A good mother

After reading Amy Chua’s controversial article on WSJ last night, i can’t stop thinking about how it translates to the context here in Malaysia. It’s hard to generalize accurately, so i won’t try, but i will share with you the personal experiences i’ve faced. I’m a Malay Muslim, but with a Chinese father, so i’ve had the benefit of being able to compare the general differences i’ve seen.

Amy Chua says, 

“Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. 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.”

That’s exactly what my father said to me anytime my grades slipped. In fact, anything less than a B would get a real tongue lashing from him (and from my Malay mom). 

In comparison, my Malay cousins, some would get Cs and Ds, and the reaction from their parents was completely laid back. Almost as though they didn’t care (or they did, but didn’t show it). It was always, “Its ok, try again next time” or “Tak de rezeki (it was fated)” or “Don’t worry, it’s all part of God’s plan”. 

Was it a great surprise that they continued getting Ds?

In school, i saw the same thing happening, well at least from a result perspective. The top students were almost invariably Chinese. Yes, there was a token Malay occasionally in the top 5, but this was completely disproportionate to the number of Malays who made up the student population. 70% of the students were Malay, but only 1 of them made it into the top 5 on a regular basis? That just doesn’t compute.

The Chinese are not genetically superior. They aren’t predisposed to be smarter. But how could their fantastic academic performance be explained? It must start from the home, there was something different that their parents were doing to make them perform at a higher relative level to the kids from other cultures.

Despite all the negative comments Amy Chua’s article has received, i applaud her. A good parent never gives up on their child, but MORE IMPORTANTLY, they never let their child give up themselves. A good parent always pushes, threatens, cojoles, manipulates their child to be better, to get it right, to correct mistakes. Do children know what they want? Yes, perhaps they do — but because they don’t know what’s good for them, that’s where a parent needs to step in to tell them. And to force them to like it, if required.

We’ve been inundated with Dr Spock feel good parenting books for a long time. Raising a child shouldn’t be done with kid gloves.

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4 thoughts on “A good mother

  1. Aiz, you are right to a certain extent, it does boil down to what parents do at home, but I doubt there is a concrete link to culture or race.
    My mom took keen interest in our studies, but it wasn’t just the scolding. During primary school, she would actually sit down with each one of us in the evening (after a full day’s of work as a teacher) and supervise our homework. Before anything was submitted to the teacher, it has to go through her quality control first which were possibly 10 times higher. Before exam period, she would read through teh chapters with us and ask questions (like pop quiz) and we had to get all the answers right or suffer her wrath 🙂
    She eased off a bit in secondary school partly because I went to a boarding school, but even then she would get my dad to drive down every other weekend (early morning) to Perak, book a hotel room and go through my studies and homework with me. My dad would drive them back to Penang late in the same evening (essentially a 7 hours drive every other week). This happened at least until I was in Form 3, imagine how many times they drove over to Kuala Kangsar. Such dedication to me is unmatched and when you have such committed parents, you’re bound to have a very good chance to succeed regardless of race or culture.
    One last bit, don’t know your cousins but I doubt any parents would say “Tak de rezeki” if their children got a failing grade…is that an exaggeration or is it really true?

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  2. Of course its debatable, on the link with culture and race.
    But there is some evidence to suggest a link does exist. Consider the following:
    From http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/dominic-lawson/dominic-lawson-chinese-mothers-a-lesson-to-us-all-2181165.html
    “OECD produced its annual assessment of global academic performance, based on its own independent testing of 15-year-olds in reading, maths and science. China came top. British children, by the way, came 25th in reading, 28th in maths, and 16th in science. Ten years ago Britain came seventh, eighth and fourth in those categories. These results throw a very cold shower of water over the claims by the New Labour government that the vast extra sums of public expenditure they devoted to the infrastructure of the state education system had improved our international competitiveness.”
    and
    “This is also where Amy Chua’s theories seem to bear fruit; and their validity can be seen in some remarkable statistics produced last year by our very own Equalities and Human Rights Commission. The Commission had sought to discover the extent to which educational outcomes in this country were a function of economic circumstances, and of race. Accordingly it divided up results under ethnic categories, but also by whether pupils were eligible for free school meals.
    Among both white and black children, there was a dramatic difference in outcomes: for example, only 15 per cent of white boys eligible for free school meals gained five or more A* to C grades at GCSE, compared with 51 per cent among those not eligible. However, among Chinese boys and girls, those eligible for free school meals did every bit as well as those not so poor; equally perplexing for those who believe that relative poverty is the biggest determinant of educational attainment, Chinese pupils on free school meals, both boys and girls, had far better results overall than white pupils who were not eligible.”
    That plus my own anecdotal evidence, tends to suggest, to me at least, that culture does play a role in how we educate our children.
    On the last bit, “Tak de rezeki” — i wish it wasn’t true. That plus invoking the well-worn, “Insyallah”, is a common defence used against mediocrity by the Malay Muslims. I’ve seen it firsthand, and not just within my own extended Malay family.
    My dad hated that response so much, he came up with a comeback, “God is always willing. It depends on whether you are too.”

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  3. You and i, we come from a privileged background. Privileged because our parents did what they did; our parents are educators, does it surprise you that they did what they did, put the emphasis where they did? It doesn’t surprise me at all.
    But, we’re not the norm. Not by a long shot.

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  4. If you don’t help yourself, how can God help you. Perform ones duty before expecting results to be fruitful.
    I was brought up with a hard hand and the saying “spare the rod and spoil the child” should be adopted by all parents as part of parenting skills.
    Unlike our parents and grandparents, in todays day and age, both parents are expected to work for obvious reasons. Hence, taking time to assist in homework is unheard of because homework is done in tuition centres now.
    I maybe off on a tangent, but a good mother is as good as a good education system with good teachers, a respected profession at one time. You don’t hear anyone saying “I want to be a teacher” now. This country has lots of mending to attend to.

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