30 October 2013

Tiger Teaching, Music Education and American Competitiveness

"America is today the strongest, most influential and most productive nation in the world"
-Dwight D. Eisenhower  

In post World War II America, President Eisenhower imposed this sense of nationalism that would deem our country a leader of nations.  This title has been increasingly threatened in recent years, with a crippling job market and education system.  Why are we so competitive?  The answer lies with Eisenhower’s declaration and the determination to uphold our title as the “greatest country in the world.”

Click here for insight into why America is struggling. (There is some graphic language).

During the initial power surge of the 1950’s, America made great strides in music education.  I can’t say I’m surprised, due to the dedication required to learn how to play an instrument.  The National Association of Music Education (NAfME) and the American String Teacher’s Association (ASTA) were formed to revamp the music education system during this time of nationalism and are still live organizations today, along with many others.
So what does all of this have to do with “Tiger Teaching?” Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother examines the clashing parenting styles of Eastern and Western cultures, many of which relate to the expectations parents have for their children.  This gives parenting a competitive edge, especially for Chua...

“As I watched American parents slathering praise on their kids for the lowest of tasks-drawing a squiggle or waving a stick-I came to see that Chinese parents have two things over their Western counterparts: (1) high dreams for their children, (2) higher regard for their children in the sense of knowing how much they can take” (Chua, 8).

Chua wanted her daughters to gain a meaningful education by choosing hobbies that required a great amount of dedication to succeed; the piano and violin.  According to Chua, these instruments were “highly difficult with the potential for depth and virtuosity” (Chua, 9).  There are few professional musicians who could argue with this declaration; however, they might argue with the competitive attitudes Lulu and Sophia were exposed to during their early experiences with music.  To explore music education and the effects of different teaching styles, I pulled the following article from Music Educator’s Journal.  I chose to focus on Behavioralism and Cognitivism because these two theories have driven education in concert and in opposition to each other, much like theories on successful parenting. A third approach, called Humanism, is more recent. While I see many traces of the former two theories in Chua’s parenting and education ideals, there are also humanistic qualities to Sophia and Lulu’s experiences with music.

For reactions to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and Amy Chua, visit the following sites:

"Tiger Mom" Amy Chua responds to uproar


Abigail Griffin said...

Rideout’s article which links psychological theory to music education is thought provoking not only in drawing attention to the importance of music—but also the humanities as a whole. It’s true that maybe Chua took the disciplinary factor of giving her children a music education too far, but I think there’s a happy medium somewhere between enforcing your child’s education while also giving them the freedom to self-express by their own terms.

If I may speculate further: Perhaps this is why we are also a nation that is falling behind others—we are losing our touch with the humanities and therefore are becoming less sensitive to what makes us human, and therefore how we can succeed overall:
“The humanities offer clues but never a complete answer. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of a world in which irrationality, despair, loneliness, and death are as conspicuous as birth, friendship, hope, and reason.” In other words, the humanities increase our human potential to understand and to be. Cutting back on the humanities (which expose us to cultures, human experiences, and even expression from within ourselves) poses the danger of desensitizing younger generations and possibly stressing them. Yet there is a balance here—what happens when you have too much expression over discipline or vice versa? I don’t exactly have an answer to this, but your topic is important because it opens up this type of intellectual discussion (another lacking aspect in American mainstream).

Naomi Coufal said...

Chua's perspective on music education, and on parenting, is, indeed, startling to American sensibilities. As you describe, Ellen, even some very driven classical music teachers would probably question her methods.

Yet, it is simply undeniable that her daughters are highly successful in the field of music. Even Lulu, who chose not to use music as a career, is still an excellent violinist.

Think for a moment about the childhoods of the "greats" of Classical music.

1. Beethoven- His father was, by many accounts, demanding and insensitive.

2. Schubert- He was sent to a poverty-stricken music school for boys at a very young age. He wrote to his brother begging for money to buy food, even while performing very long hours in the unheated school.

3. Brahms- As a young boy, he was forced to perform in brothels and other places of questionable character in order to help provide for his family.

And, the list could continue...The point is, many great musicians suffered in order to achieve greatness. These children (whether by situation or parental choice) were not raised with American parenting values.

Note, also, that America, unlike most other wealthy nations, does not have a national conservatory for music. Also, think for a moment about famous orchestral composers from America. We might come up with a few, but we certainly don't think of many. I wonder if this has more to do with our attitudes about classical music (just an extra-curricular activity) or our "soft" parenting style, as Chua describes it.

I'd love to hear what others think about this.

Taraneh Zohadi said...

Adlerian psychology has introduced a concept called "inferiority complex". It is often subconscious, and is thought to drive afflicted individuals to overcompensate, resulting either in spectacular achievement or extreme antisocial behavior. Obviously it can drive from discouragement or failure. Children who are raised in households who were constantly criticized or did not live up to parents expectations can easily develop this. I believe could be suffering from similar complexes which may lead a person to achieve success. However, it is still detrimental to an individual's mental health !

Melissa said...

Taraneh's comment is interesting...Imagine creating an inferiority complex in a child to intentionally create an over- achiever. Brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Melissa ! I've been thinking about such matters for a long time trying to find the line between what can be considered a complex and what healthy success is.

Ellen Scherer said...

Taraneh, your comment is interesting to me as well. I often wonder about the legitimacy of the inferiority complex because of personal high pressure situations and expectations. You have to wonder whether children would work as hard as they did sometimes if their parents/guardians weren't right behind them pushing.