Do American parents need to be more like the Chinese to compete?

Even though Chinese children are outperforming others worldwide, trial and error is the engine of American ingenuity that created companies like Google and Facebook.

WASHINGTON, DC - Tonight at 9pm, the President will deliver the State of the Union address which will focus on the economy, jobs and what America needs to do not only to recover from the economic slump it is in, but also to become a global trade leader once again. The speech comes on the heels of last week’s visit to the United States by the president of China, Hu Jintao,  where trade was the center of discussions and meetings.

China is on the lips of many people these days because it has developed into a formidable international force to be reckoned with and boasts a flourishing economy. The International Monetary Fund’s World Economic Outlook report stated that the highest rate of growth worldwide is in Asia, which was 8.7% in 2010. It noted that China had the highest recovery rate and predicted that growth of the Chinese economy will be 9.9% in 2011. Compare that to the United States predicted 2011 growth of a mere 3.1%.  That large Asian land mass that inhabits 1.3 billion people has also elevated in prominence because it has emerged as the United States’ biggest creditor. Consequently, the media has been feeding Americans with news stories about Chinese culture, not leaving out some focusing on China’s paltry human rights record, and its limited free speech.

Some focus has also been on the achievement of China’s children.  They have been besting many other nations in worldwide academics rankings, in particularly in Math and Sciences.  

Naturally, then much talk has been circulating about whether American parents need to be more like the Chinese.

That is the sentiment of author and Yale professor Amy Chua’s recently released controversial and already infamously notorious book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The book is part memoir, part parenting instruction manual and in it Chen relays her upbringing in a strict Chinese immigrant household which limited fun and leisure and focused on academics and discipline.  As an adult, Chua married a Jewish man, also a Yale professor, who let her raise their two girls using that old World Chinese mother supercompetitive model. Chua describes herself publicly shaming and insulting her children for their shortcomings, calling them lazy, stupid and fat, withholding food, rest and water from them so they could focus on hours of piano practice given while she would stand over them noting their errors and faults.  She did all of that not so they would become concert pianists but because she thought it would prepare them better for Ivy League school acceptance. Some readers of the book were horrified of what they said were Chua’s condescending attitude towards others. reviewers called her mean, obsessive, relentless, horrible, narrow minded, and judgmental for disparaging janitors, actors, bowling, crafts, and anything else she deemed as mediocre.

Amy Chua and her Two Daughters

She is unapologetic and openly referred to White Westerners as lax and complacent for over indulging their children, being too permissive and raising their kids with a soft and gentle hand.  

It is quite true that, for the most part, most American parents do not push their children so hard to succeed, though some do. Americans place an emphasis on creativity, the arts, literature and reading over hard sciences. Indeed, many Americans believe in play and letting children evolve to whatever skill they naturally are best at, not  putting too much undue pressure on them. 

However, are we paying a price by not being more like Chinese parents, especially when you consider, for example that on a 2010 comparative international test, United States students placed 31st in math, 17th in reading and 23rd in Science? The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based group administers that test, the Program for International Student Assessment, which was given to 500 15-year-old students in 65 countries. Asian countries (plus Hong Kong) dominated the top 10 in all three subjects, particularly China (Shanghai), Singapore, Japan and Korea.

If the President’s message today will be about innovation and “out-innovating, out-educating, out-building the rest of the world,” is America really ready and in a position to do that when its students are just average compared to the rest of the world?  Parents may be quick to blame a teacher or school system for their kids not getting the proper education rather than look inward to see if any fault lay with how they are preparing their child for the school day.  That is what Sybase President and CEO John S. Chen said during the America’s Next Chapter panel in DC two weeks ago.  Some have suggested that our less than stern and sometimes lax parenting breeds a culture of mediocrity that does not prepare our children for the workforce, let along to be business leaders.  If parents are not doing their jobs at home, the underlying message then is our government, schools, teachers and community leaders,  and science technology engineering and math (STEM) programs need to step up to the plate and fill in that void.  As Congress prepares to reduce the deficit and begins making plans to cut spending, I am wary of efforts to cut the Education budget, especially in an environment where all the attention is on building up the nation’s workforce.  

As to what’s the best parenting model, Chinese or American, the answer may be there needs to be a balance of both.  But truth be told, there is a lot that children can learn from failing. The process of trial and error creates smarter kids who learn creative ways to problem solve naturally, find solutions and innovate.  Isn’t that the buzz word for the future anyway: Innovation?

If the goal of making America a global success model is to remain the center of ingenuity and inventiveness, then the culture of Silicon Valley should teach us that we are already doing it right.  I heard noted professor and author Vivek Vadwa once say at a lecture at George Mason law school that “in Silicon Valley, they wear their failures as a badge of honor” and that with each failure they learn lessons that bring them closer to success.   

Hopefully, the President’s message will focus on tweaking what we are doing now to incorporate more STEM courses and programs in school curriculum and getting out-of-work trained in the technology growth fields.

Our best innovators would not be where they are today if they reveled in failures rather than learn from them.  Indeed, the country is on the right track. If anyone needs more convincing, they out to think about all those people worldwide who can’t live without their iPhones, Google search engine and Facebook accounts –All made by American companies.

Point – USA.

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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site while authoring her own influential blog which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

Contact Jeneba Ghatt


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