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Bribery …..and corruption?

January 19, 2010

Child One has been blowing up a storm on her bassoon of late, bless her, and so we have arrived at a crunch point. Due to the arcane processes of the Examining Board, she has to pass the Grade 5 music theory exam before she can tootle onwards towards the heady heights of Grade 6 bassoonery.

Simple enough, you may feel. But nothing, I sometimes think, is straightforward in Dulwich.

In Brussels, when Child One first picked up her bassoon an age ago – it seems like 400 years ago but is probably only six or seven years – just HALF HER LIFE, she was virtually the only one playing. Here, back in the UK and nestled in the leafy confines of dearest darling Dulwich, virtually every second child is a bassoon artiste. All the mummies in the know send their little dears to Stephanie, who is simply the only teacher.  Some say she is irascible,  some say idiosyncratic, some just stop searching their thesaruses for big words beginning with ‘i’ and say she is simply bonkers, but she gets results. Bassoon ducklings are transformed into the whitest of swans overnight, and grateful mummies are saved hundreds as their offspring are yanked off the treadmill of endless lessons getting nowhere, and start soaring up the grades. Not to mention that the mummies can finally take those surreptitious earplugs out during the daily torture session which constitutes practice, as the sound made gets increasingly harmonious. Joy! Naturally, Child One is a Stephanie girl.

piles of money

All well and good, you may say, and so it was –  until last Thursday. We arrived for our lesson, only for Stephanie to pounce straight away, and say, ‘are you going to be giving Child One £40 if she passes her theory exam?’  WTF? I looked at Child One, Child One looked at me hopefully, and I said firmly, ‘certainly not.’  Child One looked a little downcast, but not, by any means, surprised. Other children get iPods for passing tests, or Uggs for getting into schools. My children get a hug and, if they’re really, really lucky, their favourite meal cooked.

My parents didn’t do rewards for exams and, though there is much that I would criticise about the way they brought us up, this always seemed reasonable. Yes, I was often miffed to hear that so-and-so was getting a Walkman (or whatever it was back in the Dark Ages of my youth) for getting their A levels. But I did always wonder what those other parents would do if the child didn’t perform as well as expected. Would they take away the equivalent pocket money? Would the child never get a Walkman? Were the children working just to get objects, and what did this really mean about their motivation? Would they end up taking jobs they hated, just to make money for the grown-up equivalent of a Walkman? My parents would say that I was doing exams for me, and not for them, and that does seem fair enough.

This was not, alas, Stephanie’s last word. ‘Well, you should give her £40! All the other mummies  are doing it and you’ll only have to pay another £30 for Child One to retake if you don’t give her this £40.’

By this time my hackles had risen so high they were poking me in the face. All the other mummies? Some of them are my bestest friends, patterns of good mummying and all-round fab people,  and I was astonished to hear that they were bribing their daughters – in most cases girls who could pass Music Theory with their eyes shut while dancing the tarantella. ‘Ha! You’ll have to do it now!’ cackled Stephanie, her frightful ginger hair glowing malevolently. ‘It’s the modern way!’

‘It may be the modern way, but it’s not the way in our house,’ I said, with as much dignity as I could muster. Naturally, the moment the lesson ended, I was on the phone to my band of mummies. ‘Stephanie says you’re giving your girls £40 to pass!’ I shrieked. ‘No, no, no,’ explained one. ‘ My daughter was saying she was going to fail, I was saying I bet you’re not, and she said, how much? I ended up saying £40 – it was just a bet.’

So there we are. Not a bribe at all. And poor Child One wouldn’t be getting one even if they were. The more I think about it, the more annoyed I am that, according to Stephanie, I am supposed to be paying her to do her hobby. For goodness’ sake, I already pay Stephanie’s stratospheric fees, all the exam fees, buy the books and the blimmin bassoon itself was not free with a packet of cornflakes. If I pay her now, will she expect me to pay her to read, to draw, to watch rubbish on telly …Grrrrrrr ….

I talked about it with Child One. Well, I thought I was talking, until she said, ‘stop shouting, Mummy, it’s not MY fault.’ Did she actually want me to bribe her, I asked? ‘No, mummy, I don’t want £40 anyway. I’ve got  £120 upstairs on my desk and I never get round to spending it, I’ve got Amazon, Topshop and WHSmith vouchers ….’ I made a mental note of the £120 in cash (handy for the window cleaner) and thought – what a fab daughter. I decided, there and then, to get her a nice outfit if – oops, I should say when – she passes, as she always needs clothes and I can get something for Child Two as well. But it’s still a bit irritating to have the whole thing dictated by blimmin blimmin Stephanie.

How about you? Do you do incentives? Am I out of step with the modern world? I have a horrible feeling that I may be ….

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  • Littlemummy January 19, 2010 at 6:15 am

    Nope, don’t believe in this sort of thing, definitely not for a music exam, it is after all a hobby!

    Having said that I won’t rule out a special family treat for achievements. I think that’s an important part of family life, cheering each other on.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 19, 2010 at 10:16 am

      Phew, glad someone agrees with me, I was feeling a bit lonely. I’m definitely in favour of cheering people on and celebrating achievements, though – absolutely!

