid is bound to bear little relation to reality.

I pride myself on not having illusions about who my kids are - but I likely err in the other direction. My favourite question on the Kindergartener's Profile: How does your child respond to a difficult task? My answer: "He'll pretend not to know how to do it and then use his tremendous charm to get others to do it for him. And it works." Bet the teacher doesn't get many of those. Or this one: How do you deal with your child's frustration when he runs into conflict or difficulty? "I tell him to smarten up and I don't have time for his nonsense." Does that help, teacher? Or does it just reveal my limitations as a parent?

If it were up to me I'd just skip these Profiles but my wife is responsible and so she spends an hour or so filling in all these things while asking for my input. Bringing up another issue - parents who don't agree on the profile. My wife and I get along very well but are both very strong minded so we have engaged in extensive negotiations on these. It's got to the point where we're bargaining and I will get my answer to one question so long as she gets her answer for another. Leads to a fairly schizophrenic portrait, I'm sure. How separated/divorced parents deal with this I have no idea. And how about those parents who don't fill them out at all? What is the teacher supposed to do in these circumstances? The whole process reeks of futility - unless they are truly about something else...

I believe that these profiles are like an elaborate psychology test you get in University where you think it's testing one thing when in fact it tests another. These profiles are really about the parents. Those who go on and on - watch out for these parents - they need hand holding. Those brutally honest ones - hm they might want to know what's really going on. Those who skip the whole thing? Too busy, don't care, can't speak/write English - ignore them.

I'm currently trying to come up with answers that will really mess with the teacher's head.

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