Thursday, July 21, 2011

I fear for the children

I met a little Chinese boy at Chase's tennis class. He is adorable. Funny. Loads of energy. And Chase adores him - and even better, he adores her! They laugh through the entire class. Turns out they are born the same week. No wonder.

So I started talking to his helper (I have no idea who his parents are...) I asked her about his schedule (one of my favorite subjects with Chinese parents). She rambled off his class list - school, drumming, art, tennis (they actually commute an hour each way to this class), etc... I asked her if he could do math - oh yes, she said. Could he read? Oh yes. When does he see friends? Did he have any availability for a play date? Oh no. He has classes all day, every day.

One thing I love about Hong Kong? I think they really GET that children are incredibly capable. Capable of learning all kinds of things if given the opportunity. The fact I can find a tennis class, ballet class, Mandarin class and soccer class for my 2-year-old is proof enough. I know my friends and most family members think I have lost my mind, but my mom, who is an educator (and I think doubtful of what I was doing to my children) left Hong Kong with a firm understanding of how people really GET children here - their potential, and how conditioning kids early can really create a mind-set and capabilities for the future.

The problem, of course, is when it's taken too far. The pressure the local kids are under is unreal. At the same tennis class, I met a mom from South Africa, who told me her kids who went to an American-style school, were given 2-hours of homework a night (ages 5 and 11), and that parents were pushing kids to do more. That her 11-year-old's friend was learning four languages and 3 instruments (how?). I asked her how could this be? And she told me that competition in HK is so fierce, there is no other option - you have to do your best to outshine the others (which is hard when everyone is pushing their kids to the absolute limits). But I understand it. Apparently it is near impossible for kids to actually land a spot at University.

And so, while I think pushing kids this hard is wrong, I find myself surprised and delighted that my kids have access to so many kinds of classes. They can be taught to copy a masterpiece at age 5. It's crazy. And yes, I think it's wrong that kids, especially local kids, are under so much pressure. It will surely wreck a child if a parent pushes too hard - but what other choice do parents here have? No other choice. They are not going to get a space for their child at university because their child is good at playing. Or socializing. So I guess what I'm saying is that I get it. I'm in awe of it. But I worry for the children. For the next generation.

And I worry for America. Kids are very, very good at socializing. Or at least they were, until TV and video games and fast food came along. The kids here are too busy to eat crap and watch TV. Well, they may eat crap, I don't know, but they aren't just hangin out in front of the TV. They are too busy learning 13 languages.