kitchen table math, the sequel: culture clash

Friday, July 29, 2011

culture clash

passage from Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother:
In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast,roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately ten times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.
p. 14
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

42 comments:

Bonnie said...

That is one of the reasons my kids go to Saturday Chinese school - to make friends with kids whose families value learning. I am not Chinese, but I am kind of a demi-tiger mom.

lgm said...

We find that sports families value learning. We also find that the high school coaches do to - they explicitly tell the students here not to bother going out for the team if they aren't going to keep themselves eligible, push themselves to excel, and strive for the team Student-Athlete award -- i.e. each athlete on team achieves 90 average or better. They are not to come to practice if they need to go to a help session. It's very common to see athletes studying between end of school and beginning of practice as well as on the away busses on the way home. On the whole, I love male coach teachers here. They don't waste a minute of class time, are no excuses in the classroom, and everyone of them is actively teaching (as opposed to presenting. Great role models.

But, there is more than one way to skin a cat! Music families also value learning! Same comments..good teachers who are active in their profession outside of school and have a lot to bring in to the classroom. Music teachers have a set of skills to teach each year so the students advance in acheivement, and they actually do it here.

We just need many of the rest of the teachers to remember that only 15% of the school is disadvantaged, and that low expectations for all is inappropriate.

Catherine Johnson said...

I am kind of a demi-tiger mom.

Fantastic!

"Demi-tiger mom"

Me, too! Never had a term for it, although I often call myself a 'failed tiger mom.'

Last night Ed told the couple we were having dinner with that I am a "tiger mom manquee."

Catherine Johnson said...

I **might** get it together to write a formal post about my experience with music lessons for C. (Music lessons are the subject of Amy Chua's book.)

At some point, C. decided he wanted to play guitar, so I obligingly signed him up for a package of lessons at a music store in the town next door.

Then I kept forgetting what day & time the lessons were, which meant I would have to call up the store, apologize, and ask if they could possibly find a way to reschedule.

Finally, the store manager told me regretfully, "After a parent misses a number of lessons, we generally don't reschedule." She was very nice about it.

That was the end of C's music career.

Meanwhile, that same summer, I think, we had put him in a summer tennis camp, also in the town next door: half a mile up the hill from the music store. We signed him up because we both like tennis & it was something to do that was reasonably priced.

One day, picking C. up from camp, it came to me: "C. has to have a sport, and tennis is it."

After that I stuck with tennis lessons for C. for good. It didn't matter whether C. wanted to take lessons (he didn't); didn't matter if it was cold out (winter lessons) or hot out (summer lessons); didn't matter how much work I had to do....I remembered when the lessons were, and I got him there.

Today, having read Amy Chua, I laugh about it. Somehow my American Brain told me - a person who has never played sports (which I think is bad) and doesn't watch sports pm TV (which I also think is bad) - that My Child Is A Boy and He Has To Have a Sport.

Where did that message come from?

And where did the "It's OK if I forget when the guitar lessons are scheduled" message come from?

From my culture!

Either that or my evil twin.

Catherine Johnson said...

On the whole, I love male coach teachers here. They don't waste a minute of class time, are no excuses in the classroom, and everyone of them is actively teaching

I would **love** to see the coaching approach brought into the classroom. Direct instruction, deliberate practice, measurable results ----

Catherine Johnson said...

Plus competition and fun!

Bonnie said...

My boys are not really sports types, but my 5 year old daughter is. She is the one that Has To Have A Sport. Too bad we can't find one that fits the schedule of a two career family :-(

All my kids play violin. We joke that it is a requirement for being in our family. We have this old violin that my great uncle learned on, my mother learned on, I learned on, my sister learned on, and my brother learned on. Now my oldest boy plays it.

All of my kids take swimming lessons too.

Bonnie said...

One of my Chinese friends recently told me a funny story. Her oldest son was referred for evaluation by a psychologist. This was profoundly embarrassing to her because Chinese people do not send their kids to psychologists. She told me that when the psychologist called with "good news" - her son had scored in the top 1% on some cognitive assessment - her reaction was "That's not good enough! You would be a failure in China!".

She told me this story, fully understanding that it would be humorous to an American. She is between two worlds. She was part of the first wave of Chinese grad students who came in the 80's, the really good ones. Her parents had survivied the Cultural Revolution and put all their resources into educating her. She told me she never had to do chores as a kid because she was expected to focus on studies. I remember when she and her cohort arrived in my graduate program. They wiped us out, they were so good. That has changed - the Chinese coming to study today are mediocre to excellent, just like anyone else.

