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Revisiting “Tiger Mom”, and where “Individualism” failed (with a Sleeveless Pineapple)

Recently, I had an interesting debate about the “Tiger Mom” culture in Asia, against the backdrop of a Chinese American mother who criticized the Tiger Mom’s suppression of children’s “autonomy”.  So, since we had lively discussions of this subject here, (http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2011/01/13/the-truth-is-out-amy-chuas-chinese-moms-attack-on-american-moms-is-actually-a-wall-street-journal-creation/), I thought we should visit with some updates.

First, it’s actually amazing how many people criticize “Tiger Mom” without actually reading what she wrote.

More details on this later, but let me just say that Chinese children are not born or brought up to be mindless robots.  Plenty of them get into trouble, plenty grow up to disobey and challenge authority.  Tiger Mom is about challenging a child’s autonomy.  Amy Chua’s own 2 daughters questioned everything she made them do.  In challenging the child’s autonomy, the child must struggle to strengthen his/her own will and discipline.  Without self-will and self-discipline, autonomy/”individualism” is weak and useless.  My parents never tried to “suppress” my autonomy.  On the contrary, they always insisted to push me to learn to do the right things on my own initiative.

Second, I’m yet again reminded of how non-individualistic Chinese kids are, and how creative and individualistic Western children are.  Beyond the obvious (and somewhat racist) stereotype that such assumptions are based on, I came across this rather interesting story:  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/21/nyregion/standardized-testing-is-blamed-for-question-about-a-sleeveless-pineapple.html.

The story is basically, there is an reading question on a standardized English test in NY, the passage of the story is about a race between a PINEAPPLE and a Hare!  And the Moral of the story, which the student test takers are supposed to identify after reading, is that “the PINEAPPLE has no sleeves”!!

The test question has been thoroughly derided as ridiculous and stupid.  (After much publicity).

Yes, it is ridiculous.  And blames are now being assigned to just about everyone.  Some even blame the “standardized test system”.

Here is the part that get me:  I have taken lots of standardized tests, in China and in US.  I have never encountered such a ridiculous question before.  Why after so many decades of “standardized testing” has US produced such a stupid idiotic question?

Most standardized test questions are traditionally boring.  In fact, Chinese standardized tests are considered to be so mundane that they emphasize on rote practice.  Boring uncreative standardized testing which does not give points to “creativity” or “individualism”.

So what went wrong with NY’s test?  Well, as I would attribute it, it’s actually the failure of “Creativity”.

The simple answer is, some idiot got too “creative” with the test questions.  It’s not even a case where the test question had the wrong answers, because that would be simple to tell.  This is a question for which all answers are equally ridiculous, and it does even test for “reading comprehension”.

*What’s even more absurd is how this question and its answers were derived.  Apparently, variations of this question has been used since 2007 in various US states, and the Test Company spent unGodly amount of money “researching” using psychological testing with samples of teachers, and deciding on the “correct answer” as the one which MOST teachers picked.  (In other words, a bizarro version of Democratic election, where it didn’t really matter whether the answer made any sense, but rather how “popular” it was.)

That’s a lot of pointless “creativity” wasted for no apparent reason!  In other words, there is nothing “standardized” about these US “standardized testing”.  It has become almost a weird skit part of the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

If you made a movie about this process, no one would believe it’s real.  And yet it is!

Here is the nut of the problem with modern Western “individualism”:  REALITY:  Not every task requires “individualism” or creativity.  99% of every day tasks are incredibly boring, mundane, and requires only discipline and strict following of rules.  I.e. I don’t want my grocery store cashier to get “creative” with my shopping receipt, I just want my receipt amount to be correct and done fast.

So is the “standardized testing”.  If the question is supposed to test for “reading comprehension” of 8th graders, what’s wrong with using a newspaper article?  Yes, it’s boring, but it’s the point of standardized testing, where neither the test nor the test taker should get “creative”.  (And there is no test for “creativity” except in real life).

A bunch of “individuals” set about to create the test question for the “pineapple and the hare”, and what happens?  Without yielding to any collective goal or rules of how the question should be, they tried to make LOTS of people happy, tried to anticipate problems that didn’t exist, tried to reward “creativity” that has no relevance.

In trying to create the perfect question that accounts for creativity, individualism, etc., they end up creating a monster of a question that made no sense to anyone.

And that’s the other thing, Western Individualism is now such a catch phrase, that it’s more like an excuse for why kids are not being educated to do 99% of the things with discipline.  You want to teach them “creativity”?  You might as well teach them spiritualism, because there are no tests for either.  You might as well NOT teach them any thing, because all KNOWLEDGE is just a bunch of rules.

Where Tiger Mom comes in is parents should push and challenge the kids to follow the rules with discipline, because that’s really the ONLY way to understand the rules (in Knowledge and elsewhere), and that’s also the ONLY way to eventually challenge the rules and to critically rethink (thus spurring creativity).

Blind pursuit of “creativity” and autonomy without regards to the rules and discipline gets us a sleeveless pineapple running in a race with a hare.  Completely ridiculous and pointless.

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