Sean has asked me to make an occasional contribution to his blog so he can devote more time to thinking about the Red Sox. So here goes…
My initial assignment is to comment on the “Battle Hymn of the Chinese Tiger Mother” controversy (see the Wall Street Journal article for an excerpt from the book that started everything). I am uniquely qualified to comment on this issue as I have no children; however, I was a child at one time.
What’s the Goal?
If we look at the issue by asking the question, “Which approach is best for the quality of life for the child (and future adult), I believe the answer is somewhere in the middle. Only if the primary goal of the eventual adult is to be the absolute best at everything he or she does would the “Tiger Mom” approach provide the optimal results. There are probably a few people for whom this is true, but there is enough evidence out there to convince me that for most people, this is not what happiness is all about. There were high expectations for me as a child, and they motivated me to achieve a certain level of academic achievement and career success. I am not the best at everything I do, but I am good enough at the things that are needed to achieve the goals in life that I think are worth pursuing. I might also add that “the goals in life that I think are worth pursuing” have changed over the years.
On the other hand, not instilling in children a drive to be competent and good at what they do can also affect future quality of life, especially if there are obstacles to be overcome in order for them to achieve the goals in life that they think are worth pursuing–which for some people may simply be financial independence and a stable family. These folks might need Tiger Moms to get over the obstacles.
What About the National Interest?
What I just said dealt with what is best for the individual child. But a completely separate argument deals with which approach is better for a nation or for society as a whole.
If you take my argument above to its logical conclusion, you have a society of happy individuals, each competent enough to achieve their personal goals in life. So, let’s imagine Nation A, which is at this level. Now let’s imagine Nation B, which has not gotten the memo about personal happiness, and is populated by Tiger Moms and their offspring. One could argue that Nation B would eventually be much more powerful economically than Nation A, and potentially the citizens of Nation A would be relegated to low-paying jobs, supplying the needs of Nation B. (A situation that I believe that Sean foresaw in his trip to India). Even worse would be a situation where Nation B were militaristic.
Let’s take it a step further and assume that all nations were like Nation A, where the only parental goal was to raise children to achieve personal happiness. So we eliminate the problem of Nation A becoming economically or militarily subservient to other nations because of this. But how much do we lose in terms of societal progress? Sean has frequently stated his position that progress will eventually get us though most of our problems, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that a society raised by Tiger Moms will achieve more technological progress than a society based on individual happiness. How many happy individuals will die because the cure for their disease hasn’t yet been found?
So, what’s good for the individual (personal happiness) may not be good for the greater society.
The Beginning, not the End of the Dialogue
Well, there I’ve done it–wasted several minutes of your time and leaving with more questions than we started with. But remember, the post that prompted my thought dump is titled “To Begin a Dialogue on Parenting and Education“. If I had the answer, that would end the dialog, and Sean asked me to start it. So I have fulfilled my obligation, which leaves me more time to think about the Detroit Tigers (who, although they were raised by Tiger Moms, are not the best in everything they do).