Catherine Johnson said...

All my kids play violin.

That just promoted you from demi-tiger mom to the real thing in my book!

Catherine Johnson said...

I don't know where my brain was, and I do 'blame' the fact that I 'knew' sports were important and failed to 'know' that music lessons were equally important on the culture ----

AND, for the record, I have no problems with American culture; quite the opposite, in fact. I have a Ph.D. in 'film studies,' for pete's sake.

Still and all, I wasn't able to make the leap from 'I will insist on sports' to 'I will insist on music.' Somehow, I thought that music lessons are for kids who **want** to take music lessons, while tennis lessons are for your kid whether he wants tennis lessons or not.

I left C's music education up to C; I made the executive decision about his athletic education.

Catherine Johnson said...

Another unbelievably stupid thing I did as a mom: we have TWO fluent French speakers in the house, and C does not speak French.

WHAT WERE WE THINKING?

Catherine Johnson said...

The answer is: we weren't thinking. We were doing (and not doing) the things our shared culture imprinted on our brains -- and, again, I don't say this to criticize American culture.

I say it to criticize myself for not being able to think more "outside" the culture when it came to extracurriculars -- something I was able to do when it came to academics per se.

Funny thing is, I had a close friend who required both her kids to take piano lessons....and I **still** didn't pick up on it. It didn't 'click' inside my brain that given my values and beliefs about learning, I should require my child to have a basic mastery of a musical instrument as well as an ability to read music.

Catherine Johnson said...

She told me that when the psychologist called with "good news" - her son had scored in the top 1% on some cognitive assessment - her reaction was "That's not good enough! You would be a failure in China!".

Oh, that is priceless!

I love that story.

Amy Chua's book is filled with this kind of thing, and it's very affecting and funny.

Plus it's compelling because she never figures it out: why did Chinese mothering work with the first child but not with the second -- and this question is complicated by the fact that the second daughter **did** absorb all of the drive and self-discipline the mom was imparting, so that I think you'd have to say that the Chinese mom approach was a success with her, too.

PWN the SAT said...

As a tutor, I find student athletes some of the easiest kids to teach. They're used to being challenged, and used to being told to do it again if they don't do it right. They're not too fragile to be chided a bit for repeated mistakes.

The higher the level of sports achievement (QB at a super-competitive Long Island high school, for example), the more I find this to be true. Those kids are used to working VERY hard to achieve their goals.

TerriW said...

My daughter started karate when she was 5, my son started as soon as he could after that, when he turned 4. So they've both been going for a few years now. My husband is *very* on-board with martial arts, damn the cost (and it's not cheap!), though he doesn't seem quite so worried about any other lessons they may take.

We argued over foreign language -- he wanted them to take Spanish, but I was conversational in French during my teens and I knew that I'd never get past Dora stage in Spanish, the way my brain works these days. So now, they take French immersion classes once a week and I play catch-up with Rosetta Stone and we're able to have little conversations.

And music? Yoiks. We paid to have my parents' piano moved to our house from their house ... and then two years later paid THE SAME PEOPLE to come and just make it go away. Oh, well.

Karate and French, it is!

Bonnie said...

My kids did not want to take violin and whined for years. And then, for each one in turn, the magic moment arrived where they could play well enough to play with other people. For my oldest, it was participating in a fiddle camp during the summer. For my second, it was joining the school orchestra in third grade. Now, they are totally enthusiastic. My second kid, who in truth is not very musically talented, spent OVER AN HOUR yesterday, of his own free will, trying to learn to play some piece from the StarWars soundtrack.

They also whine about Chinese school, but the Chinese kids all whine too. I think it is part of the tradition.

The point is, some aspects of tiger momming - like making them keep going even when they whine - can work. It is hard to tell where to lay off, though.

Glen said...

Catherine, if it's any consolation, C's ability to speak French as an adult will depend almost entirely on what chooses to do as an adult. If he doesn't do what he has to do as an adult, he won't be able to speak it, no matter what you did when he was a kid. If he does do what he has to do as an adult, he will be able to speak it, no matter what you did when he was a kid.

As long as you don't need native proficiency, interested young adults are much more efficient language learners than uninterested kids.
An uninterested kid can get a head start by being forced to spend his playtime at language school, but it's usually not so much of a head start that an interested college kid can't catch up with a semester abroad.

Just let him see you and Ed having fun using French (drive up to Quebec for a weekend or something) and tell him that he can have the same fun in college, if he wants to. If he decides he wants it, maybe you can promise to pay for a semester in Paris if he gets A's in three semesters of French!

