During my recent visit to the US, I had an opportunity to attend the final rounds of the National Science Bowl 2011 in Washington DC. This was an interschool science competition. Sahil Shah, my colleague Kartik’s son was in the team for his school. Their team won the regionals and hence got a chance to participate in the finals. Kartik and Nikita, his wife were planning to go and I just tagged along.
It was a great event. The event was divided into two groups, high school and middle school. Sahil’s team reached in the top eight in the middle school group. They lost to only three teams. It was a small consolation that of the three teams that they lost to, two teams were the finalists.
The photos show the winners of the High School and Middle school segments. The most striking thing about both these photos is the predominance of Asian Kids in the teams. That started me thinking.
A few months ago, an article in the Wall Street Journal titled Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, by Amy Chua raised a storm in the USA. The article compares the parenting styles of a typical Chinese mother with that of a western parent. This was an excerpt from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a book that sheds light on Chinese parenting that produces academically excellent and professionally successful children. The article received praise as well brickbats.
Amy Chua is daughter of a first generation chines immigrant couple and is a professor at Yale Law School. Her husband, a Jewish American is also a professor there. They raised two daughters, Sophia and Lulu and the book is about her experiences of raising the girls.
In her own words, I’m using the term “Chinese mother” loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I’m also using the term “Western parents” loosely. Western parents come in all varieties. However, most of the traits and beliefs I have seen her describe fit exactly to most typical India parents to, so I will refer to Asian parents, rather than Chinese parents
I read this article first from a mail sent by one my friends, Ranjit and we had some lively discussion on it. Next, I heard about this article from an American colleague, a dedicated mother herself, but with a completely western parenting style. And she was really worried about whether she was raising weaker children using the western methods.
What Asian 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. Amy describes the main differences between the two parenting styles and they are very illuminating.
First, Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Asian parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently
Second, Asian parents believe that their kids owe them everything and children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud. As against that, western parents think, Children don’t choose their parents. They don’t even choose to be born. It’s parents who force life on their kids, so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them. Kids don’t owe their parents anything.
Third, Asian parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences.
Western parents try to respect their children’s individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Asians believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.
Do you think what I saw at the National Science Bowl 2011 is a vindication of the Tiger mother? Please write…