Boris Sidis (a notable psychologist, physician, psychiatrist, and philosopher of education) commandeered his son’s education and turned him into a notable, if not famous, whiz kid. Sidis was a perfect example of an intellectual who never got over Plato. “In rearing his revolutionary, Utopian edifice,” he quotes in Philistine and Genius, published in 1911, “Plato insists on education as the foundation of a new social, moral and intellectual life. Plato in his Republic makes Socrates tell his interlocutor, Adeimantus: ‘Then you are aware that in every work the beginning is the most important part, especially in dealing with anything young and tender? For that is the time when any impression which one may desire to communicate is most readily stamped and taken’.” . . . “All that is good, valid and solid in man’s mental structure depends on the breadth, width, depth, and solidity of that foundation.” . . . “Our nation’s evolutionary stability depends on how well we educate and raise our children.”
I Couldn’t Disagree More
His son became a protege who scored IQ’s of up to 200, yet he turned eccentric and fell into oblivion. Just in case you think of this as an anomaly, in the book, ‘The Know It All,’ A J Jacobs comes across just such a figure, a brilliant charge in IQ measurement – a test and measurement, by the way which Boris Sidis criticizes – who is absolutely inept in many other human facets, especially social and cultural; a lonely and unhappy man. We would expect a self-aware computer to be somewhat socially retarded, wouldn’t we? In, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua criticizes the Western standards, techniques and styles of education, and especially cuddled child rearing as opposed to a ‘Chinese mothers’ methods, which, (we are led to believe), is relentless, purposeful and intent at any cost at a straight A’s report card for their children in school and complete obedience at home. Examples in the book: “Studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately ten times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.” . . . “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” . . . “Chinese parents can say, ‘You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.’ By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.” . . . “Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.” . . . “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences.”
She opposes that whole idea of being given prizes, compliments and encouragement for the sake of “undeserved” self-esteem, especially for the slackers. Like Sidis, she desired children prodigies, and got them. But at what cost? It seems almost an unimaginable labor with Chua’s schedule of teaching, writing, a Jewish Husband who is also a lawyer and teacher, traveling, students, dogs and extended families. I found it all quite scary. How could you have the juice left to torture your children for three or four hours every day at the piano and the violin when you’re exhausted? Something has to suffer. Or, you’d have to be evil. Or, to have had an exceedingly well-rounded Jewish husband who, without credit in the book, picked up the pieces.
I don’t want to pan Ms. Chua or her book, which I think has a point and is probably fun to read for most people, albeit unnerving to many western parents, nonetheless there was something in it that didn’t resonate. It was easily deciphered and the author herself, though sometimes seemingly callous, does appear to be a credible and accomplished woman. Nonetheless, you could drive an American armored division through the theory behind it.
My 22 year old daughter, when she was a child, excelled at swimming, diving and all things aquatic. We may have fantasized in our muddled middle-class delusions, that we had on our hands an Olympic champion. As parents we availed ourselves of swimming pathos, (the rules, pools, lessons, competitions, life-guarding etc.,) to throw it all in with her lot. We had the Liberal Western outlook of child rearing which perches itself between eagle and sparrow (between benevolent despot and unconditional love). We tried to avoid the extreme position of European schizophrenic Catholic Idealist who produced last century, the brightest Nazi-Bolshevik-Fascist conformists – slaves to the killing-machine of the state – and the Asian automaton whose obedience and lack of imagination have for 5000 years pretty much made Confucius and Mao’s billions confused and bowed. Well, my daughter rebelled against it. Her stated response, then and now, was/is that she has/had no intention of being a lifeguard, swimming competitor or even anything loosely affiliated with swimming as a ‘Way of Life’. A bronze Cross for all the effort was all we got. A strong independent will at 15/16 years of age put a halt to those parental dreams and we did not push back.
I Never Ran Over My Daughter
But Amy Chua has: “I ran over Sophia’s foot. She jumped out of my car to grab a tennis racket while I was still backing up, and her left ankle got caught in the front wheel.” You can be too focused on a goal, too mismanaged in your purposes and living so hectic a life that like that couple in California who on a scorching summer’s day forgot their baby in the back seat booster, bustled themselves straight into a nightmare. Often the life we dream and the one we live are at odds. You can have too much religion and you can get too much Ayn Rand. A parent can intellectually mug you and many religious and/or zealots have done exactly that to their children. A well-balanced human being is an equilibrist and to perform this challenging feat, I think, you have to have many more skills than just intellectual ones. What’s the point of being smart if you end up like Marx, Freud, Nietzsche, Plato or Rand and your legacy for the world is, overall, a negative one when it could have been so positive?
What colorful views Amy Chua has. I often shook my head or even laughed as I read it. She has a rather half-hearted chauvinistic racist diatribe against the free world, and how in a democracy, we educate our young to fail. Crime in China may be very low, for instance, if you don’t count the numbers in democide and infanticide. What to say of a culture that has produced probably the most conformist anti-libertarian people in the history of the world besides Germany? Who cares if they do parroting well and make good plumbers and exterminators? You could parachute a well-rounded adolescent Westerner into a free society anywhere in the world and they’d have a job in a day, a lover in a week and a business in a year. That’s a Stoic* factor, a well-rounded moral character, or in the language of the East, the Taoist way. We see in the three main Western religions – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – elements of resentment and revolution, leading to intolerance, the scapegoat phenomena and ‘Us and Them’. In the East we see in the main religions – Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism – components of resignation, obedience and duty, raising the specter of conformity, over-reliance on authority and resistance to change. All of them, East and West, attack sensualism, individualism and democratic ethos, and they all throw in plenty of that Marxist ‘Robin Hood Mentality’ for good measure.
Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything, that nothing is added to the mix from inside. I think, for goodness sakes, that they have to give something. Are the Chinese so nuts about order and parental deference, even undeserved, that they risk by molding duty-bound character into their children that it disrupts a child’s personality? Why bring in a youngster into the world if it’s just to fashion a performance machine? Or is it just Amy Chua’s version? Nonetheless, in the Chinese, the creative element often times seems suppressed. They lie to themselves perhaps and think there’s no damage done. The act of bringing a child into the world is most selfish: no desire, choice or hope come from the child themselves in this decision. They have no theoretical freedom from the church, state, society and tribe, and especially not from oppressive parents. I fear for any child in the hands of an over-motivated parent as much I do of a citizen in an over-zealous state.
Parenting Doesn’t Mean Soul Stealing
Why Asians have trouble with freedom perhaps is reflected in Mao’s solution to opium addicts. You hear it said, “Chinese people don’t steal!” Or “Chinese people are smart!” The addicts were ‘cleansed’, thievery is denied despite crime and dull Chinese people are ostracized and ignored. However, we in the West seek no fool’s delight either. Fat is fat and many of us are as dull as a February horizon, but anybody who thinks these issues are to be solved by the cliché and name dropping are easily seduced. I myself have no names to drop here except a few too many dead philosophers who in all likelihood I’ve already spent too much time mulling over, but for those interested follow the above link.
* I mean here, stoicism as a “Way of Life” such as the old fashion Roman “Toughness” from antiquity, or the British “Stiff Upper Lip” from the Empire days, American and Native North American, “Individualism” post industrial revolution, Greek “Detachment” in the ancient world, Spanish “Courage” in the time of the colonies, and other like concepts about humans as heroes. To live life and play one’s role without whining, procrastinating, being either elitists or cowards: to believe that there is a chance for purposeful life in a human being because we’re strong, special, frontal-lope projectors and visionaries.
© 2019 - E. A. St. Amant