Sunday, September 29, 2013

Must Children Be Pressured Into Finding Long-Term Happiness?, or Maria Montessori Had the Right Idea

Stuart K. Hayashi

I think that many people have the wrong idea of what it means to encourage children to achieve. Many people have the notion that man is a "fallen creature" -- fallen from grace -- and that this means every behavior we find desirable in others is somehow a negation of human nature, human nature somehow being inherently corrupt. Thus, laziness and self-indulgence are considered to be parts of human nature, whereas self-discipline and the showing of grit in the face of setbacks are somehow assumed to be the mind and the will overcoming human nature itself. Thus a number of people have the primitive notion that it's good for parents to pressure their children to achieve.

A few years ago, Professor Amy Chua of Yale caused a controversy when she wrote a book about Asian 'Tiger Moms' who put heavy pressure on their children to succeed in school. But a more recent book ('Gifted Hands') by black neurosurgeon Benjamin Carson shows that his mother was as much of a Tiger Mom as the Asians.

"Not only did Dr. Carson rise from the ghetto to become an internationally recognized neurosurgeon, his brother became an engineer — both of them children of a poverty-stricken mother with only three years of education. But Tiger Moms get results.
--Thomas Sowell

Long before Amy Chua came along, there already was a term for the "Tiger Mother" model she extolled. The original term for "Tiger Mother" was . . . "Stage Mother." If you want an example of what a Tiger Mother really looks like, consider how Gypsy Rose Lee's mother was portrayed in the movie Gypsy. That is our glorious Tiger Mom. Incidentally, Lisa VanDamme provides an excellent refutation of the "Tiger Mom" model over here.

The one who really had the right idea about encouraging children to achieve was Maria Montessori. Certainly children do need guidance and care -- it is important to protect children from physical danger, such as from touching hot stoves. But aside from that, it's important to let children discover what are their own interests and aptitudes, and to let them develop the peaceable skills that they want to develop -- to let them develop themselves as the autodidacts that human beings are naturally born to be. There is something far more important than my getting my children to accomplish what I want for them: it's that my children ultimately be free to accomplish what they want for themselves.