The debate on parenting and educational best practices has been brought to a fevered pitch with Amy Chua’s views in Tiger Mother and documentary film hits Race to Nowhere and Waiting for Superman filling parent discussions. The problem is that the proposed solutions in these various media couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. Race to Nowhere condemns the “dark side of America’s achievement culture” calling for no more homework while Amy Chua claims America does not have an achievement culture at all but a lax and loose culture that indulges kids and enables them to waste time. A strict demanding Chinese style Tiger Mom is her solution. Waiting for Superman confirms the mess in our public schools and then seems to side with Amy Chua by elevating KIPS and SEEDS charter schools as solutions, which expect a lot more from every student and insist on more classroom time, more one-on-one tutoring and more homework to achieve results. With all the mixed messages, what are parents to think?
I personally believe the current debate does not help us make sense of what direction we parents should take. Amy Chua’s ideas about high expectations and assuming that a child is strong – - not fragile – - cannot be easily dismissed. Nor can the high test scores of Eastern cultures (See NYTimes article) . Yet neither can we dismiss the western or American advances in the cognitive sciences that highlights the diversity and complexity of each human mind. It indicates that minds really are all different, each possessing a different profile of strengths and able to contribute to the world in diverse ways. And it is not just about our academic profile; it is about creativity, emotional intelligence, social intelligence and practical intelligence as well as qualities like happiness, joy, compassion and wisdom. Our world is swimming in an immense diversity of professions, roles and responsibilities; yet our schools and cultures narrow intelligence and assessments down to reading, writing and arithmetic. (see Ken Robinson’s TedTalk)
The key to parenting best practices is to tune into your child’s unique mind and profile of strengths and help them become who they truly are. Assume their mind and profile is a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Our job as parents and educators is to bring out those brilliant gifts by finding great ways to engage that mind in meaningful ways — with activities, projects, and education that challenge and cultivate that richness. We can have faith that are kids are wired to live life well. They want to master their world and win hard fought skills, knowledge and character traits. Yet, we adults in their lives do have a major role to play in helping them to pursue their dreams, to see that they can be, do and have anything, if they put their mind and concentrated effort towards it.
Contrary to some child-centered beliefs, it does not happen by letting children do whatever they want. Amy Chua is right about the fact that watching TV the amount of hours the average American child watches is not going to help. How do we parents provide the right experiences and right expectations to satisfy our universal desire to have our children thrive in a changing unpredictable world.
We need the debate to shift to ideas for how we identify what our children are interested in, what is their unique mind like and how do we provide the kind of opportunities that will strengthen their unique profile. In other words: How do we best provide an individual-centered education? Even parents of infants and toddlers have a huge role as the first and most important teacher. Most of the posts in this blog give concrete examples of how to get down on the floor with your child, enter and see the world through their eyes, observe what they are interested in and developmentally able to do, respond with appropriate exchanges and invitations to extend the play and exploration. It is never too early to get to know your child and cultivate their budding abilities.