Sunday, May 15, 2011

Families offer a contrast in studies

When I was in LA earlier this month, I read this cover story in the LA Times about two families with very different parenting approaches, which really struck home because these are the same issues my wife and I are grappling with regarding our own kids.  My guess is that Derek Lee will do better academically and go to a more competitive college than Jade Larriva-Latt, due to all of the pressure, but that Jade is much more likely to end up happier in life and is even somewhat more likely to rise to a higher level professionally:

Summers for eighth grader Jade Larriva-Latt are filled with soccer and backpacking, art galleries and museums, library volunteer work and sleep-away camp. There is no summer school, no tutoring.

"They need their childhood," says Jade's father, Cesar Larriva, an associate professor of education at Cal Poly Pomona. "It's a huge concern of mine, the lack of balance from pushing them too hard."

For 10th-grader Derek Lee, summer is the time to sprint ahead in the ferocious race to the academic top. He polishes off geometry, algebra and calculus ahead of schedule and masters SAT content (he earned a perfect 800 on the math portion last fall). This year, he plans to take college-level courses, maybe at UCLA or Stanford.

"You give your kids pressure so they can learn to handle it," says Derek's mother, Meiling Lee, smacking her fist into her hand. "Because finally they have to go out into the real world, and the real world is tough."

Jade and Derek both live in San Marino, a graceful town of boutique businesses, tree-lined streets and a well-heeled populace. Three-fourths of the 13,000 residents, who are primarily Asian and white, boast college or graduate degrees; the median household income of $160,000 is three times the national average.

It is also home to California's highest-performing unified school district, drawing the Lees from Monterey Park in 1986 and the Larriva-Latts from South Pasadena three years ago. Immersed in an educational climate of high expectations — the district last year scored 951out of 1,000 on the state's Academic Performance Index, based on students' standardized test scores — both Derek and Jade have excelled.

But the two families — one Chinese, one Mexican/ Jewish — have made strikingly different decisions about how to pursue academic excellence. One relies on a parent-driven focus on tutoring, advanced classes and testing drills, while the other allows broader choices and a more relaxed approach. Which style produces superior results — and whether culture affects choices — are questions that have become part of a national debate, thanks to the book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" by Yale law professor Amy Chua.

In her best-selling memoir about raising two daughters, Chua advocates an authoritarian style that pushes kids through discipline, diligence and relentless drilling with little time for fun — no sleepovers, play dates or sports. Chua labels it Chinese parenting, though she acknowledges that other races and ethnicities employ the same approach. She argues that Western parenting does not push children hard enough and is overly concerned with their self-esteem.

The Lees and Larriva-Latts reflect the opposing philosophies. But despite the different paths, their children are succeeding.


Families offer a contrast in studies

LA Times cover story, 5/4/11

In San Marino, two very different styles yield high-achieving students

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