I read a McLeans article interviewing Amy Chua with interest.
As a teacher, I've noticed a huge trend in schools that downplays the role of "rote" learning and direct instruction. As a result, many children have not had the repetitions needed to develop basic skills needed to do anything in those subjects.
In addition to this, an increasing number of children have not had their wills crossed before they arrive at school. This results in children who cannot listen to instructions, adapt to routines, do things in the way they are requested and listen attentively. They are self-centred, not adaptable and quite demanding, making it increasingly difficult to get as much accomplished in a group setting.
As parents become busier and are also dealing with split households, some expect schools to take on responsibilities that were traditionally theirs: caring for emotional needs, training in routines, feeding children, offering counselling, doing homework, listening to reading etc. There simply is not enough time in the day to cover all of this.
Principals are reluctant to make parents accountable for their child's behaviour and both teachers and principals are loathe to publicly state that there is a problem, lest it reflect on their own competance, or not effect change and simply make ripples that complicate their work and career path.
Therefore, content is getting watered down as teachers simply do not have the hammers to make children do what they need to, they don't have the time because there is such a high volume of need and lack of reinforcement at home, and they are not allowed to instruct in ways that would most quickly equip children with the required skills for success. Unfortunately, content is the vehicle for teaching children the basic life skills they need: confidence, character and communication. Without these skills they will be unsuccessful at anything they try, in or out of the academic realm.
Amy Chua's statement that nothing is fun until you are good at it and children naturally are not inclined to do things that are not fun is true. We as a culture and within the educational system have gone to a very child-centred model of parenting and teaching. This is not serving us or our children well. Aquision of real skills is a huge source of identity for children (which both busies them, and helps protect them from negative peer influences), develops close relationships between adults and children, and lays the groundwork for children learning the other skills needed to be successful in life. It is not easy work, and it requires people that will help them through the hard parts and who will guide them in their progress.
I used to teach an adult fiddling class and found that people would often buy all the gear before they had even had a lesson, be unwilling to practice in between classes, and finally quit because they just "wanted to jam out". They didn't understand that you cannot "jam out" until you are able to hold the instrument effectively and make pleasing sound, which involves coordination between two hands. To attain even basic skills, it requires hours of practice. I could not sit with them for hours while they did their "homework" and so they ended up quitting. If adults, who are accustomed to identifying and solving problems have difficulty with this, how much more are children likely to, who have not had prior experiences in problem-solving and who have yet to develop the character traits needed that allow them to stick with it?
Secondly, I think Amy Chua makes an excellent point that parents need to be prepared to be in the trenches just as much as their children. This is something that the majority of Western parents are unable or unwilling to do. It takes an incredible amount of committment, stamina, determination, time and relationship to help your child learn something difficult. I often encounter parents who want to drop their children off for music lessons and place all the responsibility for success on their child. It simply doesn't work that way.
I insist on parents having an hour long meeting with me before I accept their children for lessons so that they understand the level of committment required of THEM: showing up at lessons and taking notes, being the teacher during the week, making time in the schedule for daily practice, working with their child and encouraging them as well as teaching them how to make effective use of the time spent on task, arranging for emotional reinforcement through family members and friends listening to the child's progress, setting goals and helping the child attain them, asking me the questions they need to be able to help their child, purchasing an instrument that will work effectively and hiring an accompanist when needed.
Most Western parents simply do not have the time to do this, or they aren't willing to. In many cases, their relationship with the child is not strong enough that the child would take direction from them, and they do not have/do not wish to spend the time in strengthening it so that they could embark on something together. I believe that if they were willing to do this in one area, they would have much more secure, happy, successful kids who have a sense of identity and who are able to take on challenges and risks much better as they become adults. Walking a child through the process helps the child to see the end prize is worth it and gives a sense of pride in self and accomplish. It also develops character.
I think that Amy Chua ignores the need for a positive relationship with the child. I am not saying that a parent should never cross a child's will. However at some point, a child will become too big for a parent to control, and if they do not learn to lead by establishing the child's trust in them, they will not be able to help their child any longer. Given a choice between too overbearing and too uninvolved though, I would venture to say that the overbearing parent will create a more secure child than the uninvolved one.
A love of something is best fostered through the child wanting to please the parent because the child's heart is tied in closely with theirs and they want to emulate their parent's loves, interests and desires. I do know that this works, as I got an enormous amount accomplished during my junior high and high school years, but my mother was in the trenches with me and provided the emotional support that made me buy in and feel that it was worthwhile. I don't think it would have produced a longterm love of music if she had not taken into account the emotional element and had she used some of Amy Chua's methods, I know that I would have responded very badly.
I've concluded that a parent can expect that a child will be fickle and also needs guidance in learning how to work, so it is not fair to the child to leave their success up to them. They simply do not have access to the information or the emotional fortitude to see the benefit in the long run. At the same time, a parent can only expect to direct AFTER they take the time to connect with their child and listen to them. I disagree with Amy Chua's methods (name calling, shaming, threats of loss etc), even though I do think western culture does need a pendulum swing as far as achievement and parental involvement.
I'm glad that Amy Chua did write this book though, as it opens up this sort of discussion.