Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Tiger Mom, Vindicated

According to a recent study, the Tiger Mom was right… up to a point.

Alice Park asks whether what she calls the “stereotype of Asian-American academic prowess” results from:

… hyper-disciplining parenting and their laser-like focus on achievement and performance….[Or does it come from] Deeper financial pockets that can fund tutors and summer school? Or are Asian Americans just smarter than white kids?

Of course, Asian-American academic achievement is not a “stereotype.” It’s a fact. Calling it a stereotype suggests that it’s an illusion, fostered by prejudice.

Park explains the latest research:

So I was intrigued by how Amy Hsin and Yu Xie attempted to explain the academic advantage of Asian-Americans over whites. Hsin, from Queens College at the City University of New York, and Xie, from the University of Michigan, quickly found that higher socio-economic status and greater intellect didn’t contribute as much as some researchers have thought to the grade gap. Even recent immigrants who didn’t have much in the way of financial or social support still tended to do better in school than non-Asian students born and raised in the U.S. And from kindergarten throughout high school, Asian-American students score about the same as whites on standardized tests.

Strangely enough, it has nothing to do with the phantom of privilege. The children who succeed are not especially privileged.  They do not grow up in mega mansions. They do not attend expensive private schools. Their parents do not spend fortunes on tutors and special training.

The difference lies in the work ethic that is, dare we say, drummed into these children. Yet, this work ethic is not merely imposed by their parents. It is a community-wide, cultural phenomenon:

Among the more than 5200 Asian-American and white students from two large datasets that followed them from kindergarten into high school, Asian-American students were able to take advantage of social support systems that helped to translate their effort into success. In their communities, families are surrounded by ways to enhance education – from word-of-mouth advice about the best school districts to resources like books, videos and websites, to cram schools for after-school classes. “The Tiger Mom argument neglects these social resources and forces that sustain and reinforce the work ethic,” says Hsin.

Asian students do not believe in innate ability. They believe in hard work:

Asian-American youth are more likely to attribute intellect and academic success to effort rather than innate ability,” she says. That’s a natural outgrowth of the belief that success – in school, in work, and in life — is a meritocratic commodity; the more you put in, the more you get out. When quizzed about whether they thought math skills were innate or learned, most of the white students believed it was a skill you were born with while the Asian-Americans were more likely to think it was learned, and acquired with effort.

And yet, there is a price to be paid. Apparently, all of the hard work and discipline eats into a child’s self-esteem:

The advantage that brings to their GPAs, however, does come with a price. Hsin also found that Asian-American students were more likely to have more self-image problems and more conflicted relationships with their parents than their white counterparts. The pressure to perform seems to take a toll on those who fail to meet expectations as well as those who do – for the latter, the expectation to be successful makes the achievement less satisfactory and less fulfilling.

One wonders what Park means by self-esteem here. Isn’t achievement a basis for self-esteem?

Undoubtedly, she is referring to socialization. A child who works all day every day on his or her studies will spend less time making friends and developing social skills.

One is not surprised to learn that there is a trade-off. And yet, how well developed are the social skills of the average American child who spends too little time on schoolwork and too much time on social media? And how much faith do you have in the self-esteem of children who are force-fed empty praise from the time they enter school?

In truth, our nation’s Tiger Moms might not want their children to assimilate into a culture that they see as decadent and degenerate. They don’t want their children to grow up to become indolent herbivores. At that they seem to have succeeded.

[Addendum: Not to be outdone, The Economist has it's own article about the study. Link here.]

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