Hy­brid tiger’s les­son for tiger mom

China Daily (Canada) - - COMMENT -

To be, or not to be a tiger mom, that is the ques­tion to be de­lib­er­ated, es­pe­cially with­Mother’s Day round the cor­ner. Amy Chua , the au­thor of Bat­tleHymn of the Tiger Mother, once ar­gued that Chi­nese moth­ers were bet­ter than all other moth­ers. She cited sta­tis­tics with which we’re all fa­mil­iar: Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans tend to dom­i­nate their peers in school and in tests, Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans en­roll in and grad­u­ate from the best US col­leges at alarm­ingly high rates, and Chi­ne­seAmer­i­cans have the high­est aver­age in­come among all eth­nic groups in the United States.

Though Chua later backed away from her blan­ket as­ser­tion that Chi­nese moth­ers were su­pe­rior— even dis­avow­ing her ar­ti­cle, “Why Chi­ne­seMothers Are Su­pe­rior”, which was pub­lished in The Wall Street Jour­nal— she has re­turned (with her hus­band Jed Ruben­feld) to the same ba­sic the­sis in The Triple Pack­age.

She now ar­gues that eight “cul­tural” groups in the US are more suc­cess­ful than oth­ers. Not sur­pris­ingly, Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans are among the pack. The suc­cess of groups like Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans, Chua says, is due to three dis­tinct “cul­tural” char­ac­ter­is­tics: a su­pe­ri­or­ity com­plex, in­se­cu­rity and im­pulse con­trol. Since aver­age Amer­i­cans don’t pos­sess this “triple pack­age”, they are des­tined to be less suc­cess­ful.

While there’s no ques­tion that Chi­nese chil­dren ex­cel at early aca­demics and tests be­cause of cer­tain cul­tural fac­tors preva­lent in Chi­nese fam­i­lies, Chua doesn’t men­tion the sober­ing, sec­ond half of the story. I be­lieve that her the­ory is un­able to ex­plain why no Chi­nese ed­u­cated solely in China has ever won aNo­bel Prize for any of the sci­ence sub­jects or the fa­bled math­e­mat­ics Field­sMedal.

Amer­i­cans have won the high­est num­ber of both prizes. Re­mark­ably, the only people of Chi­nese de­scent to have ever won the No­bel in sci­ence sub­jects— Tsung-Dao Lee, Frank Chen Ning Yang, Sa­muel Chao Chung Ting, Yuan Tseh Lee, Steven Chu, Daniel Chee Tsui and Roger Yonchien Tsien— did so af­ter com­plet­ing their ed­u­ca­tion in the US.

This il­lus­trates the crit­i­cal prob­lem with Chua’s “triple pack­age”. The so-called suc­cess of Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans can­not (and should not) be at­trib­uted solely to cul­tural char­ac­ter­is­tics passed down through Chi­nese fam­i­lies. There’s more to it than that. In The Hy­brid Tiger, I have ar­gued that chil­dren ac­quire ed­u­ca­tion from three dis­parate sources: (1) fam­ily ed­u­ca­tion, (2) school ed­u­ca­tion and (3) so­cial ed­u­ca­tion. In the course of be­com­ing “ed­u­cated”, chil­dren are bom­barded with dif­fer­ent val­ues, de­mands and in­struc­tions from these three sources of ed­u­ca­tion. Chil­dren must de­velop an in­take pro­ce­dure through which they sift, meld, dis­card and in­cor­po­rate these var­ied and of­ten com­pet­ing val­ues to form a co­he­sive whole “self”. This fourth piece I call “self ed­u­ca­tion”. For my “tri­pod the­ory” of ed­u­ca­tion to stand up­right, the three legs (fam­ily, school and so­cial ed­u­ca­tion) must bal­ance and sup­port the head (self-ed­u­ca­tion) to form a whole, in­de­pen­dent and free-stand­ing struc­ture.

Un­for­tu­nately, while dis­cussingChi­nese-Amer­i­cans in Bat­tleHymn of the TigerMother and The Triple Pack­age, Chua ig­nores the un­avoid­able, for­ma­tive ed­u­ca­tion that al­lChi­nese-Amer­i­cans re­ceive from Amer­i­can school­ing, Amer­i­can peers and Amer­i­can so­ci­ety as a whole.

In the US, tra­di­tional Chi­nese ed­u­ca­tion has been in­fil­trated and re­molded by var­i­ous Amer­i­can cul­tural and ed­u­ca­tional in­flu­ences, and be­cause of this, Chi­nese-Amer­i­can par­ent­ing and ed­u­ca­tion have proven bet­ter than ei­ther style alone.

A core tenet of Chi­nese-Amer­i­can fam­ily ed­u­ca­tion/par­ent­ing is the “supremacy of ed­u­ca­tion”. In con­trast, the cen­tral teach­ing of Amer­i­can school ed­u­ca­tion and/or Amer­i­can so­cial ed­u­ca­tion is the cul­ti­va­tion of cre­ativ­ity, in­de­pen­dent think­ing and self-es­teem.

What are the re­sults of this hy­brid model? It has the po­ten­tial to be mas­sively ef­fec­tive. To achieve more con­sis­tent aca­demic suc­cess at pri­mary and sec­ondary grade lev­els, Amer­i­cans should adopt some of the virtues in­her­ent in Chi­nese cul­ture. For in­stance, there is much that Amer­i­cans can learn from Chi­nese dis­ci­pline. And the Chi­nese have much to learn from Amer­i­can cul­ture that teaches cre­ativ­ity and in­de­pen­dent think­ing.

While I have a sep­a­rate dis­agree­ment with Chua’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of what con­sti­tutes tra­di­tional Chi­nese fam­ily ed­u­ca­tion, the pri­mary point I want to make is that we can­not ig­nore the “-Amer­i­can” in “Chi­nese-Amer­i­can”. Do­ing so threat­ens to un­der­value the in­de­scrib­able im­por­tance of dis­tinctly Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tion.

If Amer­i­cans and Chi­nese are truly in­ter­ested in adopt­ing the best ed­u­ca­tion prac­tices, fix­ing their trou­bled sys­tems, pro­duc­ing more No­bel Prize win­ners and sci­en­tific lead­ers, and fos­ter­ing the best pos­si­ble re­sults for their chil­dren, they must look se­ri­ously at the vivid ex­am­ple of Chi­nese-Amer­i­can par­ent­ing and ed­u­ca­tion al­ready thriv­ing within the US.

It is the con­flu­ence of the best parts of Chi­nese and Amer­i­can ed­u­ca­tional in­flu­ences —the “hy­brid tiger”— that has the po­ten­tial to pro­duce some­thing truly unique. The Triple Pack­age tells only a frag­ment of the real, com­plex story that is un­fold­ing be­fore us. The au­thor is di­rec­tor of Asian/Asian Amer­i­can Stud­ies Pro­gram, Mi­ami Univer­sity.

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