Know the Competition

How much is too much work for American children? In an earlier article, I presented Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom philosophy. Many parents, educators, and others have criticized her for her intense approach to child rearing. If her intention was to prepare her daughters for an Ivy League education, then she achieved her goal; her older daughter is heading to Harvard soon. Yet, no one can deny that in order to succeed in a global economy we must prepare our students. We are clearly losing the academic race at the high school level. A recent article in the Fast Company, a publication dedicated to innovation, presents a snapshot of an elite high school in Beijing. Compare it with the typical experience of American students in a public high school to understand the competition our students face.

“These students’ lives are remarkably devoid of choice and of what might be classified in American high-school culture as ‘fun.’ Classes are picked for them. Dating is forbidden. Fashion is largely irrelevant. . . . The point of all this rigor: to remove every possible distraction as the students prepare for national college-entrance exams.” Students attend school from 7:30 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, and 7:30-3:30 on Saturdays. At the end of the school day, most students spend several more hours attending to their homework. They do not have extra-curricular activities or part-time jobs.

On the other hand, the average American high school student attends school from 7:30 am to 2:00 pm Monday through Friday, with approximately one to two hours of homework. He has a plethora of after-school activities demanding attention, from team sports to part-time jobs.

I am not endorsing the adoption of the Chinese approach to education. Our country provides choice. But Americans need to encourage students to view education as their first priority. We must understand the competition in order to prepare properly. We must be prepared to face global challenges.

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