What we are doing to our children
I’ve always wanted to write about this topic. As a matter of fact, this topic is a matter of public importance. What’s more important to our society than the education of young children? Last year, there was a TVB show on children, where a mother from Tuen Mun coined the now famous phrase, “贏在射精前” (meaning roughly, “success comes before ejaculation” – please pardon the pun).
What the mother means is that as Hong Kong is becoming a more competitive society, she must calculate when to “conceive” her baby during which part of the year so when she applies for play groups, the baby will be one of the older and more experienced child, and perform well. She figures that if the baby performs well in play group, he may get into a “famous” pre-school. If so, he may get into a “famous” primary school, and then a “famous” secondary school, “famous” university, and so on.
Tiger mom’s assumptions are false
This warped logic is probably based on two assumptions. First, she assumes that since Hong Kong is so competitive, if her baby can’t get into a famous play group, he’ll never be able to go to a famous pre-school, and so on. Second, she assumes that if her baby can’t get into a famous university, he’ll never be able to find a good job. Based on the inequalities of Hong Kong society and unequal distribution of resources, I see how she came to the first assumption. I will discuss about that topic in another post (Part 2? Part 3?).
I will, however, break down the second assumption – that if one can’t get into a famous school, he can’t get a good job, and can’t live a good life. This is blatantly false. Under this logic, she must force her baby to get stellar grades in play group and learn to play 5 musical instruments and take dancing lessons in order to get into a famous pre-school, and so on. The assumption is that good grades will help her baby get into a famous university. This assumption however is only a half truth, which I will further break down below.
There are three further assumptions here: (1) good grades lead to famous universities and (2) famous universities lead to great jobs and (3) great jobs lead to success. All three of these assumptions are not at all correct.
Good grades alone do not lead to good universities
First of all, good grades do not lead to famous universities. What are these so-called famous universities? Let’s not go into a debate here, but (ignoring universities in Hong Kong) we would all agree that Oxbridge in the UK and Ivy League colleges in the US would be “famous” universities. Guess what? They do not look just for good grades. You can have a perfect SAT/ACT score and still be rejected.
Good grades are very important, yes, but they want someone who will contribute to society. A school will probably take an impoverished student with reasonably good grades from a third world country but vows to become a doctor to join “doctors without borders” because his entire family died from malaria, over some kid who got perfect grades from a “famous” secondary school but only because his parents pushed him to study.
I’m not saying that you have to write a sob story (or have all your family killed) in order to get into a famous university. I’m saying that you need to be someone who the school will be proud of for the contributions you will give back to society. Having straight A’s just won’t cut it.
Being a great employee makes other people successful, but not you
The second and third assumptions is that a great university degree will give you a good job, and a good job gives you success. Sure, a famous degree may get you through the door to get an interview, but even if you get a good job, does that give you success. Getting a job and keeping it simply makes you a great employee. What do employees do? Make their bosses rich(er). Will it make the employee rich? Definitely not.
An employee is a person who is under the employment of someone else. You do not control your destiny. If you help someone make $100, you would be lucky if you get $10. The boss has to pay the rent, electricity bills, his secretary’s salary, etc., before he pays you. You are probably making your boss’s life pretty good, but you are just working for your boss. The boss has two bosses – the landlord on one hand, and clients on the other. He pleases the client, so he can pay the landlord. He is the middle man.
Success is innovation, success is creativity
My point here is that everything we discussed above about getting a good job has nothing to do with being “successful.” In any case, your boss is always more “successful” than you. The only question left is how we can educate our children to become successful. Who are these successful people? Look at Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Yun, Steve Jobs or our own Li Ka-shing. They became successful not because they got great grades in school and got great jobs.
Successful people become successful because they innovate. They either see a demand, and supply it; an opportunity, and seize it; or if there is none, create a demand (i.e. we never knew we wanted an iPhone until they made the iPhone), and supply it. Success is creativity and the ability to either seize an opportunity, or to simply create it, out of nothing. By forcing your children to study at all costs, you are basically killing their sense of curiosity for the world. They will only become robots.
Robots are cheap and are dispensable. Once it breaks down, you buy a new one. You want your kid to become the boss who buys these robots to work for him, and not become the robot itself.
In short, if you want your children to be successful, teach them to be creative, and not just study hard. Think hard.