Thursday, February 10, 2011

Learning in the Regime of Success 1

When we look around us and see the bubbling of corruption, unrest, inhuman acts and desires born out of hatred and anger, we are forced into the corner of self-questioning. Where is it that the world has gone terribly wrong? The list of such things is endless and as varied as the number of the stars in the sky - living or dead. The root is difficult to identify. The off-shoots are too many.Yet, if we listen to the throbbing of our own pulse, the drive that moves the human self to development as well as to destruction, is, 'fear'. And this 'fear' necessitates obedience in order to maintain the scheme of things.

Obedience is a norm.  It is put across as an unquestionable 'ethic' of existence. Making things unquestionable is possibly the most aggressive thing to do in society. When you take away the chance of asking - WHY - you take away the throbbing of the heart. The vital living organ is then but merely breathing in an incubator. It is an artificial existence which gives birth to false logic. For instance, no one may have explicitly said to us, that, one should not steal; and yet, we accept the ethic. But, WHY should no one steal, none of us care to ask. We assume, it is because 'it is not good to steal'. This is false reasoning; why is it not good to steal is still left unanswered. 

In one of the legends about the tutoring of King Arthur in his childhood, this question is answered in a possibly more direct manner. When one steals, one takes away something that was part of another. By the act of stealing, the thief mutilates the victim in an ideological perspective. It is like severing a part of an individual. This argument seems too philosophical for our mundane lives, but try explaining it to kids (the future denizens and hence they matter most) and that makes more sense to them than the bloody eyed warning generated time and again.

A book that archives the method in which a Chinese mother believes she can raise "perfect" "successful" kids is doing the rounds in all the online book-spaces and book-clubs and book-shops. Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother sets out the method to raise children that is stream lined to achieve success in academics. The image of the front cover of the book, provided by, states in the author's voice:
"This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead it's about the bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old."
In the process of creating academically successful individuals, the regime of the 'Tiger Mother' demanded nothing less than the top grades in class, no participation in extracurricular activities except learning to play either the piano or the violin. She is said to have been confronted by her teenage daughter once, which made her think about her manner of raising kids. The outcome is the book. 

The analysis of the book is not the intention of this article. Instead, let us focus our attention on the assumptions made in the cover statement by Amy Chua. 

1. She assumes that the quality that sets apart the Chinese parents from Western parents is the strict regime employed by the force of fear and the singular objective of attaining success.

Fault line: Success in academics is not the only type of success craved for. There are regimes of similar 'tiger' parents, across the globe, craving for success in a variety of sports and performing arts, to mention only two particular areas. Further, in a regime of fear, the ability  to respect mutual differences and the ability to love do not develop.

2. She assumes that her teenage daughter has been affected by other cultures which leads her to revolt against her mother's designs.

Fault line: The impact in the globalised world can enhance but not create something that is primal in humans - the urge to be independent, the urge to carve out a niche of one's own. We usually call this ambition. It's more than that. It is defining the self that an individual wants to see in himself/herself.

3. Parenting successful kids is an achievement, a glory. 

Fault line: By reducing an offspring as a mere agent of fulfilling one's desires of achievement in the material world, it is almost like enslaving the child burdened with the dreams of others. 

4. Successful human beings are possibly defined in her mind as those who achieve excellence by following a path already taken. 

Fault line: The pursuit of such success crushes the innate ability of the human mind to think anew. It dulls the imagination that leads human beings to create beyond the possibilities of the now. It dulls the sensibility that enhances the argumentative mind.

Image: "Dr. Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov" Attribution dbking on Flickr via ESP
to be contd.


SprigBlossoms said...

Very interesting perspectives (1-4) this your series on 'learning/unlearning'? Will be looking forward to more : )

Susmita said...

@SprigBlossoms: thank you for visiting :) ... this is also part of the Leading to Learning series as you rightly pointed out ... in fact why from unlearning the focus shifts to success in this post (and the next) is also fodder for another post in the series :) am glad to have your company ...

Nandini Basu said...

Enlightening...makes us really think.Thanks for this wonderful post

Susmita said...

@Nandinidi: thank you for visiting :)