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The Suburbanite
  • Charita Goshay - What do immigrant parents know that we don’t know?

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  • This year, Sukanya Roy of Wilkes-Barre, Pa., won the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
    Northeast Ohioans can be proud that last year’s champ, Anamika Veeramani, 15, hails from North Royalton. Recently, Anamika and her family visited President Barack Obama at the Oval Office, along with the Roys.
    In 2009, Kavya Shivashankar of Olathe, Kan., won the bee.
    In 2008, the winner was Sameer Mishra of Walnut Creek, Calif.
    You see the pattern here.
    Though Indian Americans make up just 1 percent of the U.S. population, seven of the last 10 winners of the Scripps competition have been Indian teens, most of whom are first-generation citizens.
    Are Indian-American kids somehow, mysteriously, magically, congenitally smarter than their peers — or is there something else to be learned?
    TIGER MOM
    A lot of parents have expressed horror at “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” Yale Law School professor Amy Chua’s tongue-in-cheek account of her admittedly obsessive tough-love approach to parenting. Chua is a first-generation Chinese American. Her technique included rejecting a handmade Mother’s Day card when she felt her daughter’s effort was wanting, and forbidding play dates, TV, sleepovers and any report-card grade lower than an “A.”
    Chua’s hard-knock style drives a stake through the “you’re special” gospel that has infiltrated American parenting for the last three decades.
    In a Wall Street Journal article, Chua wrote: “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle.”
    Chua has received death threats, but “Tiger Mom” is a bestseller, which speaks volumes more than all the yowling about it.
    FALLING BEHIND
    For a minority person, it’s a force of habit: You see a newspaper page filled with head shots, you tend to peruse it for someone who looks like you. If it’s an event apart from sports — say, National Honor Society, Boys and Girls State or Moot Court — you also know to prepare for disappointment.
    Is it because black and Hispanic kids are inferior to their peers? Or is something else going on here?
    A new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that while use of media has increased for all kids, black and Hispanic kids spend nearly twice as much time parked in front of the TV than whites do. Minorities also are devoting 30 hours less per week on homework, exercise and family interaction than are white children.
    Page 2 of 2 - In a global economy, you don’t need to be psychic to understand what the future holds for any child who is being permitted to fall behind.
    IS IT CULTURE?
    The success of first-generation Americans is not a new story. But the rise of the latest wave is notable because it suggests that achievement is influenced more by one’s culture than by perhaps anything else.
    Now, it would be disingenuous to ignore the fact that many of today’s immigrants are those most able to afford to emigrate. Even so, wealth is not a precursor for intelligence. You’ve been an American long enough to know that.
    And, yes, it does matter — deeply, still — that they emigrated voluntarily, with their cultures intact.
    In most parts of the Third World, people scarcely can imagine living in a place where children actually are required by law to attend school and don’t have to pay for it. If they can manage to get here from there, the rest is cake.