Sunday, January 25, 2009

Parenting Balance

As a FOB desi parent, I will be the first to admit that I find the public school curriculum in America severely lacking and worry about J being left far behind her peers around the world thanks to the asinine No Child Left Behind policy.

I am also the kind of desi who feels vindicated in this opinion by documentaries like 2 Million Minutes.

This film takes a deeper look at how the three superpowers of the 21st Century - China, India and the United States - are preparing their students for the future. As we follow two students - a boy and a girl - from each of these countries, we compose a global snapshot of education, from the viewpoint of kids preparing for their future.

Our goal is to tell the broader story of the universal importance of education today, and address what many are calling a crisis for U.S. schools regarding chronically low scores in math and science indicators.

Knowing about this "crisis", I feel an urgent need to correct the gaps in my child's education (which can only grow wider with time) without the wherewithal to do so.

But there is another America as well - the one that Alissa Quart talks about in her book Hothouse Kids. This America is terrified of falling behind and having the Asians dominate in the future. They are willing to do their utmost to give their kids a chance to thrive in a highly competitive and globalized world.

When you take the general feeling of dissatisfaction with your child's education, combine it with your inherently desi notion of what it should really be and find yourself in an environment where hothousing opportunities are plentiful, you need to tread with utmost caution.

While, I don't agree with everything Quart has to say on her subject, she is right on the money about some things. In the final chapter of her book, she says ;

Conveying to children that they are so "special" and putting them on public display can lead them to feel that any talent they have is bigger than they are and that. in a sense, they are a mere employee of their talent, that they work for the gift and must manage their endowment. It's as if they were employees of Prodigy Inc. If they can't maintain exceptional performance into adulthood, they may well end up feeling that they have little direction and perhaps their lives have little meaning.

Then there is a beautiful quote from Walter Benjamin, in the chapter titled The Baby Genius Edutainment Complex, in which he makes the case for boredom :

If sleep is the apogee of physical relaxation, boredom is the apogee of mental relaxation. Boredom is the dream bird that hatches the egg of experience. A rustling in the leaves drives him away. His nesting places - the activities that are intimately associated with boredom - are already extinct in the cities and declining in the country as well.

Overall, this is an educative book for all parents who struggle to find the right balance between the desire to stimulate the creative energy in their children and the fear of becoming the much maligned extreme-parents who are driven by an all consuming agenda of keeping their kids ahead of the game. The line dividing the two can be tenuous sometimes. Like Quart puts it :

In a sense, the expansion of the culture of gifted children primed for accomplishment is yet another side effect of the growth of the middle class, and an attendant merit-based ethos. With so much competition for everything from preschool, to summer camp, to colleges, to impermanent jobs, children must work harder and train more extensively than ever. They do this not only to achieve class mobility but even just to maintain their family's place in the social strata, as they are confronted by avid, equally trained young rivals. Parents sometimes construct giftedness to lift their children and themselves above the fray.

The average middle class desi, who was born and educated in India will have no trouble grasping that line of reasoning or find much fault with it. We have been there, done that and are in know very well what it is to be under pressure to achieve from a very tender age. A lot of us long for our kids to have a different kind of childhood than we did in India and coming to America is in large part to fulfill that desire. Yet, ironically enough we find ourselves getting caught up in the very fray that we once so ardently wished to escape.

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