Amy P said...

"If he decides he wants it, maybe you can promise to pay for a semester in Paris if he gets A's in three semesters of French!"

Ooh, that sounds really good.

Anonymous said...

This thread is fascinating to me. My children are 25, 27, and 30. I could no more have "Tiger Mommed" them than I could have flown to the moon, because they had their own ideas about what they would commit to. One became a zookeeper (this means getting a degree in zoology, which means passing all kinds of math, chemistry, and physics classes that she found very hard and very boring. One did one semester in college and dropped out, but is a fabulous writer -- always has been, since grade school. Hope she gets to earn her living at it. Third bumbled around, chose his own instrument and his own sport (and at the time of his choice). Had a wild youth. Is now in college and working -- all this to say, you can insist of some things with pretty much all kids (you must go to school, you must help with chores, you must attend family events) but after that, children are extremely variable in terms of how hard you can push, and especially if you don't have a thousands or years old culture backing you up.

Catherine Johnson said...

The point is, some aspects of tiger momming - like making them keep going even when they whine - can work. It is hard to tell where to lay off, though.

Yes!

Absolutely true!

Here's something I've thought about...and I wonder how others feel about it.

About a year ago, I realized I had essentially 'forgotten all about' the concept of teaching my child to have "good habits."

When I say "forgot," I'm making a cultural argument: I think my parents believed that kids needed to develop "good habits," and my generation (and succeeding generations) sort of moved on to other ideas about child rearing having to do with....the importance of education and/or self-esteem and self-efficacy; the importance of friends; the importance of extra-curricular activities....

I spent most of C's childhood obsessing over math (and spelling) - and completely forgot about teaching him to clean his room BEYOND scolding him for not doing so and complaining to Ed about lack of room-cleaning....

I only very rarely focused on household chores & on teaching C how to do them -- and, more importantly, on trying specifically to build the **habit** of doing them.

Have others seen this?

Does it seem to you that the concept of teaching kids "good habits" isn't a major part of child rearing discourse?

(Sorry - "discourse" is pedantic - but it's what I mean - )

Catherine Johnson said...

btw - once again, I'm not trying to criticize American culture (or even to criticize myself, particulary) -- it's just that I have the sense that some fairly important, common sense knowledge has gone missing.

I should add that figuring out the fact that I 'forgot' to instill good habits in C has not enabled me to go ahead and instill good habits in C.

sigh

Have I ever mentioned that my entire household waits for me to forget?

I ask someone to do something and then, if that someone doesn't want to do the something I've asked him or her to do, he or she waits until I've forgotten all about it and then doesn't do it.

That's life in my house.

For me to instill the room cleaning habit in C, I would have to spend a very large portion of every single day REMEMBERING that I have a plan to instill a the room cleaning habit in C.

TerriW said...

I wasn't really kidding about my unfortunately now-very-poor memory, so if there's something I need to do or need the kids to do, it *has* to be on a list on the refrigerator. Thankfully, this seems to fit in pretty well with getting the kids to do things, the carrot of being able to check it off their lists. The byproduct is that now they're used to checking the fridge for their tasks and want to Get Things Done so they can check em off.

Catherine Johnson said...

I've heard the 'why should I cast my pearls before swine' comments enough to realize that culture and management of the culture is the issue.

"It's the culture, stupid!"

I've come to believe that the culture of an organization or work place is **the** central factor determining whether people do their jobs well.

I also think that good and bad incentives shape culture over time, which means that a good culture can resist newly imposed bad incentives for some time and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

Same anonymous again: It's perfectly true that there are many parents who don't even try to encourage academic (or athletic or musical or any other kind) of success. Parents who are sort of limp, and who want to be their child's friend rather than parent. But it's equally as true that some children are a combination of compliant and resilient; it doesn't seem to harm them to get with the (very demanding) program that parents like Amy Chua put forth. Other kids are resilient, but not especially compliant, some are compliant, but not resilent, and some are neither. It's pretty important to figure out which type you're dealing with. Kids who are neither resilient nor comliant are hard to parent, if you have any ambitions for them. But more to the point, it's hard to be that kid. They're always getting grief from the adults because they don't comply with the demands of school very well, and then they feel bad because they're not very emotionally tough either. My favorites are the resileint but not compliant ones. They do intersting things.

Catherine Johnson said...

I also have a working hypothesis that at some point high compensation in high-SES districts starts to attract the wrong people unless you have a mission-driven culture, which I haven't seen too often in affluent suburban schools.

Until I had direct personal experience of an affluent public school, I thought rich schools were good schools by definition because you get what you pay for.

