When last Friday dawned with a cold rain rather than the sleet and snow that had been forecast, I breathed a sigh of relief. For the first time in the second semester, we would complete a full, uninterrupted week of school. No half-days, no holidays, no school closures because of this freakish winter weather that has plagued us of late in Huntsville. More than many realize, rhythm and routine matter to a school. Students and teachers, coaches and players, directors and actors—we all do better when we can establish patterns and benefit from the discipline and predictability that come from rigor and repetition.
One American unafraid to insist on rhythm and routine is Amy Chua, author of the recently published tome, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. The daughter of Chinese immigrants and at present a law professor at Yale University, Chua has a parenting style that many of us would say is extreme. Determined to drive her two daughters to succeed at the highest level in school in school and music, Chua deprived them of a childhood that many of us take for granted.
To keep her daughters focused on excellence, Chua denied them play dates, sleepovers, and stints in front of the television. Video games were strictly prohibited. Once, when her older daughter came in second in a hotly contested math competition, the disappointed Chua required her to complete 2,000 math problems a night in order to sharpen her skills. When her younger daughter struggled to perform a demanding piece on her violin, Chua apparently threatened to burn her stuffed animals and take her doll house to the Salvation Army.
Chua’s style produced incredible effort and achievement from her children. They excelled academically and even performed at Carnegie Hall. But their success came at a significant cost. Neither daughter had the opportunity to choose activities to pursue in childhood, and neither developed friendships that many of us understand to be the foundation of a life well lived.
Chua’s book, first published as an article in the Wall Street Journal, has unleashed a firestorm of reaction, including this article in the New York Times, by David Brooks. To be fair to the author, Ms. Chua has intentionally made a parody of herself, and now laughs good-naturedly at her behavior. But to many self-styled Western parents, this book is no joking matter. A number have bemoaned Chua’s hard-nosed style. Others have objected to the excessive discipline that she expects, and argue that those who will succeed in the 21st century need more creativity and adaptability than Chua’s daughters have been allowed to develop.
Chua’s book, for sure, comes when many Americans look at the re-ordered world economy and wonder whether or not China, India, and other Asian nations are on the cusp of overtaking the economic predominance that the United States has enjoyed since the end of World War II.
And there are, very clearly, implications for us in the world of education. Randolph’s mission statement makes clear that the “faculty demand diligence and discipline,” and that we “encourage creativity and discovery.” Getting this balance right, and working in partnership with our parents to understand what is unique in each individual child, is incredibly important to us as we serve the children under our care. Part of this balance includes encouraging down time for children to invest in their imagination and in unstructured free play with other children without constant adult supervision.
And more than Chua, we value the social intelligence that comes from meaningful participation in co-curricular and extra-curricular activities. Learning how to communicate with others across multiple platforms, how to lead a group of peers, and how to value teamwork and cooperation on complex tasks with other interested parties in pursuit of the common good, these are skills that matter at Randolph and that will matter in the lives of children who will one day graduate and make significant contributions to the wider world and to their local communities.