A couple of days ago, there was an article in the Wall St. Journal by James Bernard Murphy, entitled “In Defense of Being a Kid“. Mr. Murphy, by all measures, seems to be a well-educated, intelligent writer. I want to say that I have no problems with him. Of course, I wouldn’t have if I never read his latest article. After reading it however, I’m left with one glaring, unanswered question:
Okay. Let me give a little more detail. This article is a response to author Amy Chua‘s latest Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. A couple of points here: First, I haven’t had a chance to read this book yet! I want to, but I haven’t had the opportunity. Second, I believe that most people who have ventured to critique this book have also not read the book. They heard the sensational parts and off to the races!
From what I have been able to gather (again, without reading the actual book), this book tells Ms. Chua’s story about her life as a mother. I haven’t been able to find any credible source who suggested that this book is a how-to. In fact, according to Ms. Chua herself, the opposite is true. The sensational bits of the story are that Ms. Chua has stated that she was a strict mother who held the following rules in her home:
Children were not allowed any of the following.
- Attend a sleepover.
- Have a playdate.
- Be in a school play.
- Complain about not being in a school play.
- Watch TV.
- Play video games.
- Choose their own extracurricular activities.
- Get any grade less than an “A”.
- Not be the number one student in every class except for P.E. and drama.
- Play instruments other than the piano or violin.
- Not play one of the above mentioned instruments.
Okay, back to the article in question.
LARRY SUMMERS, who is a competent academic economist somehow came to be in a debate with Ms. Chua where he said something to the effect that the point of childhood is childhood itself. He mentioned that it takes up to a quarter of one’s life, and should be enjoyed.
Briefly leaving aside the question as to what an economist (summers), and a political writer (Murphy) have to say about a popular culture book, this article was a source of much face-palming while I prepared this post.
Bernard says “bravo, Larry”. He then jumps into discussion of some of the “gifts” of childhood.
“First is the gift of moral innocence: Young children are liberated from the burdens of the knowledge of the full extent of human evil—a knowledge that casts a pall over adult life. Childhood innocence permits children to trust others fully. How wonderful to live (even briefly) with such confidence in human goodness. Childhood innocence teaches us what the world ought to be.”
With absolutely no due respect to Bernie, ask any kid or adult who has ever had a “bad” uncle, or teacher, how liberated they feel from the “burdens of the knowledge of the full extent of human evil”. In many cases, the difference between a victim and almost a victim comes from parents who teach their children that not every adult deserves trust or obedience. In some cases, physically learning how to defend one’s self prevents abuse. But instead of filling some of their play time with important lessons about survival, Larry and Bernie suggest allowing them to enjoy being kids.
“Second is the gift of openness to the future. We adults are hamstrung by our own plans and expectations. Children alone are free to welcome the most improbable new adventures.”
Arguably, some of these “most improbable new adventures” are the very adventures that have contributed to the United States’ (official) unemployment rate of around 9%. Instead of making sure the kids are focused on school, which should be preparing them for the real world, we want them to “feel” good. We want them to “experience” life. Let me tell you a story about my own “improbable new adventures”.
Growing up, I was a smart kid. Like many kids, I believed that I could do anything I wanted to. Academically, I was unchallenged. I wanted something more. I took a woodshop class because I had never built anything. I mean, how hard could it be to build a box. I worked hard, and at the end of the semester, I had made a mirror for my mother. She laughed at it and told me in no uncertain terms that it would never be hung in her house. She suggested I take a P.E. (gym) class or something for which I was better suited.
Now, to be fair, the edges were rough, the actual mirror part wasn’t properly centered or mounted, there were large gaps, the staining was uneven and blotchy, it was asymmetrical, and it was ugly. Also, failing that class (rightfully so, given that I took a whole semester to make an ugly mirror) destroyed my G.P.A. In fact, if I factor how much I spent in materials for this mirror, added to the minimum wage for the hours I spent working on it, and instead just bought a mirror for my mother, she would have ended up with a large, well-made mirror that would have complimented her home. So I guess I learned something valuable in that respect. People have different skills. My skills do not include carpentry or wood working. My mom could have let me go on with my little adventure to the point where I had screwed myself out of being able to have a career that was better suited to me and my talents, but she wisely kept pushing her expectations on me.
“Third, children are liberated from the grim economy of time. Children become so absorbed in fantasy play and projects that they lose all sense of time. For them, time is not scarce and thus cannot be wasted.”
Bernie, let me tell you, that is exactly why parents are responsible for children and not the other way around. Would I rather sit around and play of Facebook all day than go to work and risk having a bad day? No doubt. Would I rather live on a diet of chili-cheese fries and ice cream instead of eating more healthy food and going to the gym? Sure! Again, there is a reason why we don’t do these things, and that is much the same reason why adults rule the world and not children. That Bernie, and apparently Larry miss this scares the hell out of me when contemplating any children they may have.
Now, I’m not saying that Ms. Chua is a flawless or perfect parent. I’m sure she wouldn’t say that either. But what cannot be denied is that we as a society have strayed when it comes to dealing with our kids. Where once parents might have done some brutal things in the name of raising kids to become good adults, we have now gone to parents brutally neglecting their responsibilities when it comes to raising kids in favor of allowing them to “feel” good about who they are. We are just now starting to see the price we will wind up paying. I disagree with some of the things on Ms. Chua’s list, but then again, I didn’t raise her kids. I applaud that she took the time and effort to parent (yes, it is a verb) and accept consequences for her choices in a country where industries have been developed to allow parents to shift blame for the way they raise kids onto the backs of someone else. We need more Tiger Moms.
Funny enough, the Band “THE WHO” and the band “The Offspring” each have taken a stab at what they feel the status of the kids of their eras are. I think they are both right, for their times. I think we are in different times today.