The new book by Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mothers, is instructive. She critiques the 'weak, cuddling Western parenting style' and vindicates the far superior Chinese way. Apparently, she never lets her daughters attend a sleepover, have a playdate, watch TV or play computer games, or fail to be the top student in any subject except PE and drama. Further, according to the Week, she made them practice their musical instruments two or three hours a day. The result? Straight A students and musical prodigies.
The thing is, this works. And you don't need to be Amy Chua, a Yale law professor, to make it work – my humble and local Chinese herbal doctor's daughter got 4 A levels at A* and is now at Imperial College, London, and seems to have the same sort of focus.
Thus it is that real educational ambition begins with real parenting, and it is no good claiming as some do that this method makes 'automatons' and it's better to have a child who “chooses their own path in life” - as if somehow this sacrosanct objective was something that parents dare not interfere with. How sad is that? We have in our current society so many aimless and pointless lives that have been manufactured by the indifference of parents whose lack of care masquerades as a representation of freedom.
Of course, as a Westerner myself, the truth, I think, lies midway between the two extremes, Yin and Yang if you will. We have erred so far on the path to what Miss Mure (following the '45 Jacobite Rebellion of 1745 – nothing changes!) described parents as wanting for their children: “The mind was to be influenced by gentle and generous motives alone” - so 'child-centred' so long ago – that we are in danger of systemic failure.
My earlier blog, The Purpose of Education, emphasised the need to get first things first – and the first thing is understanding the purpose of education. This can only be done by understanding human nature – if we don't know how people operate, then no purpose can be achieved because the human element will fail.
Thus, in a Western democracy in which some 25% of the students taking A levels get grade A s I have to question whether we remotely understand human nature. A little Chinese medicine would be good for us all. According to last year's OECD study of academic standards in reading, maths and science Britain came 25th, 28th and 16th respectively. On the other hand, China came top in all three categories. Have we something to learn? Yes, we do.