Amy Chua on 'Educating' Children . . .
I'm behind the curve in posting on this article, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior," by Amy Chua, but I did read it when it first appeared in the The Wall Street Journal on January 8, 2011. Ms. Chua explains how Chinese parents produce such prodigies among their children. Here's the good side:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something -- whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet -- he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.Sounds good so far, but in practice (practice, practice!), this means:
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)That sounds less good to me . . . though I guess that it can work. Sometimes. But what happens when it doesn't work? As I noted over at the Marmot's Hole:
Is Ms. Chua serious . . . or ironic? I caught some irony and even self-parody in her article, but she seemed, deep down, to be utterly serious.Some of those failures end up committing suicide. This certainly happens here in Korea, where mothers raise their children by Ms. Chua's principles. Korea has a very high rate of teenage suicide, and a number of graduating seniors kill themselves every year for not having done well enough on the college entrance exam. An earnest application of Ms. Chua's principles will have the same results, and the full article is so extreme that I have to wonder if it's self-parody. But she seems to be describing with approval, and by implication prescribing, the following sort of reaction by a Chinese mother to a less than optimal grade:
I showed the article to my wife, who as a Korean mother pushes our kids to study, and she was appalled by Ms. Chua -- though sharing my question as to how seriously to take the article.
On one point, I would agree with what some have said, namely, creativity is also not easy and requires great effort and a lot of knowledge. But I doubt that Ms. Chua's method nourishes creativity.
Balance is necessary. Require children to study, and expect good grades from them, but let them play, too, and definitely allow them to have their own interests. Their interests can be incorporated into education.
For instance, my son, En-Uk, is currently a fanatic about soccer and is always asking where some country or city is located. I showed him how to use Wikipedia, and he’s now looking up countries, cities, and teams on his own, so he learns spelling, reading, and geography, among other things.
I could say much the same about my daughter, Sa-Rah, who’s passionate enough about music to enjoy reading together with me a New York Times article on the rage for melisma in pop music and its recent decline. She was fascinated.
I have always tutored my kids in English and had them reading from a young age, and I expect their best, but I don't expect them to be the best. That approach leads to children who will always consider themselves failures if they aren't the best . . . which will be almost all of the time.
If a Chinese child gets a B -- which would never happen -- there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.If a child doesn't measure up, Ms. Chua thinks that the parent is justified in calling the kid "garbage," "stupid," "worthless," and "a disgrace" as a means of motivation -- or so I infer, but go read the entire article. For criticism of Ms Chua's views by other Chinese, as well as by non-Chinese, see the website Quora. Or for something completely different, see my other take on the article, from over at Kevin Kim's blog, where I weigh in on whether or not Ms. Chua is serious or ironic:
Chua's article was too difficult to figure out, so I gave up and stopped reading.In short, learn my philosophy by heart, i.e., memorize it!
Like I like to say, "If something's too hard, you can always just give up."
That helps make life easier.
I hope that every reader will take my philosophy of life to heart.