Amy Chua, author of the best-selling, controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has an article in today’s USA Today on the importance of blending the best elements of Asian and western educational methods. An excerpt:
The average American child spends 66% more time watching television than attending school. We have alarming rates of teenage substance abuse and the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the developed world. In the recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, American high school students ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math — with Asian nations taking top marks. This is a problem across the board. Even America’s top math students rank poorly compared with top performers elsewhere.
On the other hand, America’s universities are the envy of the world, a magnet for the best and brightest from every continent. We need to think candidly about what America does well and what it doesn’t. Some friends and I recently had a mini-epiphany about this. We were lamenting how the new media bombardment — iPods, Facebook, texting — makes it even harder for our kids to concentrate on their homework. But one friend wondered how can you teach a teenager to concentrate? And it occurred to us: You can’t. Self-discipline and focus are skills that have to be instilled when children are young — and that’s one thing the Asian nations excel at. The great virtue of America’s system is that our kids learn to be leaders, to question authority, to think creatively. But there’s one critical skill where our kids lag behind: learning how to learn.
Chua’s point is that “if in their early years we teach our children a strong work ethic, perseverance and the value of delayed gratification, they will be much better positioned to be self-motivated and self-reliant when they become young adults.” The article also notes that in China Chua’s book is being branded and marketed as a testimony to the importance of giving kids more freedom.
Full Disclosure: I don’t intend this as unqualified praise of Chua. I’ve not read her book, just the WSJ article that caused a stir. The article offers some instructive lessons; for example, self-confidence is best if tethered to actual accomplishment, or else it morphs into self-deception and empty conceit–a principle I also unpack in Thriving at College. But in terms of methodology and relative value, Chua seems to go too far. Dr. Mohler offers a helpful corrective to what he perceives as Chua’s overly professional bent: “the Christian worldview honors achievement and the stewardship of gifts, but not at the expense of faithfulness to Christ. Achievement, as the world sees it, may at times be a stumbling block to Christian faithfulness.”