Turns out that no matter how much money you spend on a public school, it's still a public school, and in a very well-funded district it's a public school where accountability can be outsourced to parents.

Catherine Johnson said...

It looks like I score below the average for my age and SAT score

Wait!

What test are you talking about? (SAT or something else?)

Catherine Johnson said...

My favorites are the resileint but not compliant ones. They do interesting things.

I think they're a favorite of a lot of people!

Amy P said...

"I only very rarely focused on household chores & on teaching C how to do them -- and, more importantly, on trying specifically to build the **habit** of doing them.

"Have others seen this?"

I am very particular about the kids' rooms, although I would still like to get rid of 30% of their stuff. I have a compensation scheme going where a child can earn 50 cents a night for a clean bedroom and $2 for cleaning both living room and own room. If they both clean their rooms and the living room, they can get $1.50 each. We also do automatic deductions for charity (about 10%) and travel spending (20%--to ensure they have spending money on the road). Between birthdays and Christmas, the kids buy all toys, nearly all art supplies and for anything else where I'm not morally opposed, but don't feel like laying out household money. It's kind of an expensive scheme, and I'd pay less if I were setting it up today, but it has the virtue that I can reasonably ask the kids, if you want XYZ, why don't you save up for XYZ? It's also been absolutely amazing for the kids' math computation skills.

I know a lot of people get uncomfortable about paying kids for chores, but I haven't seen any downside myself. Realistically, I was never going to get buy-in (particularly not from my oldest) without a cash incentive. We don't pay the kids either on Sunday or if the kids have waited until too late at night to start on their rooms (if they clean on Sunday, I'll put the money in their charity box). Interestingly, the paid cleaning has so instilled a love of order in my oldest that she will clean her room even during those ineligible times, just because that's how she feels her room ought to be. (I've been watching the show Hoarders lately, and the experts get very worried about young children living in hoarder households, because if they don't ever have the experience of living with clean rooms, it will have lifelong consequences for them.)

Where I've sort of dropped the ball is other household tasks. This summer I realized that my oldest (who is 9 now) had never operated a toaster. She's done a bit of sandwich making, but I feel like I have a lot of kitchen stuff to teach her over the next two years. We have twice a month cleaning help, so the kids don't have any experience of heavy cleaning (as opposed to tidying), and I suppose that I should make at least a token effort to teach bathroom cleaning, kitchen cleaning, vacuuming, dusting, etc. although (to be very honest) at this point my knowledge of these areas is mostly theoretical.

Everybody minimally needs to make sure that their child can run a washer and dryer before going to college.

Allison said...

I tend to be around a bunch of homeschooling Catholic families, and they very much work on building up those good habits of housework, orderliness, and the like. But they tend to have large families and come from large families, so 1) they have more need entropy to fight, 2)they have less disposable income to outsource the work, and 3) they know how to organize the work in the first place.

I think a big reason that recent parents have "forgotten" to teach their children these tasks is that they outsource the doing of them, because it's more efficient than either doing them themselves, or trying to get the kids to do them. Which takes less time? Picking up the toys off the floor yourself, or helping your 4 yr old to do it? the former, no doubt. And if you have more money than time, you hire people to mow the lawn, clean the house, do household repairs, do the shirt laundering, eat at restaurants or order delivery, etc. So children in that house simply won't see these tasks being done, and the habit can't get formed.

That said, I'm 38, and my mother "forgot" to teach me how to be a homemaker. She worked full time always, but as a teen she'd raised her younger sibs. She knew how to cook, clean, sew her own clothes, garden, diaper a baby, give baths, etc. She managed to not teach me any of those skills, because she thought such things were beneath the modern professional woman I'd become. And then I quit my job to raise my kids :) Oops. :)

But I had absolutely none of those habits established--didn't know how to clean properly, or cook well, or sew, or garden. I didn't know the faintest thing about running a household. And I had no experience with children either. I'm still learning, and now I do it from books!

All it takes is one generation to lose the knowledge.

TerriW said...

That said, I'm 38, and my mother "forgot" to teach me how to be a homemaker. She worked full time always, but as a teen she'd raised her younger sibs. She knew how to cook, clean, sew her own clothes, garden, diaper a baby, give baths, etc. She managed to not teach me any of those skills, because she thought such things were beneath the modern professional woman I'd become. And then I quit my job to raise my kids :) Oops. :)

I'm also 38, and that paragraph rang so true to me, as well (and probably to so many others of our time slice) -- my mom made no bones about how unenjoyable she found life at home with we kids (she always referred to them as her "coma years") and tried to impress on me the importance of *not* being a stay at home mom.

