We all remember last week’s ferocious debate over the relative merits of Confucian childhood pedagogy.
Critics and pundits excoriated Prof. Amy Chua, aka Tiger Mom, for being an abusive parent, for traumatizing her daughters, and for depriving them of the manifold joys of an American childhood. I think it fair to mention that none of the negative reviewers gave the least thought to how abusive they were being toward Amy Chua.
Chua's daughters might have excelled in math and music, but America’s children were better at having fun.
Whatever the virtues of that old fashioned Confucian system, America’s children were leading the world in self-esteem, enhanced creativity, and sophisticated social skills.
After all, their parents had given them the opportunity to learn how to get along on play dates and sleepovers. They might not excel in math and music, but they exude charisma, and, as David Brooks seems to believe, the future belongs to the charismatic.
How could those Confucian automatons compete with that?
But, something funny happened on the way to the great new visionary and charismatic future. American children forgot to learn anything about science.
The Washington Post reported this morning: “More than two-thirds of the nation's fourth-graders failed to show proficiency in science in 2009, the federal government reported Tuesday, meaning that the average student was likely to be stumped when asked to interpret a temperature graph or explain an example of heat transfer.” Link here.
You do not have to know advanced math to know that a 70% failure rate is not a good thing.
Fortunately, children in later grades did slightly better: “Roughly six out of 10 eighth-graders and 12th-graders also fell short of science proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a key measure of performance in a subject that President Obama and business leaders call crucial for American competitiveness.”
Is anyone alarmed about this? Do you think that these children can make up the distance that separates them from the Confucian crowd by working on their sleepover skills or by excelling in having fun?
The real story behind the ruckus over the Tiger Mom is that American children are failing. We can start by recognizing that something is seriously wrong with the way we are educating children, and then ask how we can go about reversing the trend.