China can offer lessons to America

By Joseph E. Gauld

BATH — My in-depth work with thousands of families over the past 40 years, including American, Chinese and Chinese-American families, has taught me American and Chinese parents could learn much from each other.

We Americans have endlessly tried to reform our education system without success, struggling with problems like class size, teacher quality, student motivation and discipline.

But the Chinese have produced top students internationally, with 50 in a class, lined up in rows, listening intently, religiously doing homework in schools operating without disruptions.

They accomplish this because (1) Chinese students are thoroughly prepared at home for the school experience, and (2) the highest demands for standards at school are set by their parents at home.

So essentially, while Americans tend to hold schools accountable for student performance, Chinese students know their parents primarily hold them accountable for school performance.

However, Chinese parenting is heavily influenced by Confucianism and by the Gaokao — their college entrance exam, which tend to greatly overvalue qualities like obedience and rote learning.

Thus in China a college graduate earns an average of only $44 more a month than a worker who hasn’t gone to college, and studies show that fewer than 10 percent of these graduates are qualified for employment in international companies.

So Chinese and American societies have child-rearing strengths to offer each other.

Many Chinese teenagers who come to this country to prepare for American universities begin to emulate American values by expressing their unique potentials — initiative, creativity and enterprise — and become far more confident individuals, leaders and attractive candidates in careers beyond college.

If American parents began to emulate Chinese parents in terms of preparation, discipline and expectations of children and school, American students and schools would also experience a powerful transformation.

We could learn from the Chinese parents’ absolute insistence on their children’s best. Very few Americans are willing to go to the same lengths. I was on the receiving end of that experience with my stepfather.

I was a poor student in school, flunking geometry, when he took over my instruction — the most frustrating learning experience I ever had. His constant question “why?” sent me to my room many times until I could answer correctly. I eventually began to understand math and realize that I could think.

Like my stepfather, the great strength of Chinese parenting is this: No effort is made to gain children’s love, only their respect. If you get children’s respect, you will get their love. Seek their love, and you will get neither love nor respect.

Children depend upon us to prepare them for life. Quite bluntly, from birth on, their deeper love for us depends upon how well we prepare them for life, a goal centered on helping them realize their best selves and achieve self-sufficiency.

I spent much time in my room growing up, because my stepfather was always finding fault with me. But in life I grew to truly love this man, who taught me the value of discipline, integrity and commitment. My mother was the core of my growth, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without my stepfather’s relentless pursuit of my best.

Very few Americans today raise children like my stepfather or the Chinese. Why? Because today’s parents want a “relationship” with their child, and fear a relentless commitment to their child’s best will damage both the relationship and the child.

Actually, wanting something from the child can negatively affect him or her at a deep unconscious level. The child comes into this world fearing abandonment, which, over the years, slowly transforms into a fear of being an adult — which is mainly allayed by how well children have reached their best and been prepared to be self-sufficient. For this, they have to thank — or blame — whoever raised them.

This is why China has such a strong family culture. Children know their parents were dedicated only to helping them realize their best and self-sufficiency. Their children both love and respect them for that.

We would raise incredible children if we did the same over here, since they would also be endowed with American individuality, initiative, creativity and enterprise.

Joseph E. Gauld of Bath is the founder of Hyde Schools.

— Special to the Telegram