I’ve never read Amy Chua’s The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Nor have I had the chance to view Vicki Abeles’s documentary response, Race to Nowhere (click here for the Slate article about the film and its reception). But like most Americans, I’ve been privy to the controversy and debate that Chua sparked, and I’ve heard plenty of defensive responses from those in Abeles’s camp. However, as someone working in the field of education, this dialogue has hit even closer to home. While some read Chua’s book as a critique of American motherhood, many have gotten offended by its larger implications about American culture. And personally, I’ve been more than frustrated by its suggestions about the American education system.
And I say frustrated, because I’m not offended. In fact, I’m delighted to see how Amy Chua has drawn so much attention to the way American parents view their children’s education. Like I said, I haven’t read the book, but after everything I’ve heard about it, I’m actually wondering if it’s more of a commentary on education than parenting.
What Chua and Abeles don’t seem to acknowledge is that teachers are dealing with these issues too. This is something teachers think about everyday–should we be a “Tiger Teacher,” assigning five hours of homework every night, expecting our students to completely disregard things like sports, extracurricular activities, jobs, and social life (and even family life)? Or–even stranger sounding–should we be “Anti-Tiger Teachers,” encouraging our students to go out, have fun, be kids, and live a little?
Most teachers end up falling somewhere in the middle. Personally, from experience and from what I’ve learned in my education curriculum, this is the best approach. Teachers who design their curriculum without acknowledging the students’ life outside of the classroom are sure to be setting themselves–and their kids–up for disaster. For example, much of my observation has been conducted in a school district where many of the students’ economic situation forces them to have jobs outside of the classroom. These kids spend their afternoons flipping burgers and bagging groceries, not reading Chaucer. In an ideal world, teachers shouldn’t have to factor this into their curriculum. There are a variety of ways that teachers can be sensitive to these “outside the classroom” preoccupations that our students have, but ignoring them or acting like they’re less important than studying for a biology exam
is not the right way to do it.
I don’t see why mothers can’t take the same approach. Perhaps we should think of education classes as parenting classes, too. While I don’t have any children of my own, many teachers do, and a lot of my classmates so far have been mothers and fathers. They often bring up anecdotal evidence about raising their children to support some of their methods in the classroom. I’m sure there’s some room for reverse application as well. Any parent-teachers care to comment?