Photo: Sarah Bartell
As a guy who was raised in Cupertino and has witnessed a huge and often mind-blowing shift in both population demographic and educational focus in that area, I feel at least moderately qualified to share some perspective on the concept of hyper-education. As the cultural shift continued to snowball and the Cupertino schools suddenly began to lead national rankings, I often found myself contemplating the real value (personal, professional, societal, spiritual etc…) of such a singular view. This has only accelerated with the birth of our first child, Sean and I’ve begun to look at the whole concept of “parenting” with a whole new perspective.
First off, let’s address the elephant in the room. The demographic shift has been largely Asian (mostly Chinese at first with a major increase in Indian families in more recent years) and the cultural values that have fomented the parenting shift from “diverse” to “singular” have been a direct result of this transition. There are obviously exceptions and despite the more universal mantra of strict academic excellence, I have little doubt that Cupertino still cranks out a few stoners, drop-outs, punks, metal heads, barbies, and basket cases.
While the more insular nature of many Cupertino families is in stark contrast to the extremely open, communal, and often chaotic neighbourhood in which I was raised and my parents still live, it would be a disservice not to recognise the quiet respect, order, and loyalty to “family” most new immigrants have displayed. While you may not see many neighbours sharing a beer at a block party, you’d almost never see an elder family member discarded to an old age home for convenience.
As much as I think it is naive and misguided to overlook the patently impressive educational strides that “focused” children have achieved, I also believe it is tragically errant to intrinsically associate academic achievement with success.
Essentially, the bigger issue is really tied to the concept of the “Tiger mum” (as popularised by Amy Chau) and the almost proud arrogance displayed by similarly minded families that severely limit the life experience of their children. The theory follows that the more narrow and disciplined the focus, the less room for distraction and the greater the chance of ultimate success. Sacrifice the “now” for the “future,” seems to be the driving force at the heart of the “Tiger mum” philosophy.
While I firmly believe in the value of education and admire the focus on family, I’m consistently confounded by the idea that greatness is somehow grounded in conformity…..the creativity is the offspring of discipline and most absurdly, that success is ultimately achieved without a true sense of self……something that I believe can only be forged through life experience.
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1. The first concern that comes to mind is the idea of a lost childhood. With extra curricular tutoring starting as early as 5 years old, when does a kid really have a chance to simply drink in the wonder of discovery? The critical path of intrinsic rather than institutional learning is massive. A kid has to have time to be a kid;their lives will become complicated and driven soon enough!
2. The concept of “getting more” seems to be tightly aligned with the whole campaign to “get into Berkeley.” What are we ultimately teaching kids about humanity? What kind of values do we think we should instilling in our future generations? The concepts of morality and character can be argued from many perspectives but it seems very shallow to champion a “good job” as the end all be all. We should be as passionate about building character, integrity, service and wonder as we are about material gain and GPA’s.
3. Speaking from personal experience, I was a late bloomer and my sense of self continues to be a big work in progress. While I’m sure Amy Chau might hire the less stellar to fix her plumbing, I highly doubt her narrow scope values the real merit of latent potential that exists on the wrong side of the high school learning curve. Give people a legitimate platform to tap into their abilities and society will be rewarded 10 fold.
4. organised sports teach kids the true meaning of teamwork and taught a tangible lesson in loyalty, sportsmanship and healthy competition. You learn that sometimes you win and other times you have to accept defeat gracefully. It teaches you to tap into your God given physical gifts, and if you’re really paying attention, that hard work beats talent…every time talent isn’t working hard!
5. Street smarts are are probably the most under-rated element of professional success. The ability to read a situation, gauge a partner and build the kind of relationships that can weather the inevitable storm are all much more based on intuition than maths. All this before we even begin to discuss the simple notion of social competence — holding a conversation on something other than physics, code choices or open source authoring tools. The ability to actually relate to people is born from real life experience, the stuff you feel at your first AC/DC concert in Jr. High, in the playground when you have to make a stand against a bully or finding the courage to strike up a conversation at at a party with “that” gir even if she doesn’t know your name.
6. Unleashing the freak: tapping into the elements of our humanity that reside in the “id,” the magic that can’t be quantified, the joy that is unleashed in our brief stints with madness. Genius is never static and rarely planned rather, it is the underlying sense of awesome that boils under the surface and shines a light on greatness.
7. At the scariest end of the spectrum are the many kids that can’t live up to the ridiculous expectations set by the best and the brightest. When we only value a single route to success, we inevitably risk creating the monster that finds the violent or self-destructive outlet as the only means of rebellion. By design we relegate the majority to failure and as a consequence we all face the fear of the next Columbine occur ing in our own backyard.
The responsibility of parents is to guide, inspire, protect, love, challenge, celebrate, and ultimately accept the amazing uniqueness of our children. It is up to us to create well-rounded kids that have the confidence to take chances, the creativity to change the status quo and the perspective to laugh at the final absurdity of most of the things we spend much of our lives worrying about.
So, while I’ll do everything in my power to ensure Seany becomes an awesome, cool, fun, kind, intelligent, wise, grateful, successful adult, the reality is he will fall along the way and it is the lessons he learns from hitting the ground and the skills he’s developed to pick himself back up that will speak loudest to the man he becomes.
On that note, I’m going to grab a beer, turn on the Giants game and make the occasional fart noise while Seany laughs hysterically at my side — Tiger mum’s kids will be begging to play in our garage in a couple years anyway.
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