Old School, New School
Sondang Sirait Rahardja, WEEKENDER | Thu, 08/18/2011 11:03 AM |
If Amy Chua ever came to Jakarta, she would not only be proud to find Chinese mothers – or “Tiger Moms” – everywhere, but surely delight in learning that here it’s fashionable to be a Tiger Mom. Because being a Tiger Mom isn’t about Chinese as a race, but rather as a concept. You certainly don’t have to be born Chinese to embrace the idea.
In her bestselling – and highly controversial – book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, published earlier this year, Chua discusses at length how she raised her two daughters to be the best of the best, at the risk of eliminating things commonly associated with normal childhood – no sleepovers, no play dates, no TV, no grade lower than an “A”.
It sounds radical, but the truth is, such strict rules might be the main reason Asian children in general excel in academic achievements, thanks to strict adherence to a “Chinese” upbringing. The result speaks for itself. Surveys in the United States show that Asian-Americans far surpass other ethnic groups when it comes to higher education. The same comparative advantage appears in median family income rates.
Such success is highly appreciated in Asian cultures. And so whatever Ms. Chua did that raised eyebrows in Western countries actually seems normal in this part of the world.
One of my girlfriends registered her children in a national-plus school, where students are required to be trilingual, aim for high grades and, if possible, win science contests; such achievements require putting in long hours at school and at home, every day of the week. My friend and her spouse were not particularly high academic achievers themselves, but they want their children to be what they were not.
Another friend went the extra mile to find the best school for her son, not minding being put on the waiting list of another national-plus school. Private extracurricular courses include Mandarin, English, mathematics, aikido and swimming. I like to joke that she’s simply readying him to compete in both the math Olympics and the real Olympics.
See, we Indonesians like to raise things a notch. We like having options when we shop, dine, travel and entertain. The more expansive the options, the better. And for the wealthier among us, the more expensive the school, definitely the better. These days, when it comes to choosing the best education for our children, money matters come second.
This is partly thanks to the growth of our middle class, which is rapidly expanding at a rate of up to seven million people a year, according to a 2011 World Bank report. The same report also finds that growth in the middle class is accompanied by increasing consumption. It is against this new backdrop that middle class parents in this country are able to provide selective education for their children, more than ever and with a greater purpose.
A good education benefits not only the children, but also the parents, whose satisfaction might resemble something Maslow placed at the very top of his hierarchy of needs. The names might differ in each culture, but they come close in definition.
If this were a theory, then my parents would be its living proof.
For my father’s people, the Bataks, self-actualization is not a foreign concept. In fact, it comes in three forms in the following accumulating order: hamoraon (wealth), hagabeon (happiness) and hasangapon (great honor) – all of which begin with a good education. The need for a good education is a conviction instilled early in life, and passed on religiously from generation to generation.
When my father was young, my grandfather sent him forth from their small village in North Sumatra to go to school in Java, using all his savings and whatever was left. The boy’s mission was to succeed, and to return only after he had done so. Although cash-strapped as a perantau (loosely translated as “wanderer”), he did succeed, later having enough money to send his own children abroad for their schooling. In short, that is the story of my father, who always told us, “Education will get you further than money ever will.”
My mother’s people, the Chinese, warmly embrace material success; happiness, it is said, is for those who depend upon themselves. But that same culture emphasizes the importance of laying an intellectual foundation for success; consider the following proverb: “If you are planning for a year, sow rice. If you are planning for a decade, plant trees. If you are planning for a lifetime, educate people.”
there you have it. Cultural differences and generations aside, that
“drive” some call “ambition” is here to stay. What Chua
describes as “Chinese” parenting, my parents and many others call
mere responsibility. Looking around, like it or not, it seems the
trend is here to stay.