Near Yellow Mountain

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Artful Dodger

The recent banning of dodge ball in some American schools would be humorous if it wasn’t so sad. The state that got the ball “rolling” in this case was New Hampshire. Seems odd that a state that has “live free or die” on their license plates would be the first to put an end to this gym class classic.  The ban is part of a larger movement to end “human targeting” activities. Wow! I guess boxing and sumo are probably at risk too. How about the business of being a “head hunter”? Seems like asking somebody to the prom is a human targeting activity. In all my years of school I can’t remember a single serious injury in a dodge ball game but I will confess that I broke a girl’s arm in six grade during a heated kickball battle. She was pitching and I was kicking. Sue Pierce if you read this, I really am sorry….

Perhaps the dodge ball ban is just another sign of a trend that seems to have begun when the baby boomers started having kids: well-intentioned parents who decided that no child’s feelings should be hurt by failure in classrooms or on sports fields. A nice sentiment to be sure but one that seems to be a contributing factor to the growing spirit of dependency and entitlement in many areas of American life. What’s next? No contact or no score football? Or “everybody gets 2400 for writing their name” SATs?

While the good people of New Hampshire consider changing their license plates to read the “land of 10,000 wimps”, the “Tiger Moms” in Asia continue to force their children to work hard and give them very little praise even when they achieve. Meeting expectation does not merit a 2 foot high trophy and endless accolades. Yes, the stories are true. Mrs. Wang and Mrs. Watanabe are “forcing” Xiao Wu and Kentaro chan to go to cram school after their normal classes and do calculus problems followed by violin practice at night and on the weekends. I have never seen a “My child is an honor student at Chairman Mao Jr High” bumper sticker on the roads in China. The Tiger Moms would likely be doing time (going to prison) if they lived in New Hampshire.
A Tiger Mom gets ready for the day - boots not included
I don’t necessarily think the excessive pressure that many parents in Asia put on their kids is the ultimate in child rearing but I think the balance point is a long way from banning dodge ball and a grading systems where a lot more kids get A’s than C’s.

My daughters were seven and ten when we left for Japan in February, 2000. They were on swim, basketball and soccer teams while we lived in North Carolina. It always amazed me how many kids walked out of season ending award events with trophies, ribbons, medals that would have made a winning Super Bowl team in the 1970s proud. “Yes parents, your ‘Bad News Bears’ were 0-12 but let’s give them a big hand for the great season”. I was perfectly happy if my daughters only wanted to participate or just be part of a team. On the other hand, I certainly didn’t want them to be able to fill a trophy case with “participation” awards that would make their rooms look like an Olympic gymnast was in the house.

When we arrived in Japan, our kids went to an international school with students from all over the world. Standards were clear. Our girls enjoyed being challenged. A lot of their friends spoke two or three languages in elementary school. Sports were more about participation than winning but there were no “over the top” awards for showing up. My wife and I actually felt bad that there was so little emphasis on school sports but we got over it.

After five plus years in Japan, we moved on to Shanghai. The school there was more intense. Despite being called Shanghai American School, my kids were the exception – both parents were American and neither of Asian descent. We learned the difference between an “American fail” and an “Asian fail”. An American fail was an “F” and an Asian fail was anything below “A”. Actually, I was making a mild attempt at being politically correct - it wasn’t called an “American fail” it was called a “white fail”. My kids didn’t like the insult but they took it in stride.
We saw first-hand the negative impact of all the pressure on some of our daughter’s friends. Bright kids with great grades and 2,200 plus on SATs who felt the stigma of having to take home a lower score than the parents expected. Of course, they knew they would have to take the SAT prep course and test again.
There was a greater emphasis on sports in Shanghai but academic stars trumped jocks on the school’s “most admired” lists. Most parents considered sports a needless diversion from study.
The irony of the situation was that the vast majority of the Asian kids wanted to go to college in the US. The Asian parents and children all know, despite our allegedly “shiftless” ways in the US; America has the best universities in the world. The target schools were “any Ivy”, Stanford, Michigan, U of Chicago, NYU, etc, etc. Of course, Oxford and the London School of Economics were also acceptable but, by and large, getting accepted to one of the best colleges in America was required or the child was simply a “disappointment”.
Despite our lousy scores in global math and science testing, America is still a leader in innovation and creativity but how long will that last when we spend so much time focusing on nonsense like the “end of dodge ball” and changing the name of “tug of war” to “tug of peace”?

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