Tuesday, 25 January 2011
What Can Vilanova Learn from the Chinese?
The "gadget bazaar" across the street from our house is struggling to survive. It offers the usual mix of gifts and household items at low prices, but nowadays the location is bad. The latest generation of "china shops" in Vilanova i la Geltrú resemble large supermarkets and establish themselves in the middle of the traditional shopping area. Many people hope that this is a temporary change in the townscape, but I believe that it is just the beginning of a bigger process. International competition is intensifying and we Europeans simply are not well prepared to face it. One of the reasons may lie in parenting.
Over in the U.S., law professor Amy Chua has provoked strong reactions with her article "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior", published in business newspaper Wall Street Journal. The debate has generated more than 7,000 comments and is being echoed in media around the globe. The author admits to generalise when she calls one parenting style 'Chinese' and sets it against a 'Western' alternative, but it does make the contrasts clearer.
In a study referred to in the articel, some 70% of Westerners consider that it is not good for a child if its parents stress the importance of being successful in school and that the child can only learn new things if it likes what it is doing. None of the Chinese interviewed agree. While we in the West celebrate the child's free will, the Chinese understand that nothing is fun until you master it and that to excel you have to work hard – a discipline which no child would impose on itself, if allowed to decide. That is why Chinese parents emphasise the importance of personal effort and simply demand that their children bring home top grades. Western children, on the other hand, who pass their spare time with computer games and passive TV watching, of course do not achieve especially well. However, their parents do not dare to discuss this, but try to find other qualities in their offspring and take comfort ijn phrases like "everyone is special in their own special way".
The supposed kindness shown by these parents is often an attempt to compensate for not setting aside time to prioritise their children. Compared with them, typical Chinese parents spend ten times more time supervising homeworks or different drill exercises, reveals a study quoted by Amy Chua. She herself has - among other things - taught her daughters to play the violin and the piano and about the time she devoted to this on a daily basis, she says that motivating the child for the first hour is simple - it is the second and third (!) which can be tough.
I cannot help thinking of when my seven year old son practices on the flute. In the best case I have the patience to listen to him for a quarter of an hour, but after that I always let him go and play again, so that I can return to my computer and pseudointellectual analyses like this text. Should I have to make more efforts and, on top that, teach my children to do the same? Obviously not! We Europeans should not have to fight for our prosperity; for us it is a right – something we demand that the politicians arrange for us, even if they have to ask the Chinese to lend us the money.
But I fear the day when the Asians stop giving us credit and my children ask me why I did not do a better job preparing them for the future.
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Since I am Swedish, a linguistically superior versíon of this post can be found here. However, this version has been translated into Spanish and Catalan by me, i.e. a non-native speaker.
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Sources and Inspiration:
Amy Chua's essay ”Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” is an except from the new book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by the same writer.
LaVanguardia.es: Polémica en EE.UU. por un libro en el que se defiende la rígida ecucación china