How home-based learning is like “realpolitik”!

Former US President Theodore Roosevelt said the best foreign policy was “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Talk about a succinct way to define realpolitik and gunboat diplomacy!

I often find that to be true too when it comes to home based learning (HBL) with my son C; at least when it comes to pinning down his learning and the homework assignments to be completed.

But before I get into my home-based tussles with my kid, let’s segue into a little ‘Philosophy 101’ shall we?

The Machiavellian Philosophy

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Italian political philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 to 1527) is most credited with his now-famous “Machiavellian Philosophy”. It’s likely what foreshadowed the rise of classical realism and ‘realpolitik’ later on. In fact, Machiavelli has often been called the father of modern political philosophy and political science.

To “be Machiavelli” in the modern sense is to engage in all ways and means to achieve a desired outcome; in short, the ends justify the means!

So, along with the notions of gunboat diplomacy, colonial empires, power politics with Cold War superpowers, our dear friend Machiavelli is unfortunately associated with underhanded dealing, back-stabbing and general despicable scheming.

All because the underlying assumption in his philosophy and its like (pragmatism, realism, social contract theory, etc) is that people will always act in their own best self-interest, even if it’s at the expense of others!

Pretty nasty stuff there, I dare say!

Back to HBL…again!

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Nasty is pretty much how I experience HBL on most days it happens. And with Covid lockdowns happening every so often nowadays, that sure feels like most days!

In fact, this past week saw the start of a fortnight of it for my kids, thanks to the heightened alerts in our country. We’re unfortunately experiencing more infections and deaths now. Despite more than 82% of the resident population fully vaccinated, our tiny and densely-populated island state is still vulnerable to fast-spreading viruses like this horrid Covid Delta variant.

All it takes is one cluster and…sigh.

So all this just means more homeschool duties for yours truly.

Wanna know what’s worse?

As the kids are having exams this month, more time for revisions is needed. However, because they can’t be in school until Oct 11 (assuming no extensions!), one day before my youngest is to start his exams, guess who must do most of the teaching and guiding?


So parents like me must now double-up every day to prep their kids for the exams.


Homeschool “realpolitik”

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This next bit might not go down so great so if you don’t wish to read unpleasant stuff, I’ll understand if you stop reading now.

Still with me? Okay then, let’s go.

I grew up in a home with rampant corporal punishment (CP) for disobedience or poor school performance. Call it traditional parenting if you will.

So it’s already ingrained in my DNA that the “shortest distance between two points is a straight line”. Meaning as a parent, if I want to ensure compliance in the quickest way, CP is the fastest solution in the shortest time.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a professional family therapist to tell you it not only doesn’t ensure real learning takes place (other than learning one’s dad can be a monster!), it can leave irreparable emotional scars well into adulthood.

I should know. I still remember all too well the beatings my father regularly gave me when I was a kid.

Now, I’m finding myself behaving in many moments of HBL just like him!

Yes me. Me, who talk and post so much in this blog about good parenting. Me, who rail against my past and the lousy fathering I witnessed and endured first hand.

Just these past five days, had anyone been in the same room as my C and I, they would be recoiling in horror at the at-times brutal way I inflict punishment on my boy. Not because I beat him to within a breath of his life, like my dad did. But rather, the way I spoke softly to C, while carrying a threatening “big stick”!

Talk about internalising President Roosevelt and realpolitik!

There’s gotta be a better way than realpolitik!

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You see, just as it’s typically the quietest before a storm, C learned over the past pandemic year of on-again-off-again HBL that, when his daddy’s voice suddenly drops to a low whisper or growl (like a snarling mountain cat about to pounce), he’s very close to a perfect storm!

Rather than shout and holler (which I used to do a lot of), I’ve been using this whisper plus menacing look approach to some success. So whenever he starts his habitual daily whining at the writing he must do; the non-MCQ answers he must complete on the many worksheets his teachers instruct me to print for him; the endless requests to take a break and play computer games; I would begin my slow, quiet burn!

And I would see him slowly cower in fear and begin to toe the line. Much like me when I was his age and trembling in terror before my terrifying father!

Do I think it’ll always work, this whisper/menacing method of parenting? No.

Am I proud of myself? Heck, no.

But have I an alternative now? Nope. At least not any that doesn’t involve dragging the HBL for longer than we both would like. You know, the kind that advocates many study breaks, perpetual patience of a Mother Theresa, and saint-like stoicism. None of which I currently have the wherewithal for.

Right now, it serves my selfish interest to minimise the pain of daily supervising his school work as my only apparent justification of my purpose here on earth!

Perhaps things will be better next week, less ‘realpolitik’.

For now, I just want the exams to be over and done with, and our father-son relationship to go beyond HBL!

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