Subjective Truth versus Objective Truth

I know that, as a parent, you are going to believe your child. It’s what we do as parents – our children wouldn’t lie to us, would they?

Except what they sometimes tell is not the absolute truth – it is perception or their preferred presentation of the facts. It has never failed to amaze me at how skilled and quick children can be in presenting a story with powerful language to support or excuse their action.

A parent wrote to me this week to complain about an aspect of the school meal – her child had said that the vegetarian option was cold but that he chose to ‘go veggie’ because that queue moves quicker. Some of the children race to get lunch done and to be out playing – the current record stands at 3 minutes from bell to lower playground. Getting in the fastest moving queue would therefore be an incentive, except we don’t actually have separate queues for different school meal options!

The class comes in to the servery in one, snaking, line, one behind the other. Their name is checked on a daily printed register to avoid errors in selection (if you opted for a jacket potato at register in the morning you get a jacket potato at lunch) and to ensure correct payment (making sure prepared meals do not run out before the last pupil reaches the serving hatch).

The children then move across the serving hatch where kitchen staff will serve from that day’s choices – hot meal, vegetarian, Street Food on Wednesdays, jacket potato – in one line. There is no jumping ahead, no queue  splitting and no pushing in. Each child then passes across to the second hatch to select a dessert, and possibly some salad to add to their mains. One queue, one speed.

What the parent told me their child had told them was not true. I am not calling either a liar, but that presentation of facts is not correct. Perhaps the child is trying to excuse their behaviour, perhaps they lack the accuracy of language to correctly present what happens. Perhaps the child means something else and the parent has misinterpreted. Whatever the reason, the vegetarian option queue does not go faster because there is no vegetarian option queue.

In a similar way another parent complained, formally, that the toilets are ‘extremely dirty’, ‘extremely filthy’ and ‘disgusting’. Their child, and a parent WhatsApp group, says they are, so it must be true. Except it isn’t. 50 hours a week of cleaners’ time says they aren’t. A Caretaker who tells me whenever children have misused any area of school (and he hasn’t) tells me they aren’t. My daily walk-through every cloakroom area tells me they aren’t. Lunchtime supervision in cloakroom areas by midday supervisors tells me they aren’t. The parent, who has never been on the school site, can make such an assertion but it is wrong.

Both parents have been invited into school to look for themselves, as I do not believe they will take my word for it or be convinced by my presentation of facts.

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