Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A World With Only Violinists

I haven't written in a while, but an article has been making the rounds about Chinese Mothers that merits a rebuttal.

If you haven't read it, do so now, it's worth reading.

A Chinese mother (who is also a law professor and author) writes about how strict she is as a mother. She defends how she only access As on her children's report cards, force them to play the piano (at one point to the point of child abuse), never allows them to watch TV or have boyfriends in high school, saying that this shows how much she and similar parents love their children.

The author mentions in the beginning that this style of parenting isn't exclusive to the Chinese and that all Western parents aren't failures. And there's not necessarily something wrong with parents driving their kids hard (if nothing else, Western parents dominate this when it comes to sports).

But there are some gaping problems:

A world of violins is a terrible thing. If the world consisted solely of parents like the author, it would be a world where children only played one of a few instruments. In this frightening world, everyone is going for a very small number of very specific brass rings. Sure, you'd have millions of absolutely world class violin players. But a parent of this model would ever let their kid play viola or bass, because they would essentially be saying "my kid's not good enough to play first violin" and to this writer, that's not good enough. And that's the end of string quartets. If you keep pushing then you wind up with no novelists ("Who would ever let their child study something a frivolous as literature?") no rock music, probably no modern art, etc etc.

The parents aren't all setting a perfect model either. In the article, the mother mentions getting in an argument at a dinner party about her guests. She also mentions that her children never had any play dates. That doesn't seem particularly fair, does it? Shouldn't the authors parents' be ashamed? She could be writing more articles and books when she's just sitting around at dinner parties and her kids are at home memorizing math formulas.

Denying failure won't make it not happen. By preventing their kids from ever experiencing the kind of things that will happen to everyone at one point or another (failure on a test, be it literal or symbolic, love and heartbreak, communal success) you are setting them up to flame out when they've left home. Here's a little Westernism that my parents taught me and my sister: "You can, and should, drink alcohol with a meal. The two go together." Too many households treat their kids as if the merest touch of alcohol on their lips will lead them straight to Gomorrah. It won't, but everyone will drink at one point or another, or have sex at one point or another, or rebel at one point or another. It's not bad parenting to prepare your children for adult life. It's good parenting.

The underlying subtext of the article is - "Fuck everyone else's kids." By only tolerating your children as the best at everyone, you wind up going down a slippery slope. It's this pervasive attitude of "I can do it, why can't you" or "I've gotten this far with only so much support, why should anyone else have more" that is poisoning Western debate about things like health care. Just because you've gotten yours doesn't mean that everyone else should be left behind. NOT EVERYONE IS THE SAME.

I could on and on, but you get the idea. Not everyone is the same, and parents endlessly pushing their children won't lead to a utopia. It will lead to a miserable world that I would not want a part of.

1 comment:

B.Graham said...

My parents pushed us, and expected us to succeed, but I think the difference is that they expected us to succeed in whatever our chosen fields were. The "you better be the best janitor/cashier/street musician there ever was!" approach.