Another skill that almost got lost within a few generations? Breastfeeding. It may be "natural," but it sure as heck isn't necessarily easy. It boggles my mind that I had to pay lactation consultants and read books about nursing instead of being able to turn to my mom and aunts for guidance.

And how strange that it went from (in, say, the 70s) from being the thing that only lower class women did (because they couldn't afford formula) to being the thing that upper middle class women now do (because they can afford to be home).

(But I'm really pulling this train off topic, sorry.)

Amy P said...

"All it takes is one generation to lose the knowledge."

Indeed. My mom had to sew all of her clothes in high school and her monstrously heavy sewing machine (purchased used in the early 70s) is her faithful friend. I, meanwhile, never really learned to do machine sewing (although my hand sewing isn't that bad). Fast forward to the present and I'm signing my tween daughter up for every machine sewing class that fits our summer schedule (two last year, one this year). I realize that sewing clothes is usually not going to be economically worthwhile, but 1) stuff like curtains is and 2) I expect sewing is rather good for spatial skills. The classes are hideously expensive, but it's a lifelong skill, and I think she'll be able to get a lot of joy out of it if she sticks to it.

Bonnie said...

My mother sewed all our clothes. It did make economic sense back in the 70's. She even made my prom dress, a really nice dress. She refused to teach us kids to sew, saying "if you know how to sew, you will have to do it". She did not do it for joy, but to save money.

I don't spend a lot of time obsessing over the state of my kids rooms. But I do want them to be able to do yardwork, cook dinner, run the washing machine, and put laundry away. To that end, I have the kids do a lot of prep work in the kitchen (yes, I let them use knives), clear and clean the table, clean the floor under the table, help out in the garden, and put their laundry away. These are all chores they are expected to do. One day at work, I remember overhearing a colleague on the phone with his kid at college, patiently trying to explain how to operate a coin washing machine. I don't want my kids to be in that position!!

Catherine Johnson said...

My mother sewed all our clothes. It did make economic sense back in the 70's.

I sewed a lot of my clothes!

I loved it --- wish I were still sewing today.

Catherine Johnson said...

One day at work, I remember overhearing a colleague on the phone with his kid at college, patiently trying to explain how to operate a coin washing machine. I don't want my kids to be in that position!!

Good for you!

I blew it on that front.

(In my defense, I will say that we have the unusual situation of having help for our autistic kids -- and that has meant 'too much help': if I were doing more of the household work, C. would be doing a lot more of it, too. So we have unique circumstances that, combined with short-attention-theater, have affected things...)

Catherine Johnson said...

Fast forward to the present and I'm signing my tween daughter up for every machine sewing class that fits our summer schedule (two last year, one this year).

Classic!

Catherine Johnson said...

That said, I'm 38, and my mother "forgot" to teach me how to be a homemaker. She worked full time always, but as a teen she'd raised her younger sibs. She knew how to cook, clean, sew her own clothes, garden, diaper a baby, give baths, etc. She managed to not teach me any of those skills, because she thought such things were beneath the modern professional woman I'd become. And then I quit my job to raise my kids :) Oops. :)

Right!

That's what I was asking -- I've definitely seen this -- and unfortunately I've been part of it, too.

Catherine Johnson said...

Another skill that almost got lost within a few generations?

Breastfeeding.


Oh, gosh --- that's for sure!

Catherine Johnson said...

I remember when I was having Jimmy, everyone had to read beaucoup books in order to have the first clue!

Catherine Johnson said...

I know a lot of people get uncomfortable about paying kids for chores, but I haven't seen any downside myself.

I have no problem with that at all!

No problem philosophically, that is.

In reality, I am apparently incapable of keeping track of payment-for-chores.

Amy P said...

About college students and laundry--there are now campus laundry services that will do your laundry for the low, low price of $200+ per semester. So the kid actually sweating over the coin machine was pretty old school.

http://dormmom.com/

Lisa said...

"I tend to be around a bunch of homeschooling Catholic families, and they very much work on building up those good habits of housework, orderliness, and the like. But they tend to have large families and come from large families, so 1) they have more need entropy to fight, 2)they have less disposable income to outsource the work, and 3) they know how to organize the work in the first place."

So this would explain me. Habits are the only way to keep a house of 9 running. For my kids academics are the core. Music and sports are upbto them but never academics.

Lisa said...

Oh, and when all the furor about the Tiger Mom was going on my kids took to calling me a Pussy Cat Mom. Obviously I have failed, lol.