Saturday, January 8, 2011

Parenting Principles Perspective

Asians make up 19% of the class of 2013 at Harvard and 18% at Princeton.  By comparison Asian Americans only represent about 4% of the U.S. population.  I walked around the campus of UC Berkeley a couple of years ago and it seemed that every other student was Asian.  According to Berkeleyside, the Fall, 2010 number is 45.7%.  12% of Californians are Asian. I was not far off.

You see the same pattern of accomplishment in music.  If you see a young prodigy on the violin or piano there is a good chance you will see it is someone of Asian descent.

Why is this?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers (which I recommend as one my best reads of 2010) attributes it to a "rice paddy" attitude.  Simply stated, tending to a rice paddy is a 360 day, 3,000 hour per year activity.  It is exacting, hard work where effort and dedication make a huge difference in results.  The peasants that tended these rice paddies may be long gone but the culture carries on in their progeny.  Gladwell makes the point that there is nothing that indicates that Asians are naturally any better at math, science or music but each requires hard work, persistence and doggedness.  It is more attitude than aptitude.

Today's Wall Street Journal supports this view with a great essay by Amy Chua entitled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior".  Chua's book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, is coming out on Tuesday.  This is the first paragraph of Chua's essay.

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
Erin Patrice O'Brien for The Wall Street Journal
Amy Chua with her daughters, Louisa and Sophia, at their home in New Haven, Conn.
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
Chua cites three main differences between Asian and Western parenting styles.

  • Western parents are too concerned about their children's self esteem.  Chinese are not. Asians  assume strength in their children, not fragility.  Therefore, they push hard on them and hold them accountable for results.
  • Chinese parents believe their children owe them something.  Many Americans seem to believe that since they were responsible for bringing the child into the world that they owe the child in some way.
  • Asians believe they know what is best for their children and override their children's own preferences and desires.   Chinese parents understand 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.
For those who are familiar with Dr. Spock and other "child-centered"parenting philosophies it might be valuable to consider a counter-point.  There is likely no best way to parent.  Anyone who has had children knows that each is unique.  However, this chart from The Wall Street Journal indicates that the rice paddy culture countries are getting much better results than we are.  Props to Finland as well.  Any lessons anyone can give me on what has lead to this success?


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