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Sunday, February 06, 2011

Tiger School

Does pressure and punishment make you work harder, perform better, reach higher?  It's not the most fun way to get things done, but stress encouragement and strict discipline has its place, especially if you believe Amy Chua. 
In case you haven't heard, Amy Chua is the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, where she talks about some of her child-rearing practices.  Her two daughters were not allowed to have sleepovers or play dates, watch TV, or play computer games.  She forced them to play the musical instrument of her choice and spend loads of time practicing.  If they brought home any grade less than an A, they were insulted and punished - even for an A-minus.  


On one occasion, when her daughter was making mistakes playing the piano, Chua threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, and no birthday presents for the next two to four years.  Chua told her daughter she was 'lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic." 
  
In another incident, she made her then 3 year old stand outdoors until she performed better at her first music lesson - in 20 degree weather.
Chua's approach - which she says is not uncommon among Asian American parents - is aggressive, ambitious, some say abusive.  But it does yield results: one daughter has played piano at Carnegie Hall and Asian American students in general have a reputation for excelling at academic achievement and being a dominant presence in science and math careers.  However, this approach may not be as alien an approach as you may think. 
Chua's tiger techniques are already in play - in the arena of sports.  Coaches often have a reputation for an attitude of tough luck, buddy - if you can't tolerate the tough love and tough tactics that are a requirement to be on the team.
Challenging players, sometimes by insulting, threatening or punishing them is often the rule of the day.  To excel as an athlete one is charged with constant daily practice and forgoing hanging out with friends, watching TV, playing computer games.  The expectation is for the athlete to bring his A-game - anything less just won't cut it.  It's not enough simply to play a good game, you have to win it.
The result is that African Americans have a reputation for excelling at athletic achievement and being a dominant presence in professional sports. 
Chua calls herself a 'Tiger mother' because the tiger is a symbol of strength and power which inspires fear and respect.  
Only 50% of black students graduate from high school.
Is it time we also took a 'Tiger' approach to academics?
Blog it out:  Are we too lax in promoting academic achievement?

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