Sunday, January 23, 2011

Slavery to the idolatry of children

Parenting has got to one of the greatest challenges in life. There seem to be no simple answers and knowing what the right thing to do and actually doing it are not the same thing. One of the thorniest issues is finding a balance between discipline, compassion, and flexibility. God is the perfect father and brings together loving discipline, compassion, and grace in his dealing with his children.

My wife brought to my attention the hot issue of Chinese tiger mothers and so I found fascinating reading an article in the Australian, Tough love for the tigers of tomorrow. Here are a few extracts I found particularly interesting:
Amy Chua, a mother of two girls, and a law professor at Yale University, as is her husband Jed Rubenfeld, has provoked incendiary responses in the US and increasingly in Asia too, from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and from an essay published in The Wall Street Journal this month. 
[n.b. the article including the title are strung together by the WSJ and book publishers to be as controversial as possible to generate interest and sell books]. Here are some of the chosen extracts:


"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 [now 18 and 15], were never allowed to do: 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."
"Even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers."
"The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable -- even legally actionable -- to Westerners." Chua lists three big differences: Westerners are anxious about their children's self-esteem, whereas Chinese parents demand top grades because they believe their child can get them; they believe their children owe them everything and they know what is best for their children.
She follows the tradition of The Book of Filial Piety, attributed to Confucius and long part of what has become Confucianism. This says "filial piety is the root of virtue and the source of civilisation . . . It begins with serving one's parents, our rulers, and is completed by establishing one's character."
"One of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't."
Her two previous books were on how hyperpowers' rise to global dominance and how exporting free market democracy breeds ethnic hatred and global instability.
She has defended herself since, as being somewhat ironic. "These coaching suggestions seem a bit extreme," she concedes in the book after describing threatening to burn her daughter's soft toys if she failed to perfect a piano piece. "On the other hand, they were highly effective . ." She admits she is "not good at enjoying life." And says she wasn't a curious student: "I just wanted to write down everything the professor said and memorise it."
At an American Chamber of Commerce conference on Hong Kong's competitiveness that I attended 12 years ago, the discussion ended up focusing on education. A young ethnically Chinese businessman made the most memorable contribution to the debate, confiding that he had trailed in the bottom 10 per cent at his traditionalist Hong Kong high school until his parents sent him to the US. There, with his creative intelligence unleashed, he graduated in the top 10 per cent from high school, went on to score an excellent degree and had become a senior Time Warner executive.
Here are a few of my random thoughts. 

This is very sad. It shows slavery to religion, slavery to performance, slavery to fear, and reflects an idolatry of children. 

It shows how strong cultural influences are. Even for someone who has lived their whole life in the "melting pot" of the USA, they still see their identity and values in terms of their ethnic and cultural origins.

Someone can be very well "educated" but not particularly "enlightened." This applies not just to "tiger mothers" but also well-educated liberals who are so "wimpy" about disciplining their kids that they end up as drop outs or drug addicts.

Amazing Grace. How sweet the sound! It liberates and frees and motivates.

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