In Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy – the movie of the first book opened in UK cinemas this week – a dystopian future society is divided into five factions based on predisposed modes of behaviour: Abnegation (selfless), Amity (peaceful), Candor (honest), Dauntless (brave) and Erudite (intelligent), each with their own strengths (and weaknesses). I don’t think there’s any question that in such a world Isaac would be classified as Erudite.

After all, this is the same six-year-old who comes downstairs in the morning and sits quietly at his whiteboard practising his spelling, not because he has to but because he wants to. Or who creates word-search grids with the magnetic letters on our fridge door.

Can you see the giveaway sign that Isaac is reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?
Can you see the giveaway sign that Isaac is reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?

The serious stuff

We were recently given his school report, which confirmed what we already knew – that he’s doing well academically. Of course, half the fun of reading a school report is trying to read into the subtext of what isn’t being said as much as what is being said. So my brow creased in amusement when I read – and subsequently interpreted – the following comments:

  • “Isaac is quite the scientist.” Translation: “Geek alert!”
  • “He asks some curious questions.” (Curious in the sense of ‘he has curiosity’, rather than ‘he asks odd questions’.) Translation: “He asks too many awkward questions which send me scrambling to Google to look up the answers.”
  • “Isaac has made a big improvement with his ability to catch and throw a ball.” Translation: “He won’t be playing for England any time soon.”
  • “He now takes his time and looks at what he is doing.” Translation: well, it doesn’t need much translation, does it? He’s impatient and rushes things, just as his father does.

And there was one particular comment which just made me laugh out loud.

Isaac feels very confident when using the laptops.

This is the boy who learned how to operate my iPod a week after he learned to walk, and who needs virtually no assistance to look things up on a computer. The only thing that surprises me about Isaac’s computer skills is that he hasn’t hacked into any top secret government databases yet, or initiated global thermonuclear war. (You’ve seen the eighties film WarGames, right?)

Although it was followed by another line that summed up the dangers of being a child in the internet age.

He has recently started to learn about internet safety and he now knows how to keep himself safe online.

Isaac is six years old. He’s in year one. And already he’s being taught how to avoid being groomed by paedophiles. How sad is that?

A happier note

Putting that depressing thought aside, we’re so lucky to have a boy who not only does well at school but actively enjoys it.

Academic success is only part of it. I won’t deny that we’re delighted by the fact that Isaac is one of the brighter kids in his year and continues to make good progress, but as I’ve often said elsewhere it means just as much to read comments about him being “a happy, hard-working and polite child” and “a popular member of the year group who other children look up to”.

In Divergent, the flip-side of the Erudite faction’s pursuit of knowledge and cultivation of intelligence is an arrogance and a hunger for power. On his bad days at home, Isaac can be a little too cocky for his own good and want to take charge of everything over his siblings. But these are outweighed by all those occasions when he is sweet and supportive and selflessly plays the role of the attentive big brother. It’s reassuring to know that his social interactions at school are similarly positive.

One of the lessons I hope Isaac will learn as he grows up and (fingers crossed) continues to progress academically, is that intelligence and knowledge are valuable commodities, but they need to be matched in equal measure with selflessness, honesty, courage and peacefulness. Focussing on one to the exclusion of the others is not the best route to personal happiness. If I can teach him that much as a parent, I’ll have succeeded.