Battle Hymns of a Bridgewater Soccer Mom?

After all the media buzz I'm afraid to buy Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I am worried about getting a case of suburbia's worst disease: Comparative Mothering.

Has Tiger Mom read this?
Without having opened a page, I the think author is - at least partially - RIGHT. Kids need to learn that hard work pays off. And very hard work pays better! We see it in Bridgewater all the time. Many families send their kids to Kumon or Saturday schools to get ahead, and they do. But have we done that? No.

Americans are suffering from a coddle-til-you-choke mentality. That's why I loved this take on Marketplace.  I heard Michelle Rhee's description of her soccer-playing kids and their awards, despite their lack of ability and it reminded me of the soccer trophies in my son's room. He is no athlete. He hasn't quite bought into "practice equals results". He still thinks you are either smart or not, athletic or not, musical or not. Even in music where it is plainly clear for my son's audience: the more he tries it, the more he sounds like a musician than a dying elephant, he still hasn't learned that work = success. My daughter has been a long-time believer, but instead of a mantra for everything, sometimes she "works only as needed". If she wants something she knows how to go for it, and does. But in classes that "don't matter to her" (like Health) she doesn't care and that shows too.

It's not just a book's level that counts
I disagree with Michelle Rhee on one point: kids KNOW. No need for formal ranking. I've seen that all children, even as young as kindergarten, know who is "smart" who is "challenged" and who is "in the middle". Teachers can label reading groups as "book clubs" with flowery names instead of numbers, but every kid knows. They see which peers struggle with Dr. Suess and which are reading chapter books. But kids can't see (nor do rankings demonstrate) who LOVES reading or which kids recognize Suess's bigger themes. Isn't the child who reads One Fish Two Fish and says "I guess it doesn't matter what you look like" getting a significant advantage over someone reading Harry Potter who comes away with nothing beyond "I wonder how Potter will slay the next serpent"? No greater meaning beyond the face value.

I agree with her main point. If people in the US saw education as a means for national economic strength, as Ms Rhee points out is the norm in Singapore, perhaps the US would focus much more on education. Instead education is seen as a social issue and thus lost to politically motivated sloppy seconds. Some parents may see it as an economic issue, paying for expensive tutors, Kumon or test preparation, but does the nation as a whole? No. The next time you see an elite musical performance in Bridgewater you can ask any parent, they all pay for private music lessons to reach musical goals. But have parents who put money into private soccer lessons put the same funds into Algebra?

How much $ did we spend on cleats?
Why are mainstream American parents willing to shell out so much money in sports but not for academics? I see it in my own home. Between the two of them we've paid more than college tuition in extra curricular activities, but only once have we paid for academic tutoring. We have spent money on private tae kwan do lessons, special soccer training and ski lesson. I just wrote $300 of checks for Cheerleading. But why won't I get N help in writing or give C test prep when just a few hours would probably mean the difference between getting into e- programs or not? Won't academic success breed confidence as success in sports, music or other extra curriculars do? 

I guess the question becomes what is the goal? Elite colleges, large homes on wealthy cul-de-sacs in American suburbs? Positions as CEOs, Senators or board-certified surgeons?

Tiger Mom makes me think: what do I want for my children? Probably exactly what I want for myself. Interesting lives filled with great experiences and meaningful friendships. I want them to explore things. I want them to love and be loved. I want them to be happy. I do want them to attain economic independence through meaningful work. I want them to be healthy.

Reading on vacation for the love of it!
Maybe that's the problem. Economic success is not a goal on this list per se. But to me an interesting life includes learning for the sake of learning. The subject is almost irrelevant.  In order to have the means to do this, they have to have jobs to support their interests. Hiking the Himalayas is expensive. So are lots of other things. My father LOVED his career as a Pathologist. He's been retired for 10 years but still frequents the hospital's library daily to keep abreast of his field. That to me is a sign of success: loving what you do every day. (That he was "a doctor" is irrelevant.)

So, if a well-paid job is the means to support an creative and fun life, then they really do need to hit the books.


But if I really think about it, what kind of adults do I want them to be? I see examples of "success" all around me - in successful careers that fulfill people, beautiful homes filled with families... what do I really want for my children? How do I want them to be?


Are your kids seeing love? (Mom & Nonny)
I want most of all for them to be loving, to be loved and to be compassionate people who don't judge others, who are kind and considerate and thoughtful people. I want them to have some material success and interesting lives, but without empathy, it doesn't matter where they live and work, or where they go on vacation, what brand shoes they wear. If they aren't caring, only thinking of themselves and their own worries, how can they be considered successful people or have meaningful lives? Well rounded, doesn't just mean As in both Language Arts and Math.

Tiger Mom, love is something children learn in the home. It can't be quantified, but it still counts.  Are you withholding love when your child isn't meeting their academic goals? If my children are learning to think of others, by what they read, what they do, who they model, then one of my main parenting goals is met. If they get As in math, go on to a top college and get great job, I'll be very proud. If they stop at an accident to help a stranger, I'll be just as proud.


*******Postscript and CLARIFICATION********

I am commenting on Michelle Rhee's commentary on Marketplace. Of course I should have put together two and two and recognize her name as former DC-school's Chancellor, I have to admit, I only heard her on the Marketplace commentary where she was described as "commentator and educator". My bad for not making the connection. Also, I realize that Amy Chua wrote the Battle Hymn book, but I didn't name her in the blog. Their points were slightly different. I'm sorry if I seem to have mixed them up. Sometimes things are clearer in your own mind.  Thank you to my 2 friends who e-mailed me off-line.

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