  • Rosie Scribble January 19, 2010 at 6:26 am

    Oh, I am not going to help matters here at all. My parents gave me £30 for passing my Grade 5 theory exam. It was some time ago now so probably worth a lot more in current money.

    (Loving the photo and then fact that you are sending me coded messages via your blog!)

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 19, 2010 at 6:41 am

      You are right, that doesn’t help at all, though does explain an awful lot …. I am certainly not letting Child One know about this! Glad you like the photo 🙂

  • nuttycow January 19, 2010 at 8:48 am

    I don’t think I ever got money for exams – I don’t think I ever even asked.

    When I passed my A Levels, my father bought me a lovely necklace as a surprise. That was sweet. Still wear it.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

      Hello, Nutty, if I may call you that, lovely to hear about your necklace, I think that is a great way to reward someone and I bet your dad is thrilled you still wear it.

  • Family Affairs January 19, 2010 at 11:24 am

    I love bribery – I use it all the time if I want them to do something BUT I have never paid them or bought them anything for passing exams – I think that gives off all the wrong messages – they constantly ask, but my view is “it’s your life” if you fail it’s your problem….

    and by the way when i say i use bribery all the time it’s things like “if you cook the meal tonight” I’ll take you out next week or “if you get mummy another glass of wine I’ll maybe think about washing your football/netball kit”. Lx

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm

      I would call those essential incentives rather than bribes, though I think Divorce Towers would get burnt down if I ever succeeded in persuading mine to cook ….am definitely into the wine thing though x

  • Geekymummy January 19, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    I stepped on the slippery slope, having used sticker charts that earn toys for mastering the art if saying “please” and “thankyou” but am not comfortable with it. I’m with you and believe that passing exams should be it’s own reward, that’s how I was raised. How fab that she plays the bassoon, such a lovely sound.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

      Oh, I don’t count star charts as bribes, I think they are a great idea and the prize is so deferred (in our house it’s 20 stars to get anything) that the child feels they’ve earned it rather than just been bribed ….yes, the bassoon is lovely, thank God! We have been through the violin so I feel we deserve a bit of bassoonery x

  • Footballers Knees January 20, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    No bribery, not since my son was 4 and lost his first tooth (he was an early starter). The Tooth Fairy left a pound coin under his pillow (what was I thinking?) and he, going through a horrible tantrum phase at the time, threw it on the floor in disgust as he thought the deal was that he’d be left a whole pirate’s treasure chest. I like to think that we both learned a lesson that day.

  • suburbia January 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    Nope, don’t do bribes, won’t be able to afford them soon anyway!!

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 21, 2010 at 9:09 am

      I know, that’s another very good reason why mine won’t be getting Uggs etc for a good report!!

  • English Mum January 21, 2010 at 3:23 am

    Hmmm, I think there’s a difference between bribes and rewards. As Rosie says, ‘my parents gave me £30 for passing my exam’, that’s completely different from her parents saying ‘if you pass the exam we’ll give you £30’.

    I don’t do it, (well, I do the ‘get Mummy another glass of wine’ one)but I have to say that my Dad offered me £50 for every O level I passed. Did it make any difference? I doubt it. I’d like to think that I would have tried my hardest anyway…

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 21, 2010 at 9:12 am

      Ah, well, I think we all know the lovely Rosie’s attitude to rewards and bribes and she has emerged all the better for it!
      Wow, £50 per O level was a really good rate! Do you think you would do that with your boys? That’s the real test ….I hope I’m not sounding judgemental about all this. Genuinely interested to know what other people do xx

  • exmoorjane January 21, 2010 at 4:07 am

    I was given X amount (can’t remember so long ago) for O and A levels (okay, that gives a rough idea!) but it was more of a well done for working my socks off as I recall.
    I recklessly promised James a Disney trip if he got a scholarship, working on the assumption that the reduction in fees would more than pay for it. Wrong! Didn’t do my research properly and if he does get one I’ll be seriously out of pocket.
    We do give him ‘incentives’ I fear. He gets a quid for each A for effort on his report card – and, because he’s lazy, that doesn’t end up costing much. His father is a pushy dad and gives him a quid for each rugby try (I wince at that).
    But I’m horrified that you are expected and pushed into ‘towing the line’. How dare anyone else tell you what is done and not done, and how to bring up your children?
    Sorry, long rant.

    • Dulwich Divorcee January 21, 2010 at 9:14 am

      Hi Jane, yes, I think it was being told what to do by the bassoon teacher which really got me cross! She is quite a character ….Scholarships are quite mingy these days, aren’t they? Only about a grand at our school (though obviously I would have been thrilled to have got it), seems hardly worth the stress. You’d only get about a quarter of a Mickey ear for that I think! You’re just keen to go back to Disneyland, admit it xx me too!

  • Metropolitan Mum January 25, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    What a bizarre person this Stephanie is. I wouldn’t mind other parents bribing their children, but a musical teacher telling me how to raise my kids? The modern way??? I am surprised you haven’t bassooned her over her head.

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