I don’t know how many of you read this in the Chinese papers?

In the poem, a Nan Jing Primary 5 kid pleads with her mum for an academic break so she can play with Barbies and explore life around her – 一株草和一朵花, 我都希望去探索它.

It made the front pages a few days ago – riding on the wave of the Tiger Mother discussion. Since the Tiger Mother leapt onto the Wall Street Journal, some have applauded her courage, others have demanded the ‘abusive monster’ go back to China – LOL.

To me, Chua is just another mother doing her utmost best for her kids. She showed every page of the book to her family as she wrote it; called it ‘family therapy’. I think that’s really candid and really sweet. We are all imperfect!

But as someone who grew up rushing from activity to activity – changing from pinafore into ballet leotard in the car, and then into trackpants after – I understand why David Brooks calls Amy Chua a wimp.

Chua would do better to see the classroom as a cognitive break from the truly arduous tests of childhood. Where do they learn how to manage people? Where do they learn to construct and manipulate metaphors? Where do they learn to perceive details of a scene the way a hunter reads a landscape? Where do they learn how to detect their own shortcomings? Where do they learn how to put themselves in others’ minds and anticipate others’ reactions?

These and a million other skills are imparted by the informal maturity process and are not developed if formal learning monopolizes a child’s time.

(Brooks 2011)

It’s not that I disagree with Tiger Mom…or with my less extreme mother! My upbringing has equipped me incredibly well in certain areas. Sometimes I feel like falling to my knees and worshipping my mother for sending all of us to a Chinese school even though my brother and I used to insist we were from England.

It’s an exciting time to have English and Chinese skills in an age where the US and China are key global players. I feel ridiculously powerful when I witness (alleged?) translation mess-ups like this (read the 2nd comment left by Interpreter, very insightful). A bilingual will be much more capable of appreciating the nuances of the situation and reading that ‘awkward Hu Jintao moment’. At least I think so.

But at other times, I find myself sorely lacking in other important skills.

I am detached from life in the way those trapped in ivory towers are: I don’t know what goes on beyond  my group of friends, beyond news reports, beyond the four walls of a familiar building, beyond my computer screen.

Just take my Land Rover accident for example. I had absolutely no idea how to handle it. When do you report a case? How? What documents are needed? How do you claim insurance? To my parents’ credit, they shrugged and said the problem was not theirs. (The secret is my mum also has no idea how to report accidents. HAH!). I had to call up a lot of my more street-smart friends for help.

So it began: I called the guy I crashed into. I called our kind insurance agent and asked him for advice. I verified the Land Rover’s repair costs…RM2900. I decided we were not gonna pay for that. I called my grandparents – who were in the car during the accident…the most stressful call to make, honestly!

I drove to the Police Station – I finally know where it is after 16 years in Alor Setar. For someone with ZERO sense of direction that is a miraculous feat. I had trouble communicating in BM because…I think because I just don’t talk to the typical working Malay enough :(. But today, I finally paid off my compound!

Of course it doesn’t mean that all studious kids are ill-equipped for life, or that all who flunk school are street smart. I’m just saying the way your child spends his or her 24 hours will directly affect the way he or she turns out. I believe a ‘successful’ mother is simply one who invests those 24 hours strategically depending on the personality, talent, and interests of the child. In some cases, letting the child decide is the best investment method. For others, force results in the quickest short-term gains.

Well, I am a fast and eager learner and I think that has sort of made up for some my younger social shortfalls, but it’s taken a lot of initiative and effort on my part (more on that next time).

Meanwhile, kudos to 月月 for having the confidence to declare that a short break from math training won’t cost her her future, “长大的我不会没有出息”!

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