Hong Kong’s schools start their summer holidays in mid-July. (Summer’s lease hath all too short a date, for we return at the beginning of September.) At my school year-end report cards are distributed to students on Parents’ Day, the second-to-last school day. Each student and his parents meet with his ‘academic advisor’, a teacher who minds his progress during the year, flagging trouble if need be.
I was in the office this morning (Saturday) because I needed to meet with a student and his parents: the father would be unable to attend on Parents’ Day. We had a productive meeting at which (again) I marveled silently at how non-adversarial the relationship between parents and teachers tends to be here. There are exceptions, but they are notable, not run of the mill.
Before that meeting I was reviewing the report card, which is actually a seven-page document that includes, besides grades, comments by each teacher, explanations of grades, and a compendium of Creativity, Activity, and Service. Academic advisors usually check with teachers who write severe or non-laudatory comments to try and find out what lies behind them. There were none of this kind of comment on the report I was about to hand out. The student’s grades were very good, though not quite what he would like; but he has been deeply involved in a number of extracurricular activities, particularly drama.
While I was looking, a familiar voice called to me on the intercom at the door that allows students (politely) to summon teachers from the office for meetings. Whom should I find at the door but two graduates to see me! One of them, who graduated a year ago, is ‘reading’ (studying) law at the London School of Economics. The other, who graduated two years ago, is in the Philosophy Politics and Economics program at Oxford.
Both graduates had been in the school choir, but the LSE student has turned to writing in his spare time, while the Oxford student joined the choir of his college, where he now regularly sings at the college’s services. (It is Oriel College, where the Oxford Movement started).
This evening I’ll be attending a ‘Homecoming Concert’ in the school’s auditorium. There are four in July to mark the end of the school year. All charge rather stiff prices for seats, and all the seats are sold out. I am looking forward to hearing the Senior Choir, the Orchestra, the String Orchestra, and other groups play.
These are not just elitist frills, or shouldn’t be. My own public high school in California used to field award-winning bands and orchestras, and wherever they are found, secondary-school arts and music programs bring something essential to a curriculum and a school. Some students like my Oxonian continue their musical activities past graduation. Most have fond memories of them.
But there is more. They bring something essential to the mind, something that Charles Darwin regretfully recognized in his middle age. He said that he regretted giving up listening to music, reading poems, and looking at pictures, and was sure that he had lost something essential in this lack. In touting the STEM we should not forget the roots and trunk and crown.