Parenting skills and children – American vs. Chinese, Indians and others

An article in the Wall Street Journal has generated a lot of debate. The article, titled ‘Why Chinese Mothers are Superior‘ by Amy Chua who is a professor at Yale Law School explains the differences in the way Chinese (and Indians and other Asian) parents handle their children and the way American parents handle their children.

What Chinese 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; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

First, I’ve noticed that 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. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

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 Chinese 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.

I understand the general tone of her article and can say that Indians (since I am an Indian, I am using Indians), generally push their children much more than American parents.

But I do not agree with a lot of what she says. She says that Chinese kids never get a B grade (“which would never happen”). Really?? Does every Chinese kid, whether in China or America or anywhere else, always get an A?

I may have been scolded by my parents in front of other people but I have not been abused by being called garbage or other things. I have also many times stayed back in school for extra curricular activities, sports and other things.

Vivek Wadhwa has written an article, ‘U.S. Schools Are Still Ahead—Way Ahead‘, in response in the Bloomberg BusinessWeek.

His argument:

The independence and social skills American children develop give them a huge advantage when they join the workforce. They learn to experiment, challenge norms, and take risks. They can think for themselves, and they can innovate. This is why America remains the world leader in innovation; why Chinese and Indians invest their life savings to send their children to expensive U.S. schools when they can. India and China are changing, and as the next generations of students become like American ones, they too are beginning to innovate. So far, their education systems have held them back.

My research team at Duke looked in depth at the engineering education of China and India. We documented that these countries now graduate four to seven times as many engineers as does the U.S.The quality of these engineers, however, is so poor that most are not fit to work as engineers; their system of rote learning handicaps those who do get jobs, so it takes two to three years for them to achieve the same productivity as fresh American graduates.As a result, significant proportions of China’s engineering graduates end up working on factory floors and Indian industry has to spend large sums of money retraining its employees. After four or five years in the workforce, Indians do become innovative and produce, overall, at the same quality as Americans, but they lose a valuable two to three years in their retraining.

Both articles are worth reading, Amy Chua’s to disagree with and Vivek Wadhwa’s to get a real understanding of the differences in education systems.

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