September 14, 2003
What kind of wonderful will Cecilia be?

In one of my favourite movies, Some Kind of Wonderful, there are some memorable scenes between the central protagonist, played by a young Eric Stolz, and his dad. The Stolz character wants to be an artist, and go on to some kind of art school. The dad's attitude, as he tells the (I think) school principal is: "I don't think that's going to happen."

Dad: "You have the chance to be the first member of our family who doesn't have to wash his hands when he gets home from work." But the son blues the savings he got from car mending, which his dad thinks he should spend on a "good" college doing a sensible course, on expensive ear-rings for his girl-friend. His big problem is not deciding on a college; it's deciding which girl is his girl-friend.

Meanwhile the younger daughter, all unnoticed by dad, is an obvious future academic star, and an obvious shoe-in to a good college.

Here's a Washington Post book review that talks of families split by the art-versus-good-education thing, only this time for the realest of real, and about families who are absolutely not ignoring the higher education potention of their daughters:

… Whitney is the top-rated public high school in California, arguably in the nation.

Its students are formidable. Take Cecilia, who regards herself as "really pretty stupid." At Whitney this doesn't mean a C- grade point average. As a guidance counselor reminds the senior, "You're a commended National Merit Scholar. A California Governor's Scholar. An AP Scholar. Your SAT scores are a combined 1450. You took three AP tests and got a perfect five on each. Your GPA is 3.8. You volunteer at a nursing home, you're in a Model United Nations, you were part of the design team that won the NASA Space Set award last year for Whitney. You write fantasy and science fiction. And you are in advanced art this year. Where do you get this drive?"

Cecilia answers by insisting she's nothing special. "I'm really pretty average. I actually have to study for my grades, unlike some of my friends, who seem to do all this effortlessly. I have to pull all nighters." Cecilia admits that she's "okay" at art. In reality, the young woman draws "incredible anime and pointillist pictures."

You would think parents would be proud of such a child. Yes and no. In fact, Cecilia's mother and father want her to go to Harvard, Stanford or U.C. Berkeley. When she spoke to them about becoming an artist, they threw her portfolio into the street, then made her wait half an hour while cars ran over an entire year's work before they allowed her to retrieve the drawings and paintings. Similarly, when one of her classmates, Angela, asked for a sewing machine to work on an art project, her parents subjected the sensitive girl to ridicule, then reminded her that they hadn't sacrificed so that she could become a "seamstress."

There are several dozen "morals" to stories like that. One is that people are now competing not just with all the people in their town or all the people in their class, but with all the people in the world. This is an effect of our old friend/enemy "modern communications", which shove the brilliance of all of mankind on your bedroom desk every night while you are doing your homework.

As for Cecilia being "okay", I remember a sociology lecture at Essex U a thousand years ago, in which it was revealed that everyone thought they were middle class, from middle-ranking dukes (which was what all dukes thought they were) to middle-ranking dustmen (ditto).

You get the feeling that Cecilia thinks that "art" is a refuge from this world of endless struggle, which for many it is. But not if you try to do it for a living, Cecilia. On the other hand, Cecilia's parents could be quite wrong about how much money Cecilia might earn as an artist. But, they are right in that the key word there is "might". It's too chancy. They can't entrust their DNA to a mere artist. Get yourself a trade girl. Be a doctor or lawyer or accountant or, at worst, a "manager" of some kind. Hey ho.

I got the link to this by going to Crooked Timber, and then to Calpundit.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:13 PM
Category: Parents and children