Last Word



McKinley Architects & Engineers

Williamson Shriver Architects

The Thrasher Group

January 28, 2011 - Volume 31 Issue 5

Last Word

“The wide world is all about you; you can fence yourselves in, but you cannot fence it out.” – J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973), British writer and author of the richly inventive epic fantasy, The Lord of the Rings.

Chinese-American mother Amy Chua triggered a firestorm with her "Tiger Mother" book, describing extreme achievement demands she imposed on her two daughters. The Wall Street Journal printed excerpts headlined "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." Angry responses protested that Chua was cruel to her children. She even received death threats.

Chua wouldn't let her girls watch TV, play video games, go to sleepovers, appear in school plays, or get any grade below an A. She demanded long hours of study and music practice. Naturally, her daughters ranked high in accomplishments -- while they missed the whirl of fun and frivolity consuming most U.S. teenagers.

This tempest spotlights an American quandary: Should overworked and overloaded parents force their children to excel? Or let them play?

There's no question that U.S. youths are slipping behind foreign teens in academic achievement -- especially in all-important science and math, the key to national advancement. Last month, an international survey ranked students in 65 countries. Asians swept the top scores, while America ranked 23rd, along with Poland and the like.

It's a "wake-up call," U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. "We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we're being out-educated."

Evidence abounds: Many Nobel prizes in science are won by Asian-Americans. A huge portion of top-ranked students at West Virginia's National Youth Science Camp are Asian-American. Classes at science universities such as CalTech and MIT are dominated by Asian-Americans.

South Korea has a 225-day school year, with longer hours and loads of homework. Japan's school year is 220 days. But American schools mostly fail to reach a prescribed 180 days. And U.S. schools squander much time and energy on sports, cheerleading, bands, baton-twirling, etc.

Former WVU President Gene Budig, now with the College Board, points out that Americans in the 25-34 age bracket lag far behind foreign counterparts in college degrees. These young Americans rank 12th in degree-holding, behind Japan, Korea, Canada, Russia, New Zealand, Ireland, Norway, Israel, France, Belgium and Australia.

Frankly, we think America needs more Tiger Moms, and Tiger Dads.

This editorial appeared in the Jan. 27, 2011, issue of the Charleston Gazette. Used by permission