Another Sputnik Moment

Jan 8


Kierans Pollard

Kierans Pollard

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We probably do not see it coming, but the decline of education in the United States has been crystallized in a book called "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", written by Amy Chua. The book and its author have been heavily criticized for tough love on the position of steroids on parenting.

We probably didn’t see it coming but the decline of education in the U.S has been crystallized by a book titled “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” written by Amy Chua. The book and its author have come under intense criticism for a tough love on steroids stance on parenting. The book’s premise is that American’s coddle their children at the risk of settling for something which is far less than their full potential.

Combined with the December release of the latest test results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA),Another Sputnik Moment Articles “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” has put an unflattering spotlight on primary and secondary education in the U.S. as well as American parenting styles.

The results from the PISA test showed that American had slipped badly versus those in other countries, finishing in 17th place overall. Students from the U.S. ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math, getting squashed by students from Shanghai who won each category by a comfortable margin.

President Obama called the dismal scores a “Sputnik moment” as the realization sunk in that the U.S. had fallen behind badly in a race that it comfortably ruled for years.

The stunning results from the Shanghai students have at their foundation a few simple facts; “Chinese students work harder, with more focus, for longer hours than American students do”. According to Time Magazine, “Chinese students already have a longer school year than American pupils — and U.S. kids spend more time sitting in front of the TV than in the classroom.” The education race is reminiscent of the rivalry between the U.S and Russia which spanned from sports to space as well as the later rivalry with Japan which was focused largely on the financial arena.

The U.S is still the biggest economy in the world but China is coming fast, having taken the second spot from Japan in 2009. With the U.S. mired in an anemic recovery from its real estate induced recession, China’s economy is on a tear. Not only is their economy growing exponentially, they’re the biggest of America’s creditors with the Treasury Department estimating that our total debt to China is approximately $843 billion. That is over $10,000 in debt for the average American family and just a fraction of our total debt of $14 trillion.

Despite the outcry from American parents, there are elements of Amy Chua’s tough love regimen that are supported by studies in psychology and cognitive science. Her criticism that American parents over-protect their children from distress is backed by a book fittingly called “A Nation of Wimps”, authored by Hara Estroff Marano. Marano states "Research demonstrates that children who are protected from grappling with difficult tasks don't develop what psychologists call 'mastery experiences. Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they've learned that they're capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals. Children who have never had to test their abilities grow into "emotionally brittle" young adults who are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.”

Judging by the ubiquitous advertisements for depression meds, it looks like the “Tiger Mom” is on to something.

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