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Weekly Reader 1.24.11

Reaction to “Tiger Mom”

In the Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Yale law professor Amy Chua launched her “parenting” book with an op-ed piece that generated a record—mostly hostile—7,000 comments.  Her take-no-prisoners approach to child-rearing is explained in “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,”   which is filled with anecdotes that infuriated readers.  One sample: Mommy Chua made her seven-year-old practice a piano piece for hours with no food, water or bathroom breaks until she got it perfect.

Despite that Ms. Chua has been lacerated by the media and moms, her book hit the best seller list and she is living a press-agent’s dream of TV and other media appearances. The book has generated dozens of articles including two noteworthy pieces.

A reaction which received a lot less media attention was an open letter defending  Ms. Chua written by her 18-year-old daughter, Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, in the New York Post.  In particular, Sophia stood by her mom’s decision to rip up a handmade birthday card:

Everybody’s talking about the birthday cards we once made for you, which you rejected because they weren’t good enough. Funny how some people are convinced that Lulu and I are scarred for life. Maybe if I had poured my heart into it, I would have been upset. But let’s face it: The card was feeble, and I was busted. It took me 30 seconds; I didn’t even sharpen the pencil. That’s why, when you rejected it, I didn’t feel you were rejecting me. If I actually tried my best at something, you’d never throw it back in my face.

It could be fascinating—or frightening—exercise to ask our own adult children to write a letter defending the child rearing techniques we used.  We’d  hope that their thoughts might echo that famous Mark Twain quote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

In a follow-up Wall Street Journal op-ed , author Ayelet Waldman (who too achieved notoriety with her book, “Bad Mother”) wrote “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom.”

Ms. Waldman takes a considerably more laid-back approach to child rearing as exemplified by her rules-to-live-by.  She admits that she allows her allowed her children to:

  • Participate in any extracurricular activity they wanted, so long as I was never required to drive farther than 10 minutes to get them there, or to sit on a field in a folding chair in anything but the balmiest weather for any longer than 60 minutes.
  • Quit said extracurricular activities, especially if their quitting coincided with league finals that might have demanded participation on my part exceeding the requirements stated above.

Some of us parents who sat through years of endless sports in the heat and the cold appreciate her sentiment. And it’s doubly appreciated if the child was on a travel soccer team which meant being at some barren field an hour away at 8 on Saturday mornings!

What Do Students Learn in College?

The stage of parenting that many of us are still struggling with is paying those $50,000 tuition bills.  So it was dismaying to read about a new study that found:

  • 45 percent of college students made no significant gains in learning   in their first two years on campus.
  • 36 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” over four years of college.

One key reason: students are spending 50 percent less time on studying than their 1970s and 1980s counterparts, according to the study based on a bookAcademically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses”   

An article in a higher education newsletter noted:

The main culprit for lack of academic progress of students, according to the authors, is a lack of rigor. They review data from student surveys to show, for example, that 32 percent of students each semester do not take any courses with more than 40 pages of reading assigned a week, and that half don’t take a single course in which they must write more than 20 pages over the course of a semester. Further, the authors note that students spend, on average, only about 12-14 hours a week studying, and that much of this time is studying in groups.

Before you stop paying on those tuition bills, take note that the study also outlined what did work in terms of increasing knowledge:

  • Students who study by themselves for more hours each week gain more knowledge — while those who spend more time studying in peer groups see diminishing gains.
  • Students whose classes reflect high expectations (more than 40 pages of reading a week and more than 20 pages of writing a semester) gained more than other students.
  • Students majoring in liberal arts fields see “significantly higher gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills over time than students in other fields of study.” Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the smallest gains
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