The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The "Tiger Mom" Debate

Dr. Paul G. Young
The release of Yale Law Professor Amy Chua's memoir describing her "Chinese way" of parenting has triggered a national debate about the most effective and desirable methods of child rearing. Often times, afterschool professionals commiserate over the challenges of engaging parents and cite numerous examples of ineffective, or absent, parenting skills. Chua's memoir has touched some raw nerves because it focuses on achievement gaps among America's racial and ethnic subgroups.

Chua makes broad generalizations that American kids engage in less academic rigor than their Chinese counterparts. She also describes American kids as being fat and lazy. Her 'tiger mom' style of parenting with her two teenage daughters emulated that of her immigrant Chinese parents - hours of drill after school, rigorous study of piano and violin, no sleepovers or play dates,  no video games or TV, and nothing less than a number-one performance in all academic work. She describes students who fail to give their best as ‘losers’. Chua claims that American parents are more likely to seek medical intervention and special classes for their children at first signs of underperformance. She explains that the Chinese way demands higher amounts of effort from the child to master difficult objectives.

Do American parents enable their children's laziness? Do we give up too quickly with those children with unique, special learning styles and needs? Chua would suggest that we do. And she further suggests that educators contribute to the malaise and share considerable criticism for underachievement with parents.

Regardless of which side you align with this debate, afterschool professionals are wise to evaluate the levels of rigor expected in all of our American educational offerings. President Obama is calling us to become the innovation nation, to more effectively engage our students in STEM related learning, and to increase physical activity and curb our fattening eating habits. Afterschool professionals must be engaged in this debate. We have watch over children and youth at the critical times of the day when significant change and gains can be achieved. We must be firm in our own convictions about what is generally good for kids, how they should be engaged in learning afterschool, and what academic rigor in America really means. We set the tone!

Most likely, most afterschool professionals would agree that a touch of the 'tiger mom' parenting approach would help our kids. We must lead the debate about what is best for the whole child. A little more dosage of toughness will drive change. We must unite to prepare our young learners for a competitive edge in the global marketplace. And despite what we want to think, the ‘Tiger Mom’ debate shows that race continues to be a factor in our educational malaise and deeper social problems.

We can't afford to keep our ostrich heads in the ground. We need to urge all our kids to develop a good work ethic and strive for excellence. Read Chua’s memoir!

Reference:  Chua, Amy (2011). Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York: Penguin Press.

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