Friday, November 16, 2007

How do Asian students get to the top of the class?

I recently read these two articles:

How do Asian students get to the top of the class?

Asian Parents and Success:

I have a lot of problems with what these articles are saying. This is aside from any self-stereotyping that may be going on.

(1) For one thing, similarly to Asian parents, Black parents also have a high expectation of obedience from our kids, and expect them to respect their elders as we were taught to respect ours. But our children, particularly the boys, often do not do well in school. This is because the schools are failing our children, not because we don’t expect them to respect their elders.

(2) On a deeper level, my problem with this is that it assumes that parents are building up their children’s self-esteem by praising everything they do, so that the children don’t want to make any effort.

Praising a child’s every action is not the way to build the child’s self-esteem. If anything, this will make the child very dependent on parental approval.

Similarly, it seems to me that requiring your child to be obedient, and putting the emphasis on results, is one way to guarantee that your child will grow up neurotically dependent on approval from authority figures. He or she could spend the rest of his or her adult life, either working hard to gain the approval of employers and superiors while lacking quality of life, or in therapy trying to overcome this tendency.

(3) These articles also refer to the child identifying with the role of ‘student’. That way, the child will grow up to identify with the role of ‘accountant’ or ‘chemist’ or whatever career the parents think is appropriate.

Of course, white society is happy to see Asian children brought up to be insecure and competitive, quiet and obedient. This suits the needs of the majority, authority figures and the powers-that-be. But does it meet the needs of Asian children, families and communities?

Surely, we – all adults - should encourage our children to be proud of being themselves, and identify with being authentic. That way, they will grow up to be healthy, happy, well-rounded adults. People with high self-esteem tend to perform better in different roles, including their careers as well as relationships, because they expect to do well. When you feel good about yourself on the inside, your actions and interactions reflect this.

The way to encourage our children to do well is to build their self-esteem by helping them to identify their own strengths and accomplishments. Yes, children can always do better. So can adults. I suspect many Asian parents who spend their time pointing out to their children how to improve do so because of their own inner sense of inadequacy. Their strategy is to pressure their children to do well in the hope that their children’s achievements will help them to feel better about themselves.

I speak partly from my own experience of being parented by African American parents who used the same strategy.

Luckily, my Dad also frequently reminds me how brilliant I am and that I can achieve anything I want to. This helped me through difficult times during my childhood, and I find his belief in me still contributes to my self-confidence now.

High self-esteem comes from inside. It does not come from being praised or by achieving external goals unless those goals are linked to one’s inner sense of what is important. Reliance on achievement of results leads to a sense of insecurity and a constant need to achieve, to do better than others, to compete. The most competitive people are not necessarily the most successful or effective in their fields, but they tend to be the most insecure.

My Dad’s reminding me of how wonderful I am contributed to my positive self-image, as both of my parents’ criticism contributed to my negativity about myself. In the end, we internalise these outside influences and we are the only ones who can use them, overcome them or transform them.

We want to bring up Black children to be happy, healthy, secure and successful adults – on their own terms. Not just to conform to the values of white society. Of course, their achievements can include career success and should do if that is what is important to the person. Lastly, I recently discovered this somewhat humourous, but nevertheless truthful, article on The Asian Parent Syndrome.

Bitter Asian Men

For more on building positive self-esteem, for parents and children, see
Success Strategies for Black People.

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