A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior - WSJ.com

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior - WSJ.com
While I agree with Amy Chau that parents, more than anybody else, must set high academic and cultural expectations for their children, and agree that the performance of children reflects on parenting, unlike Amy Chau I believe that excessive parental pressure and control can ultimately be counterproductive. Given America's high percentage of two-working-parent households, few parents have the energy to micromanage every waking moment of their children's lives; even fewer can afford private classical music lessons. With the limited hours parents have left to spend with children, few parents want those few remaining hours to be a constant state of World War III. Plus, many American parents believe that the participation of their children in sports is as important as their participation in music or other programs, based on traditions that go back as far as Ancient Greece. Moreover, unless children learn how to think and decide for themselves, young adults can put themselves in dangerous situations when suddenly liberated from parental controls.

The recent emergence of China as a global power doesn't change the reality that the Western core values of freedom and justice are at the heart of American power. Historically, dictatorships have tended to inhibit human creativity. American innovation and justice created opportunities which once made America the envy of the world and brought Amy Chau's parents and millions of other immigrant families to America.  The values Amy Chau calls "Chinese" are more accurately "immigrant" values, and are consistent with America's Horatio Alger mythology and values of thrift, hard work, and sobriety.

Speaking of Chinese teaching methods, I recently had the opportunity to observe two classes in a school which has a Chinese Immersion program.  In a 4th grade GT class, the teacher started out using a hundreds chart to lead children in counting by fives in Chinese; then the teacher drew a clock face on the white board so that children would connect the words and number to a clock; the pacing of the lesson was brilliant, and accelerated as children grew increasingly comfortable.  In a 5th grade class, the teacher used a Chinese song  to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to create memory pegs for Chinese symbols and words.  I observed zero belittling being done in the lesson, yet American students were fully engaged, excited to be learning how to speak, read, and write in Chinese.  I suspect that not all Chinese instruction is as dictatorial as what Amy Chau seems to be advocating.

In the 5th grade class, I taught a session called Habits of Mind.  The Habit of the Day was called Managing Impulsivity.  Students were tasked with drawing pictures and words as evidence of reflection.  On the white board, I wrote a quote by Charlotte Bronte:  "Think twice before you leap."  I used the character of Odysseus of Ithica, from The Odyssey, one of the oldest stories in Western literature, as an exemplar for this habit.  To make it interesting, I related the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops.

Odysseus and his men arrived at the island of the Cyclops and came upon a cave wherein they found a cache of food.  As Odysseus and his men began feasting, Polyphemus, a giant one-eyed cyclops, arrived with his sheep and rolled a large stone to close off the entrance of the cave.  Polyphemus then plucked two of Odysseus' men and casually ate them.  Realizing that he would need the giant to move the stone, instead of attacking the giant in a rage, Odysseus devised a clever escape plan.

Odysseus patiently plied Polyphemus with wine and music.  When the giant, who had decided that Odysseus was a good fellow, asked what his name was, Odysseus replied, "my name is Nobody."  Eventually, Polyphemus drifted asleep.  Odysseus and his men sharpened a log, heated it over the fire, and used it blind the cyclops.  Polyphemus screamed in agony.  When his brothers asked what was wrong, Polyphemus cried, "Nobody is hurting me; Nobody is blinding me," leading them to conclude that Polyphemus must be delusional.  Odysseus had his men tie three sheep together at a time and climb underneath.  In the morning when Polyphemus let out his sheep to pasture, he couldn't feel Odysseus and his men escaping.

Unfortunately for Odysseus, he forgot to heed the habit of mind, "think twice before you leap."  As he was leaving the island, Odysseus boasted, "let everyone know that it was Odysseus of Ithica who blinded the cyclops!"   In doing so, Odysseus enraged Poseiden.  Polyphemus happened to be the son of the God of the Sea, and Odysseus needed to travel home to Ithica by sea.  I noted that all of the trials and tribulations suffered by Odysseus over a ten year period in The Odyssey resulted from that one impulsive act.

Afterwards, several children asked me to write the name of the book on the board.  They did so because they were genuinely interested, not because anybody was forcing them to become interested in the classics.