Parents put faith in education

By Qi Zhai (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-01-13 08:05
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Parents put faith in education

Parents put faith in education

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, an article by Amy Chua, a professor at Yale is suddenly everywhere.

Chua writes that she raised "stereotypically successful" Chinese children by being a stereotypical Chinese mother. Some things she never allowed her daughters to do:

attend a sleepover

be in a school play

choose their own extracurricular activities

get any grade less than an A

not be the No 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

play any instrument other than piano or violin

Luckily, my Chinese mother allowed me a little more freedom.

I attended sleepovers, but only same-sex ones at Asian homes

I acted in school plays, but my parents merely tolerated my dramatic interests

I chose my own extracurricular activities. My parents cheered me on at debate competitions, but skipped volleyball games and track meets.

I was not allowed to get any grade less than an A. In the incident of 1997, my father threw down a report card in our humid study in Manila, "Explain this!" Indignant, I cried: "American parents would be happy with B+ in math!" My father's retort: "Then you should find some American parents to adopt you."

Parents put faith in education

My parents never said I had to be No 1 in every subject, but I always aimed for "double 100's" in Chinese school exams and I graduated at the top of my high school class.

I played the piano, poorly.

Chua's standards are high - her daughter played piano at Carnegie Hall - but she might allow that I'm somewhat "successful". I didn't attend an Ivy League college, but an equally reputable university on the West Coast. Although I've changed direction, I once worked in industries that would do her proud.

How did my mother's relatively lax childrearing produce a somewhat successful kid? The secret of Chinese parenting lies not in strict regimes, but in something more subtle.

I was a rambunctious kid. At 5, I ran around the countryside with boy cousins, climbing and falling out of trees. In grade school, my rowdy crew would spread out on a large kang (traditional brick bed) to race through summer workbooks in one day, so we could be homework-free for the rest of the vacation. As much as I played, I always did my schoolwork first.

Why? It's in the attitude. Chinese kids do well not by following draconian rules, but by mimicking their parents' devotion to education.

My grandparents (one is illiterate) were farmers. My parents attended village schools. They were the only two to "get out" - by studying. University was their ticket out of the countryside.

Naturally, when raising me, my parents had unshakable faith in academics. I felt the importance of schooling in their actions. They turned down dinner invitations to be home while I wrote characters in a grid notebook. They didn't go out on Sundays if I was studying for a test on Monday. They went to bed before 10 pm every night for 18 years. The entire household was set to my school schedule.

Once, in sixth grade, I had to stay up to finish a project. We were studying nutrition and I had failed to keep a month-long log of my meals. Nowhere on the charts my American teacher had handed out could I find the calorie counts for fried egg with tomato or noodles with eggplant sauce.

My mother, who couldn't pronounce "lasagna", couldn't help. But she sat by me as I made up Western-sounding meals and added calories all night. Every hour, she brought out a sliced apple or other snack.

In this and countless other gestures, I came to believe in education the way others worship saints. I never questioned the point of it. Only when I got to university did I discover that my parents weren't "normal".

American parents had lives of their own. They didn't stay home on "school nights".

When I have children, I will probably be a halfway American parent. I will cheer from the bleachers at basketball games and attend theater productions. But one thing I hope to emulate from my Chinese parents is to instill in my children respect for education.

(China Daily 01/13/2011)