So, I have lived 29 years of my life feeling like I don’t really know what I am doing. I mean, sure, I know my priorities, and I live them with my actions and decisions, but life has always felt rather haphazard. You know, I have never had a five-year-plan or even a budget. I have survived by the seat of my pants, on a wing and a prayer and all those other cliches that mean God has been good. Well, then other people came into my life. First it was a baby girl while I was trying to be an Army officer in wartime. That was too much “seat-of-the-pants,” too much chaos, too much split passions, so I got out. Then I was at home, supporting my husband, having more babies and moving a lot. Then I decided that homeschooling was probably the right answer for us. Now here I am, with a first-grader and that suddenly makes me feel like I have to be a little bit more deliberate about things.
She deserves a five-year-plan. She deserves predictability, routine and order. All the members of my household do. So, I am fighting my natural instincts to survive in a happy, bubbling chaos — because I know it is not fair to impose that on the people living under my roof and care. However, I recently read a book review in the Atlantic Monthly of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (**disclaimer**I intend on reading the book in its entirety, but the review is well-written and thought-provoking in and of itself.) that has my head spinning and my wheels turning about what path I will set for the children in my little home school.
Amy Chua makes the claim that allowing a child to “follow his passion to its utmost” is not a recipe for success in today’s world, but rather, we have to train our children with certain skills that the evolving modern, international, technologically-advanced world requires for success. An excerpt:
The good mothers have certain ideas about how success in life is achieved, and these ideas have been sizzled into their brains by popularizers such as Joseph Campbell and Oprah Winfrey, and they boil down to this: everyone has at least one natural talent (the good mothers call it a “passion”), and creativity, effortless success, and beaucoup dinero flow not from banging your head against the closed door of, say, organic chemistry if you’re not that excited by it, but from dwelling deeply and ecstatically inside the thing that gives you the most pleasure. But you shouldn’t necessarily—or under any circumstances, actually—follow your bliss in a way that keeps you out of Yale. Because Yale is important, too! So important.
I am a total Western mother. I am the epitome of what Amy Chua detests. I am soft, I value freedom, I want my kids to make choices that illuminate their individuality, but wait, Chua resonates with me. If I am the sole educator, and curriculum-designer, I can’t just trust that my children will develop a love of the relevant subjects in their traditional school classrooms. No, instead I have to carve out what subjects and activities I believe to be worth their time, and I have no idea. Also, when you put the overlay of faith on this modern mother dilemma, it becomes almost too overwhelming to confront. In two years, when I introduce foreign language, do I teach her Latin or hire a local Chinese teenager from a Chinese restaurant to give her Chinese lessons? How am I going to force her to be a computer programer if she wants to go into the arts. I don’t pose these questions as just another variation of the age-old struggle of a parent trying to encourage her kids to make pragmatic choices, but rather, I believe this is a unique moment in history. Top universities in the U.S. are drawing more and more from international applicant pools and students from these countries know their math and science. At my awesome U.S. public high school, on the other hand, I would have been allowed to stop taking math after my sophomore year- in Singapore, no way!
So I am an ambivalent mess with only a 6-year-old doing schoolwork. We do crafts and a hodgepodge of reading lists and fit in about four days of math a week. She is learning the richness of our Catholic faith and all its heroes, but do I have it in me to make her competitive in tomorrow’s hyper-competitive global economy. Actually, am I kidding myself to think that that is even an important priority? If I have decided to keep her home with the family, doesn’t that mean that I have already made the enormous decision for her that family ties are more important than future economic success? Is it fair for me to have made that choice? Why can’t I put all this cognitive dissonance to rest?