Youths don't believe they can do hard things

Paul Maloy responded to my request for longer comments with the perspective of a businessman turned teacher:

“My wife has been a high school resource aid for much of the last seven years. I am in my sixth year as a teacher having converted from a 20-year career in hi-tech marketing. Now I thoroughly enjoy teaching U.S. History and Utah Studies to 7th and 8th graders. My hope is that I can be a successful classroom teacher and eventually an advocate for sensible education reform.”

He continued:

“A lot of press has been given recently to Yale University professor Amy Chua’s new controversial book, ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.’ Chua’s bold statement that U.S. parents coddle and over-protect the self-esteem of our children resonated in a powerful way with me. As a middle school teacher I see the results of current parenting techniques every day in the classroom, both good and bad, both successful and failing.

“That said, those who worry that ‘Tiger Mom’s’ tactics would create socially inept children and adults certainly don’t remember recent history or understand their own responsibilities as parents. I am far from convinced that the common parenting methodology of 21st century America is doing anything to create more socially able and responsible young people. One only has to walk into nearly any high school anywhere in the country to see how egocentric, prejudiced and rude the majority of teens have become. In lower economic areas, such entitlement attitudes seem to be significantly worse. It’s a wonder that our students can be taught anything at all that doesn’t involve instant gratification entertainment. The biggest challenge is that many of today’s youth don’t believe they can do anything hard – and they certainly don’t want to do anything challenging (this includes my own children even as I encourage them otherwise). It starts early, even in the first levels of elementary school, and continues through their high school experience. Over and over, parents are lowering their expectations of what their children can do, scaling back their demands to perform better academically. But it doesn’t end there; parents now are openly berating and attacking teachers for justifiably failing their children, and then insisting that schools not be allowed to hold poor academic students back lest it should damage the ‘fragile’ egos of their children.

“Additionally, there are millions of students on special IEP and 504 plans which forces teachers to grade these students on a specifically unleveled playing field. Reduced expectations become a HUGE disservice as students are simply too often given an easy way out of pushing through to a higher level that many if not most are quite capable of accomplishing if they were given the right encouragement. The end result is that many students slip through our education system unchallenged and they go on to become the low to mediocre performing citizens of our nation and world with poor work ethics and hand-out expectations. These are they who are poorly equipped to compete in the real world.

“Think this is crazy? One only has to go back a few decades to see the difference in the group often called ‘the Greatest Generation.’ These people grew up in the Great Depression with few distractions (no TV or videogames), stricter expectations (work or don’t eat), and fewer opportunities (25 percent unemployment rate at the height of the Depression). This is the generation that went on to fight, sacrifice and win World War II. Likely, no modern generation since then could do what they did; there would be too many complainers and quitters. I can easily see that my dad was raised with a substantially tougher work ethic than me, and I have read about the life of my grandfathers who were raised doing tough manual labor with few opportunities to socialize at all. It didn’t kill them; it made them better able to confront and beat challenging situations. Collectively, there was never an option to quit. There was no expectation that the government would pay anyone to be out of work. You worked or starved. Those times could be brutal and tough, yet it developed men and women with commitment and character and capability to do what had to be done.

“I’m not saying that everything we have in the 21st century is wrong, or everything we do for and with our children is wrong, but I think much of what Tiger Mom Amy Chua proposes may be closer to a remedy for an ailing generation than what most of us will quickly dismiss as just another radical and ridiculous theory. Too bad for us. Too bad for our future generations. We will most certainly pay for it sooner or later.”

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