If you’re a parent, you want the best for your children. You want them to eat healthily, to do their homework, to keep fit, and to be well-mannered. You may go a step further and carefully study nutritional information to make sure they receive the right balance of calories, protein, and vitamins. You’d hire a private tutor to help them with the maths they’re struggling with, or send them off to summer school to learn a musical instrument. You’ll drive them to football matches and shop for the right boots and equipment.
You’ll want to keep them safe; you’ll tell them how to cross the road and ride their bike properly, and you’ll teach them never to talk to a stranger – someone who might want to hurt them – whether in the real world or online.
One way to keep children safe from strangers is to never put them in a position where they could ever meet them.
The Purpose of a Child
What would you like your child to be? A doctor? A lawyer? A CEO? A soldier? A politician? An artist?
I’ll make it easier: would it be better if they earned a lot of money, or a little? Do you think they should have a family, with lots of kids, or would you mind if they never had children?
Maybe you can’t answer those questions, so let’s step back a little. Is it important for them to go to a good university, like Harvard or Oxford or Cambridge, places that might given them better opportunities? If it is, then what’s the best way for them to get in?
This is something we can answer (or at least, we think we can): it’s by getting top grades at school, and by racking up a list of extracurricular achievements that’ll impress admissions officers. If you have the right enough time and resources, and the right kind of environment (and many people do not), and you’re sufficiently dedicated, this is quite doable. A 2006 article from the Times Educational Supplement shows exactly how doable this is:
In 2005, 55 per cent of all pupils achieved five GCSEs at grades A-C. Breaking down the figures by ethnicity reveals that white pupils were exactly in line with that average. Above-average results came from students of mixed white and black African descent (56 per cent achieving five or more A-Cs); mixed white and Asian (67 per cent); Indian students (70 per cent); and Chinese students (81 per cent). Those groups that fell below the national average were Bangladeshi (53 per cent); black African (48 per cent); Pakistani (48 per cent); mixed white and black Caribbean (44 per cent); and black Caribbean (42 per cent).
I don’t believe there are any differences in intelligence between ethnicities, and neither do the vast majority of scientists. This means that the very significant difference in GCSE scores shown above is down to environmental factors, which could include poverty and culture. However, it doesn’t seem as if poverty is the sole answer, if this 2008 LA Times article about the performance of poor ethnicities in California is accurate:
With about 2,500 students, Lincoln High draws from parts of Boyle Heights, El Sereno and Chinatown.
Both the neighborhood and student body are about 15% Asian. And yet Asians make up 50% of students taking Advanced Placement classes. Staffers can’t remember the last time a Latino was valedictorian.
…According to a study of census data, 84% of the Asian and Latino families in the neighborhoods around Lincoln High have median annual household incomes below $50,000. And yet the Science Bowl team is 90% Asian, as is the Academic Decathlon team.
This makes for uncomfortable reading, but the point is that money doesn’t appear to be required to perform well academically. So what is required?
“They only start paying attention if I don’t do well,” said Karen Chu, 15, whose parents emigrated from Vietnam. “They don’t reward me for getting straight A’s. I don’t get anything for that. But if I get a B, they’re like, ‘What’s this?’ ”
If her grades slipped, she said, her parents laid on the guilt extra thick. “My parents are always like, ‘If you don’t do well in school, then it’s all going to be worth nothing,’ ” Karen said, laughing nervously.
Julie Loc, the daughter of a seamstress and a produce-truck driver, said that if she gets a B, her parents ask whether she needs tutoring. She said her father used to compare her to other people’s children, noting their hard course loads or saying, “They have a 4.3 [grade-point average]. Why do you only have a 4.0?’ “
Overwhelming and unyielding pressure to excel – that’s the answer. It’s not easy to do, but it does work, and it’s not isolated to Asians either – it just seems to be more common among them. And believe me, it’s often not pretty. I’ve seen kids get nervous breakdowns from this pressure; I’ve seen kids who had heartfelt ambitions to become artists or musicians, only to be forced to abandon them so that they can become the doctors and lawyers their parents so desperately crave.
Among less academically-driven parents, I’ve seen extraordinary hot-housing of kids, who are cajoled into taking hours of music lessons, tutors, and sports clubs to get those all-important extra-curricular activities for their university applications. I could see this was getting ridiculous when many of my friends on the Duke of Edinburgh course outright admitted that they were just doing it to get into university, and had zero interest in any community service. Continue reading “The Unbidden”