Last week, a WSJ article titled ‘Why Chinese Moms Are Superior’ lit up a fierce debate on how parents should educate their children. The article was written by a Yale Law professor how came to US a long time ago. Her point was that children need to be forced to learn new things. Children tend to enjoy what they are good at. Since they are not good at anything initially, parents should force them to do some things until they become good and learn how to enjoy those activities. She also claims that children can do things that initially seem impossible when pushed hard enough. She argues that those who give up and say ‘everyone is special in their own way’ are losers and that any children is capable of doing what other children in the same age can do, if the parents force them hard enough.

Apparently, this WSJ article received a flurry of interest in the web, and Vivek Wadhwa also joined the debate by writing an article in BusinessWeek claiming US education system is still better than India or China. (Vivek Wadhwa is an entrepreneur turned professor at Duke doing research on startups. He is also a big advocate on the ‘Startup Visa’, a movement trying to give Visas, and eventually permanent residency to people who want to launch startups in the US. I love his articles in TechCrunch and BusinessWeek.) Then, a much more aggressive article was posted on TechCrunch titled ‘Why American Mothers are Superior’. I think most of you can guess what was posted there. She questions the point of forcing every single child to be mathematical and musical prodigies. She ends by saying “Dr. Chua’s definition of success is to have children who are musical and mathematical prodigies. Mine is to have children who learn well, live well and love well. She’s a success by her standards as I am by mine.”

I’m not a parent (yet), so I don’t know what it’s like to raise children, but my wife and I have talked about these sort of issues several times. I think both articles have valid points — I agree with the Chinese Mom argument that children tend to enjoy what they are good at, but also think forcing them to do something does not help the childrens’ creativity at all. That kind of education could create a math and science whiz with a perfect GPA who can also flawlessly play a Rachmaninoff piece, but who cannot figure out what he is truly passionate about. He might deliver excellent results when ordered to do something, but fail to figure out what he needs to do by himself. I believe that kind of person can be perfect on paper, but might end up not being sure what he wants from his life.

I think giving some amount of breathing room and freedom to children is important. Does that mean there’s nothing that parents can do to educate their children better? Of course not. I think (it’s just thinking, since I haven’t been able to practice it with a real child) parents can educate children by showing, not forcing. My wife and I like reading books after coming home from work. If our children watch us every evening reading something, wouldn’t they gradually want to read books too? (Maybe we should laugh while reading, just to pretend that it’s so much fun haha) I assume children are curious about things that adults do and like to follow when it seems like adults are having a lot of fun. When I was a kid, dinner table conversations were usually focused on issues on government and politics. My parents never forced me to do that, but I started to get interested in reading newspapers and political news earlier than my friends. I even asked my parents how to become a politician when I was in 5th grade. My dad used to watch a lot of Pacers and Hoosier basketball games when we were living in Indiana. Nowadays, I have the TV channel fixed to Celtics games (although I usually work on something else with the TV on). I’m not trying to argue that I received good education from my parents. I’m just trying to say that, from my personal experience, children are largely affected by what they hear and see from their parents. My belief is that if you want your children to do something, you don’t need to force the children, but instead show how much you enjoy doing something.

I guess my wife and I can try to see if this theory is true once we have a baby (maybe 3-4 years later? after we enjoy some more traveling). I think I’ll try to show my children how much I enjoy doing the following.

  • Skiing: young children learn much faster than adults. I hope my children would want to learn how to ski just by watching me skiing. Hope I don’t stumble too hard in front of them.
  • Reading: my wife and I like reading a wide variety of books. I hope my children would be curious what’s written in all those books. I started reading a lot thanks to my brother who liked buying a bunch of books. I think I ended up reading more of them than my brother =)
  • Basketball: I don’t know which city I’m going to be living in, but I really want to take my children to basketball games. Then I don’t need to beg my wife to go with me!
  • Music: it doesn’t matter what kind of instrument. Piano, guitar, violin whatever. I’m really glad that I learned to play the piano at a young age, and see many friends who regret not having learnt any instrument. Would they want to learn music if I start playing my keyboard at home? Maybe that’ll make them hate music altogether.
  • Passion: I wish they be passionate on something, whatever that is. I hope they have something that they strongly desire, and be like “life is full of excitement!”, instead of “oh..whatever…life is full of BS..”.
  • Love: Lastly, but most importantly, I wish they learn how to love and care for others. I hope being a loving father can help them in this matter.

OK. The list got way too longer than I imagined. Maybe I’ll be a way too demanding dad after all =)
I don’t know why I ended up thinking about children when my wife and I certainly have no plan at all (for the time being), but now I find it pretty fun to imagine all these things.