Back in October 2009, I posted some speculative concerns about the decline of the West and the corresponding ascent of Eastern cultures in general and China in particular. Amongst other things, I wrote,
My real worry is that the Western world will be surpassed by the East not only economically but culturally. And the danger here, I believe, would come from an intellectual decline of the West, manifesting itself through a decline in cultural vitality and scientific endeavour.
I was therefore interested to come across a provocative article in the Wall Street Journal, titled, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.
Here is a sample (though you need to read the whole if you are to get the true picture):
Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)
Now I’m certainly not saying I agree with every word. Indeed, I think many children know what it is to be forced to study or practice something not only that they dislike but which never results in any sense of achievement — just of relief when they’re allowed to stop!
It is also reasonable to ask whether achieving top grades or practical excellence is worth the angst the article admits that this involves. Nevertheless, the underlying premise is that this is not about what the child wants, but rather what the adults know is best:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.
And I cannot help thinking that a culture which approaches the nurture of its young on that basis will rapidly overtake one where what the child wants, and the limits the child sets, are key determinants of what the child is able to achieve.
In short, those who give up when things get difficult are surely liable to be overtaken at every level by those who persevere despite the desire to give up. It is, of course, much more pleasant to take things easy. The question, though, is whether we can afford to.
John RichardsonAnonymous users wishing to paste in the comments box need first to select 'preview', then close the preview box. When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may be deleted.
10 January 2011
10 January 2011