This article has burnt a swath through the online world, and normally this means I wouldn't even touch it. I find myself shying away from commenting what has been commented a hundred times before and usually in smarter more well though out ways. But this article has made me think, and my reaction to it is a bit different than many of the commentaries I've been reading.
Entitled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," Amy Chua outlines her parenting methods which she claims create perfect children. These children are much better than "Western" children. They excel at academics and music. Well, piano and cello. She won't let them play anything else. She goes on to outline her extreme methods of achieving such children including calling her daughter garbage for being disrespectful. She details hours of lessons forced through denial of food and bathroom rights. The children are not allowed to voice their own thoughts and desires. They are made to feel shame if they fail because it is a reflection on the family and not them.
Of course I cringed over some of the things said and done. These are not things I would ever do to my children UNLESS I wanted to produce the kind of children she has created. Her methods produce the result she desired in children. Parenting is about shaping our children with our values. I know that many of us think we can raise children who choose their own values but I'd argue that the best we can do is raise children who think that choosing one's own values is a good thing....and, well, that mindset is a value. So if I wanted to raise kids who value only success, competition, perfection and ultimately being followers then I can why Chua's method would be appealing.
But I don't want to raise those kind of children. When I finished the article, I found myself asking myself "What kind of children do I want?" And I remembered the best thing a teacher ever said to me about Umberto (before we began homeschooling). We were sitting there, in these little tiny chairs, our knees drawn up to chest, nervous. Umberto wasn't doing so hot academically, and I think we both felt a little guilt. We didn't really push it although we read him to a lot. The teacher began with "Umberto is the most compassionate kid in this class. If someone needs a friend, or is having a bad day, they can count on Umberto." I was so proud. This was better then "Your son is so brilliant." Or "Your son plays the piano like a genius."
You see I would rather have kids who are compassionate. Kids who care about those around them. I don't give a shit if my ten year old is reading Hemingway and writing really brilliant essays about that experience. It doesn't matter that my kid doesn't play the piano like Glenn Gould. Rather my kid is NICE. Because really at the end of they day, doing the genius thing is not going to make him a better person. Having compassion for those around him makes him a better person. Recognizing when people are in pain and helping them makes him a better person.
And what happens when you deny your child play dates? When you force them to practice the viola for hours every day followed by hours of homework? They miss out on being with other humans. The most important lesson we have as humans is to take care of each other, but if we're too busy trying to be perfect, we're going to miss that opportunity.
I want my children to be compassionate, moral human beings who recognized that their ultimate responsibility is not to their own abilities nor towards me nor towards themselves. Rather their ultimate responsibility is towards humanity.