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The Big Answer

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Indochinese Refugee Families and Academic Achievement

an article in Scientific American by Nathan Caplan and Marcella H. Choy and John K. Whitmore

(our site's article review)

This article contains insights relevant to our education crisis. In order to raise the scholastic level of American students, we should have a longer school year like the Asians.

Caplan, et al., summarized studies that show that the more kids there are in a given family, the worse the average grades of these kids are: “Typically, these reports document a 15 percent decline in GPA and other achievement-related scores with the addition of each child to the family.” The significance of this is that sibling rivalry in normal American homes full of steep-gradient nurturance creates a win-lose context full of negative emotions and competitive frustrations accompanied by anger, fear and hostility. This, as the studies manifest, sidetracks much of the potential learning energies and instead focuses attention on who gets what, who beat who, who did what to whom, who deserves what punishment, who hates who, and who better quit that right now or they’re in big trouble when the old man gets home. In a situation where there is usually only one nurturer available, and that nurturer is often busy, tired, or involved with TVs or telephones, it would be quite strange if the intrinsically win-lose context of the situation didn’t precipitate large amounts of hostility and conflict. Even though such negativity can be minimized with the best parenting strategies—such as P.E.T.—unless the steep-gradient nurturance is addressed and amended to flat-gradient, one must still expect a lot of negativity interfering not just with schoolwork and academics in general, but intellectual and emotional development and even identity.

Asian kids were found to do a lot more homework than American kids, and they have a higher sense of drive and achievement. For parents, having a job and providing for the family is integral to family pride. Shame is felt by Asian families on welfare. They tend to do well in jobs and advance quickly.

Asian kids were found to help one another with homework in their families, while American kids are hoping their siblings do worse than them because they are competing with each other for parental attention. Asian kids seem well-adjusted, and they respond positively to acedemic challenges.

The article points out that the great success that American schools are having with most Asian kids shows that there is nothing amiss with our school systems. It is the kids that we send to these schools that are the problem. They are full of hypercompetitive attitudes and cynicism that makes them uncooperative, but at the same time they are insecure about themselves and they conform to peer pressures to fit in to such a degree that when school is looked down on as uncool by some, the others quickly conform to this so as not to seem uncool and therefore the target of oppression. And many American parents don’t act supportive of the school at home, although Asian parents do. But, worst of all, American kids arrive at school with their social, emotional, nutritional and nurturance needs unfilled, and are therefore unprepared to learn and, as the article says, this “consumes the scarce resources” of teachers who were hired to teach, not be nannies. This speaks volumes about current childcare methods in this country. To have so many other countries pulling way ahead of our kids in academic achievement because of such social deprivation is unconscionable.

The authors point out that it’s time we identified the cultural elements that promote achievement. This is a bit ironic, in that their own article points out that well-filled needs at home are the key. But, we can help them delineate, since they seem to be asking for this: To be ready to achieve, kids need to be as self-motivated as possible, as at-cause as possible, as secure as possible, as little distracted by win-lose emotional conflicts precipitated by steep-gradient nurturing as possible, and as cognitively and intellectually and socially supported as possible—and these things are best done via the use of authoritative or harmonious (P.E.T.) parenting and the avoidance of either authoritarian or permissive parenting. And kids especially need the natural consequences training so characteristic of authoritative environments (and so uncharacteristic of authoritarian and permissive environments). When kids’ environments/lifestyles allow them to try various ways of being and interacting and then learning from the natural consequences, they become wise ahead of their times, compared to other kids who people try to teach by nagging, threats, bribes, and corporal punishments. The latter tend to make kids sullen, resentful, frustrated, conflicted, uncooperative and angry. [An MC environment would be the ideal achievement-promoting lifestyle.]

Conclusion: “It is clear that the U.S. education system can work—if the requisite familial and social supports are provided for the students outside school.”