Everybody has been talking about an article that recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal, "Why Chinese Mother's are Superior", which is an excerpt from a book by Amy Chua, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother". Read the article, tell me what you think. Donna, at Email from the Embassy recently wrote an excellent post on it. The subject has been on my mind, because my kids received all their test scores in the mail this week. Virginia is really into testing and identifying kids to put into their "Gifted and Talented" program. Only, now it has the more politically correct name of "Advanced Academics" or something like that. Anyway, I got an invite based on my kids' scores to go to the information night for this program last night. We went through this with Jack when he was in first grade. He tested in, but we ultimately decided not to put him in a program that required four hours of homework a night.
Here is where I say that yes, my kids are bright, but they are by no means geniuses. Henry's scores were high in all subjects, Grace and Olivia where EXACTLY the same in each category (weird, since they have different teachers and interests), but they weren't as high as Henry's, just pleasantly hovering at the low end of the "high" spectrum. I went to the meeting for two reasons. Henry is boredboredbored, and having a hard time finding a buddy that shares his interests, so I at least wanted to find out about the program before I wrote it off. The other reason I went is that we got something in the mail saying that Olivia's nonverbal ability was in the "very superior" rank. This basically means that she can build the Taj Mahal out of popsicle sticks while punching her brother with one hand tied behind her back, but not necessarily be able to make change out of a dollar. Now, because Olivia has been the one we've always worried about academically, I thought maybe if she got into this special program she could explore her natural talents without constantly being in her twin sister's 'larger than life' shadow.
At the meeting, I learned that many parents illegally buy the tests off the internet and hire tutors to teach their kids how to take them. Then, once they get into the program, they have to hire the tutors so the kids can keep up. Wow. What a great use of money. I also learned that kids in the program have every minute of every day scheduled so they can keep up with all the extra work, take music lessons, join sports teams, and be in academic clubs. My head hurt during the Q & A time when parents were furiously trying to figure out how to give their kids an edge on their applications. One dad had his checkbook out and would have happily bribed the facilitator if it would have helped. I would love to have my kids in a program that is challenging, but not at the expense of their free time. Needless to say, I dumped my application packets in the trash on the way out. Does that mean I am giving up on my kids by not providing them with every opportunity I can? Am I nurturing mediocrity because I'd rather my kids spend the afternoon playing with their Dog Academy Playset than writing another book report? For now, there's no answer to that. Check back with me in 20 years to see if Olivia is sitting on a park bench, dressed in rags and playing Dog Academy with the squirrels.
I forwarded the WSJ article to Mitch, and he said, "but you're sort of like that!". I had to think about that for a long time. It's true that I am pretty strict. For example, Jack was not allowed to get below an "A" in any subject when we lived on the island, or he would lose his xbox. That was because the school wasn't academically challenging, and he could do it with very little effort. I've relaxed my standards here, because the school is tough, he's taking honors classes, and we've just had a major transition. However, I guess I do expect him to still get good grades because I know he can. In fact, we expect all our kids to do well in school, and if they don't, they lose their screen privileges until they've mastered whatever they need to. However, each kid's abilities are different, so an easy 'A' for Henry might be the same as a difficult 'B' for Olivia, and I'm fine with that. We expect them to do their chores and be respectful. They are only allowed to take one extracurricular activity at a time, because I think kids need time to do nothing at all and figure out how to entertain themselves. Unlike the "Chinese mothers" as detailed in the article, I don't shame or endlessly berate my children. I'm lazy. I make the kids do their own homework and school projects. I'm happy to provide them with any supplies they will need, but generally, they are on their own unless a teacher requests parental help (and that teacher just won't get a Christmas gift card from me that year!). If I hear "Mom!" from somewhere in the house, not accompanied by cries of pain, I ignore it, figuring they will either get what they need themselves, or come and find me if it's important. Sometimes, if the younger kids need math help, I will bribe Jack to help them, because I suck at tutoring, and as I said, I'm lazy. I do spend a large amount of time volunteering in their school, and I definitely feel like they are getting a good education. I certainly encourage playdates and any artistic endeavors they have. We have shelves and shelves of art supplies and they make spectacular messes and amazing creations. They read and read and read.
But they also love to watch Spongebob and play videogames and come up with ways to gross each other out. On holidays and when we are on vacation or at Aunt Kimmie's, they love to have sugar cereal, I just won't let them put it in their bodies before school. They have cookies and treats on a regular basis. We tell them they can grow up to be anything they want as long as they love it and are willing to change our diapers (or at least hire someone to do it) in our old age.
Balance. It's the American way, isn't it?