I'm chatting one morning to a group of mothers by Rome's Termini Railway Station about the advantages of sending our children to foreign schools.
All are in favor, "Because you need to give your kids the best opportunities -- the working world is so brutal."
Then I venture: "Surely, though, on condition that at least one parent speaks the language that has been chosen as the basis for the child's education?"
"Why on Earth?" at least three of the women demand.
"Well," I say, "At least so you can understand what they're studying, so you can follow them, so you can talk to the teachers and -- if need be -- help out with their homework?"
I shouldn't have said that.
According to them, homework aid is not part of the parenting job description. And let's be clear here, I definitely don't mean 'doing' -- but assisting or encouraging at strategic moments.
"My parents didn't have the slightest notion of Latin and Greek," says L. "They were never able to give me a hand, and I never dreamed of asking for help. I had to sort myself out and my children will have to do the same."
A. adds: "I agree. It's not up to parents to help. If they are unable to complete the exercises they are assigned, then the teacher needs to know. If they don't bother to do their homework because they are lazy, then they need to live with the consequences of their actions.
"Helping them just shields them from the real world; it over-protects them and molly-coddles them. They need to learn to grow-up."
I have to say the arguments were convincing. But if I think back to when my brothers and I used to all sit around the dining room table doing our homework, it was natural for the younger ones to ask their older siblings for help.
Everyone helped each other out. And always with a fundamental presence behind the scenes: that of our mother. She was in the background, but she was very much there -- and ready to help if someone was floundering.
She didn't breathe down our necks, not at all. Nor did she do our homework for us. But if we needed a word of encouragement, or a tip, or clarification of some sort, then we could always ask her (or our father, when he wasn't at work or on business travel).
Being around at homework time is also a way of bonding with your youngsters, isn't it? It gives you a chance to see how they cope and to follow their progress. No?
Well, according to what these women were telling me, no. Homework needs to be done on your own, period.
G. says: "Neither I, nor my husband, speak English. But we chose to send our daughter to the American school precisely because we have no notion of the English language. We want to give her the advantage in life that we did not have, when we ourselves were growing up."
She concludes, saying: "Plus, who has time for looking at homework anyway? Life is already stressful enough for parents; homework is definitely the domain of teachers."
Is it really?