Father's day

18th November 2005 at 00:00
Hands up who thinks honesty is always the best policy - because Michael Cook isn't sure

The world is confusing enough for grown-ups - no wonder children sometimes find it hard to cope. There are rules to learn and contradictions to remember that make no sense to the infant mind. Behaviour that is encouraged in one place is frowned upon in another.

In order to make sense of this confusion, the modern parent makes one rule paramount: honesty is the best policy. Tell the truth and you won't go far wrong. So why is it that little kids are always lying?

Take this morning. Miss Cox is exploring rudimentary statistics with Year 2. When I was at school, this would have meant colouring in squared paper with chunky wax crayons to make crude block graphs. In today's whizz-bang classroom, it looks more like Miss Cox is auditioning for Peter Snow's role on election night, sitting in front of the infants' equivalent of the BBC virtual video wall, fronting extensive computerised coverage of the key issue facing this mini-electorate: namely, "What Pets Do Class 6 Have?"

This would seem to be a pretty straightforward question. If you have a dog, put your hand up, and Miss Cox will record it on the computer graph. If you have two cats and a hamster, it will all be sorted and tabulated in front of your eyes as a block graph, a bar graph or a pie chart.

But some of the children don't seem to grasp this. One lad keeps his hand in the air whatever animal is suggested. Unless he lives in a zoo, he is clearly fantasising. Another can't decide if he has a dog or not. He must know. So, obviously, he's lying.

I watch with smug self-satisfaction. I know that my daughter is the George Washington of her generation. Not an untruth will pass her lips. And besides, we have no pets, so the question is not difficult.

But then I see her arm twitch into the air. And suddenly I see how grown-up truth and infant truth might become muddled and confused. Because I guess she does have a pet that I have completely forgotten about. And, OK, it's an abandoned adopted pet donkey in a sanctuary which she has set eyes on precisely once when she cried and bawled and wouldn't stroke it, but I bet I've told her before now that it really is her pet (so there's no need to buy a gerbil for Christmas).

And now that I think of it, she also has a goldfish. Which also doesn't live with us. But one of the fish at Auntie Alison's is officially Poppy's (so there's no need for us to buy a fishtank for her birthday). Suddenly, Miss Cox's simple primary-coloured graphs look like a confused mish-mash of lies, damned lies and statistics.

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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