Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thoughts about Homeschooling and Tiger Mothers

In my last episode of the story of our family, Yuni was in Miami, and I was babysitting, tutoring, and translating while running the household and caring for the kids in our new house in Bellevue.

About a year before we moved out of Seattle, Truth began spontaneously reading the captions under pictures in her coloring books. By the time we were in Bellevue, she could read quite well. Love got quite worried that something was wrong because she could not read like her twin; she began begging me to put her into school.

I started looking into preschool programs near us. I really liked a Montessori school, but it was a Cadillac plan with a Cadillac cost. There was no way we could afford to have one kid in school there, much less three. I checked into the Head’s Up preschools near us, but they were comparatively far away, and I did not want to put the kids into them unless I was forced to. After talking to my friends, I learned that many of them were not satisfied with the public schools near us, even though we were living in one of the best school districts in the country. A number of my Asian friends were spending hours after school giving their kids extra homework so that they would not be behind their cousins in Japan or Malaysia or Taiwan. So those children were going to school from 8:30 to 3; after they came home, their mothers had them do their 30 minutes of American homework, and then they did MORE homework. Some of the mothers got textbooks from their home countries and used them. Others ordered textbooks from a homeschool curriculum company and had their kids do the exercises in them in addition to what they were doing in their American elementary school classes.

One week, when Yuni called, I discussed the matter with him. He was concerned about the fact that the Asian mothers thought American schools were not on a par with the schooling in Asia because part of our master plan was to shuttle back and forth between the US and Asia. We were planning to take the kids back for upper-level elementary school and junior high in Taiwan. If they were behind in subjects like math and history, there was no way they would be able to handle the transition. Yuni told me to keep doing research.

One of the mothers using the homeschool curriculum lent me the product catalog. The content and methods seemed pretty good, and they had books for two and three year olds so that younger siblings could do school, too. But I could not see having my kids do six hours of school and then another three to four hours of extra work on top of their school day. I wanted my kids to have a great education, and I wanted them to be able to keep up with their cousins in Asia, but I also wanted them to have fun.

One of our weekly field trip destinations was the library’s preschool story time. We always checked out piles and piles of books. While the kids were getting their story books, I went to the non-fiction section and got some books on homeschooling. I read lots and lots of them. And the more I read, the more I thought that teaching the kids might really work for us. We could keep them bi-lingual, use a “Cadillac” curriculum package, and my kids would not have to spend nine or ten hours a day on schoolwork when they were just in elementary school. We could also take our vacations when plane fares were cheapest. With five fare-paying passengers to Taiwan, that was a huge consideration.

On the negative side, I would not be able to get a regular job. Yuni would have to support the family almost single-handedly. I would only be able to do my tutoring and translating and maybe a little babysitting. At that point, I didn’t order any text books, but I did get all the information together so Yuni and I could go over everything after he came home from Miami.

Then in the next phone call, Yuni dropped a bombshell… He had sent plane tickets for me and the girls. We would meet him in Miami; one of his customers worked at a rent-a-car company and would get us a great deal on a rental van. We would drive the van up the East Coast to see my brother in Connecticut and visit a number of friends and other relatives along the way. He said that he had made lots of money, and in addition to what he had deposited for me, he had amassed a pile of cash for our vacation. He was also sure there would be plenty left over so that he could start his own business when he got back. He had informed the boss of his old company that he would not be going back to work there. … So I began packing for our trip to the East Coast.

As I was drafting this post, I read Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal about Asian tiger mothers. It reminded me of my Asian friends who kept their kids going for hours and hours a day. I don’t know if my kids would consider me a tiger mother. I certainly had high expectations of them, but I think that the focus of her method is that the mother works through things with her kids until they arrive at the standard she has set for them. I certainly practiced that while my kids were growing up. I did, however, try to give them enough time for free play because all the books I read on cognitive development and learning stages said that preschool and early elementary school children learn through their play. The strength of the Montessori Method is that the children are in a “rich” environment with many attractive, educational toys, and the adults facilitate the learning aspects of their play. The children are also expected to pick up after themselves and handle the responsibilities appropriate for their ages.

I am adding the links to the WSJ article and Chua’s interview with Stephen Colbert. I read on a Chinese news blog that in China her book is being marketed as the work of an overseas Chinese. The Chinese title is something like “Parenting in America.” So the mainland Chinese, at least, are not embracing the idea of the tiger mothers. I can’t really make any more comments, as I have not read Chua’s book, and that won’t happen until summer break.


Cloudia said...

you are busy, aren;t you?

Teresa said...

I enjoy being busy.