Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Instead of Tiger Parenting, we could also try ...

Finland is a pretty amazing place! This article in The New York Times raises some neat strategies the Fins use to achieve high-performing but well-adjusted children.
From Finland, an Intriguing School-Reform Model (The New York Times)
An educator from the Scandinavian country that ranks among the world’s leaders in school quality visited New York and explained his nation’s success.
It also introduces some interesting concepts, such as "the right to be a child." In Finland, the education system "scorns almost all standardized testing before age 16 and discourages homework, and it is seen as a violation of children’s right to be children for them to start school any sooner than 7."

It's a little ironic, because I just finished reading Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" today, which is actually quite entertaining. And while the reasoning behind the Tiger Parent model seems sound and can work with some children -- would definitely adjust strategies to be less harsh -- Chua eventually also recognizes that such a strict model doesn't apply in all circumstances. (It often fails with the second child.) And now in Finland, we have a model that is precisely the opposite, which doesn't require endless brow-beating and slaving away, but can still yield high scores and sound education.

In fact, it's intriguing to hear that "Finland is going against the tide of the 'global education reform movement,' which is based on core subjects, competition, standardization, test-based accountability, control." (All of which might swing in a Tiger Parent's favor).

In any case, despite Finland's success and the interest in school reformers to adopt some of the Finnish approaches, apparently some "critics say that Finland is an irrelevant laboratory for the United States. It has a tiny economy, a low poverty rate, a homogenous population — 5 percent are foreign-born — and socialist underpinnings (speeding tickets are calculated according to income)."
However, I think it's a total cop-out when big countries claim, "Oh, those other countries doing a good job are small, so their lessons aren't applicable." A big problem can be broken down into smaller problems -- to the state and community level, for instance. "Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford, said Finland could be an excellent model for individual states, noting that it is about the size of Kentucky."

This is also why it's total BS when Chinese people say, "Oh, but Taiwan only has 23 million people, so things like democracy that happen there aren't applicable to China and can't be compared." Um ... I'm pretty sure you have smaller-sized units within your own country that require good governance, economic balancing, environmental protection, cultural preservation and obtaining support and buy-in from the public. (Also, not our fault that you incentivized population increase in the 1950s based on faulty socialist ideology, when you could have started implementing a softer population strategy that would have changed the tide sooner, so you wouldn't need to implement a draconian One Child Policy in the 1980s. #Mao'sLegacy)

And if lessons abroad aren't applicable, then why are the rulers in Zhongnanhai so intrigued by the Singaporean soft-authoritarian model as the way to go for China? There are only 4 million people in that country! The point is that lessons and models can be imported, adapted and scaled for the appropriate target. And you shouldn't weasel out of change.

Finally, the "cultural" argument is even weaker in the case of the PRC, because Taiwan and Singapore are both Chinese-speaking, with strong influence of traditional 華 Hua culture. If a conservative Sinic society in Taiwan can democratize (ditto for tradition-bound South Korea and hierarchical Japan), then I actually don't see why places that are even less "encumbered" or in thrall to Confucianism cannot. (Not saying the lack of Confucianism is a good thing. I'd probably argue that Confucian doctrine can in some cases help the transition to democracy by holding the community together. Moreover, moral appeals can be made on the basis of Confucianism. There is also stronger trust, and less outright materialism/moral vacuum. But that's a discussion for another time.)

Sure, America is culturally more distinct from Finland (well, ~Western Christendom, kind of), but that's why we can structure programs and incentives to help boost the right actions. It's called public policy.

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