Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Donning tiger stripes

I'm reading Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua.  The mother of one of GJ's classmates told me that after she read it she gave it to her second grade daughter and said, "Read this. You'll see how good you have it."   Now that I'm halfway through the book, I see what she meant and I am wondering if my kids have it too good.   Battle Hymn is by a Chinese American mother who is also a law professor at Yale.  She writes about her parenting strategies and let's just say she's strict.  She is so strict that her book is getting a lot of (mostly negative) press for some of its more extreme revelations.  Check out this WSJ article
(WSJ on the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) about the book and note the 7000 plus comments it has generated.  Whoa.

The author's two young daughters must practice their instruments three hours a day.  They are little prodigies.  These girls are the best at everything they do because they work 10 times harder than other kids (and most adults).   And this mother sees to it, using tactics like banning playdates, forbidding what she considers "fluffy" extracurricular activities like drama, and doling out harsh criticism that would make you wince.

Tiger tactics aside, reading about how hard these kids work reminded me of the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell which makes a related point - success is largely a result of hard work.  Hours upon of hours of practice, even more so than talent and luck, breeds excellence. 

Now I want to tell you that I spent my evening arguing on and off with GJ about why he MUST participate in the Science Fair even though he says he does not want to.  It should be noted that we had this discussion after an afternoon filled with a two hour playdate, a delicious homemade snack, and no homework.  The Science Fair is technically optional and GJ knows that, but the letter sent home to parents says, "95% of our students participate and those who do not are usually very disappointed."  Between the lines I read, "you are a bad a lazy parent if your child does not participate in the science fair." And regardless, GJ loves science and has an insane curiosity about absolutely everything.  And we're spending a lot of money on his education and he can't sit back and not do something that he is more than capable of doing unless he has a really, really good reason.  And he does not.  He just doesn't feel like doing the work.  That's what he finally admitted.  He just doesn't feel like it.   

That revelation completely deflated me.  I stood mute just looking at him.  I wish that he was as excited by the science fair as he is by my iPad or the Wii and all things containing lower case "i"s in gramatically incorrect places.  (By the way, Johnny spelled the pronoun "we" like the gaming system "wii" in his spelling homework.  Thank God I caught that one before his teachers had a chance to judge us harshly.  We would have deserved it.)

I don't think that the solution to this problem of motivating my kids is to become the Tiger Mother exactly, but I could don a black stripe or two.   I do not think that it could hurt any of my children to work harder.  Amy Chua would say that I should force them to work hard because that is the only way to get really good at something and until you're really good at something you can't really know if you like it or not.    I think that's a decent point.

I don't know what to do to teach GJ and all my kids how good it feels to work hard and succeed, to inspire them to seek knowledge and achieve great things.  I do know that I am going to insist on Science Fair participation.  He's going to like it and he's going to be good at it.  And I'm in charge.  Grrrrrr.

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