Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tiger Mothers and the Debate about Our Future

I have followed the Tiger Mother debate with some interest. Since reading the article in the Wall Street Journal I have been discussing the article with a wide range of people including family members. Yes Chua is correct regarding the key point that you cannot enjoy a discipline such as being a musician until you really master it--and it is too easy to give up because getting to that mastery level takes an enormous amount of work and yes American parents in particular maybe a little too quick to say OK--as they multi-task to cope with the increasingly frenetic pace of life.
But the key issue as one writer points out in her "Tiger Mothers and Superficial Scholars" blog is what kind of spark and inspiration you can provide the student to want to practice and come out of the end of the experience with something fresh and illuminating to express. If a student is forced to do something because love might be instantly withdrawn that as Pardoe persuasively argues in her blog is an unacceptable emotional abuse. What Chua asks us to believe is that kind of abuse produces musicians etc, and well it might develop a few who can survive that type of treatment--but what is more likely is that the majority who now will be even more subject to those kinds of regimes will have to pay the price of forever struggling to find their true voice (think why the "King's Speech" swept all those Oscars the other night--it was a universal story --in one way shape or form of human potential to express itself being damaged and thwarted) as they struggle constantly for approval and to conform to others expectations. The serious and often forgotten point about education is that it derives from the Latin word --"to lead out"--leading not forcing out--helping to structure experiences that nurture the desire to move out of confined spaces--and limited explanations. In this matter both cultures --(forgive the sweeping generalizations but you can't seem to play in this debate without the use of the those all encompassing constructs) may have something to learn. The American K-12 school culture seems caught now in a sort of "Tiger Mother Moment"--believing that only the knowledge that can be tested is worthwhile and focusing on that low level set of skills is the way we need to focus on a systemwide level. The Chinese as they look to the west for some of the ways that they can now begin to develop their own big global brand names (can you think of any one Chinese brand name that has any kind of global resonance?) want to do more to encourage the creativity and innovativeness of a Bill Gates and a Brin who made Microsoft and Google world wide names in the 80s and 90s respectively. These should not be idle speculations --the new knowledge economy --if we truly believe there is reality behind the rhetoric will come from thinkers who are not approval seekers and who have forged their own path--their own journey out--yes they mastered the basics, yes they were disciplined in their approach, but they had that spark to learn and grow at an astonshing rate on their terms in their way.

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