So a lot of people have had a lot to say on Amy Chua’s “Chinese Mother” manifesto published in the Wall Street Journal this month, but I have been most intrigued by the response in today’s David Brooks column. He argues that sleepovers, which Chua forbid her two daughters to attend, are actually much more “cognitively demanding” on children than mastering a difficult piano piece.
Brooks writes: “Chua would do better to see the classroom as a cognitive break from the truly arduous tests of childhood. Where do they learn how to manage people? Where do they learn to construct and manipulate metaphors? Where do they learn to perceive details of a scene the way a hunter reads a landscape? Where do they learn how to detect their own shortcomings? Where do they learn how to put themselves in others’ minds and anticipate others’ reactions?
“These and a million other skills are imparted by the informal maturity process and are not developed if formal learning monopolizes a child’s time.”
This is a similar argument that early childhood advocates make in favor of preschool and prekindergarten experiences that are rich in play. Play is actually essential to cognitive functioning and other elements of later academic achievement, such as persistence and self-control, according to researchers in this field. Many educators are in fact working to bring this concept into older grades, so that kids don’t go from preschool and kindergarten classrooms organized around child-led center activities straight into desks in straight rows in first, second and third grades and the more rigid, teacher-led education that set up implies.
Chua argues that the Chinese way (see this response by Melinda Liu, a Newsweek reporter based in China, for a take on whether this is really the Chinese way anymore after all) protects children “by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they’re capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.” The counter argument is that “protection” is not actually what they really need to succeed.