Father's day

11th March 2005 at 00:00
It's parents' evening and Michael Cook must choose his side

Today we prepare for parents' evening. It's a time when the loyalties of the parent helper are stretched to the limit, and a basic ontological question is faced: am I a parent who helps, or a helper who parents? Is "parent" even a verb?

The truth, to my eyes, is there is very little to do. The classrooms bulge with informative displays; dangling things dangle invitingly from the ceiling. And so preparing the classroom for the visit of the parents seems mostly to involve sharpening pencils. Sharpening quite a lot of pencils.

Not being an educationist, I admit that a blunt pencil is not something I would mark a school down on. It seems to me that complaining about a school where my children are enlightened and nurtured with professional care, skill and devotion, but with blunt pencils, is a little like complaining when your best mate fixes a tropical blind date for you with Jennifer Aniston, but when you get to the beach the colour of her bikini top clashes slightly with her thong.

Even if it had been pointed out to me that the average peak of an infant pencil was a little on the rounded side, I might regard it as essentially a health and safety issue. Do we not insist on round-ended scissors? And do I not still bear the physical scar from my own childhood when a sharpened pencil in my pocket punctured my very flesh and snapped off, leaving a tiny piece of HB graphite floating inside me to this day?

Nevertheless, if Mrs Henderson wants pencils sharpened, I am the man to sharpen them. As no less wise a man than George W Bush said: "You're either with us or against us." OK, he was speaking about the ongoing battle to free the world from terrorism, and I am talking about a box full of Berols, but the principle remains. I will risk finger blisters and repetitive strain injury, and whittle a classroom full of pencils with a tiny plastic sharpener. It is my duty as a parent helper.

Later, at home, after a successful parents' evening, my wife suggests that there are no sides to be taken. She reckons home and school are in this education business together. She should realise that's fighting talk where I come from. And she should be aware I am armed with 120 pointy pencils.

Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy, attend

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