Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Think you're hungry now? Just wait, if you don't get your act together, some kid in China will be eating your lunch 10 years from now.

Recently, my oldest son (presently 12) asked me what language I thought he should take in school. Without hesitation I responded; "Chinese or Spanish. In that order." He seemed perplexed. "Wow. Really?" he said to me. Sure. By the time he turns 21, roughly 1/5 of the total population in the world will be speaking either Mandarin or Cantonese. The largest business opportunities will be in China. Hands down. Sure, sure, we live in the American Southwest and there is a heavy Hispanic contingent/population here. As is the case in most major American cities. But that's NOT where the big money will be coming from. Believe that.

Is it all about money? Of course not. But what parent doesn't want a better life for their child(ren)? Just ask Amy Chua, Chinese-American Mother to two daughters in New Haven, Connecticut. She was recently profiled in an article that ran in the Wall Street Journal (!) that examined the mindset of the "Tiger Mom" (a label applied to an Asian Mom who holds true to Eastern cultural ideals in her home). Her now-teenage daughters were NEVER allowed the following:

• Attend ANY sleep-overs
• Have a play date (or a date of any kind)
• Participate in any school plays
• Complain about not being in any school plays
• Watch TV or play video games
• Play any instrument other than the Piano or Violin
(Minimum three hours practice, daily)
• NOT play the Piano or Violin

And the kicker?

• They were not allowed to get any grade lower than an "A"

Ok, I know, EVERY American parent is likely to be up in arms over some of this. If you want to read the full Washington Post article, it is posted at the end of this installment. That said, it's hard to dispute the near-divine levels of over-achievement Asian students categorically seem to attain. Personally, I sit in awe of their accomplishments. Why don't we let them be kids? Why can't we let them play and have fun? Why would any do things like this to their own children?

I don't have a lot of answers to this, my reactions were very similar. Here are some other point the article shed light on; American parents seem pre-occupied with their children's self-esteem and sense of mental well-being. Chinese mothers have no such trappings. No I don't even know if I am qualified to discuss this topic in depth (other than being a parent) but having played the role of Mom and Dad, I will tell you that I have always been mindful of the psychological impact of events in my kids lives. Maybe more than is necessary. Second, Chinese culture suggests that children owe EVERYTHING to their parents. This is why kids Asian families hold their parent in such high regard. I wonder if I will be able to depend on any of my progeny when I am too old to do for myself. Lastly, as the article states, Chinese Mothers believe they know what's best for their kids, even over their kid's own desires and beliefs. I think we can all connect with this one. Ensuring that children make positive life choices is the parent's responsibility.

When I thought about blogging about this, I knew several things were going to come to light; first, I don't know NEAR enough about the Chinese culture or mindset to fully comment on these points. I also knew that no matter what I did, I would be making broad, racially skewed comments and three, as an art school graduate who makes his living everyday as a creative professional, commenting the traits of a foreign culture in context of their social habits would help me display just how little I know. In our world. Of China. On being a parent.

The irony isn't lost on me commenting on the financial and professional future of my children while being such an open-minded proponent of Free-thinking and individualism. I can also concede that American innovation, born out free-thinking and ingenuity is something the world over desires and even lusts after. Not the least of which is China.

In the end, maybe I aught to take on a more "Tiger Dad" philosophy when raising my own kids. Like parents the world over, I want only the best for my children. Perhaps American culture, though declining, will rebound and come roaring back, stronger than ever. But that doesn't mean we can't take some cues from other cultures. Maybe China isn't exactly "eating our lunch" but they are the world's fastest growing economy and will overtake the US in GDP, product and resource consumption and innovative technologies.

Regardless, don't be too surprised if you visit our home and we're all speaking Mandarin by the end of 2013. After all, every child in China is taught a working knowledge of English by age 10.

Full Washington Post Article Here:

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