Two Families. Two different paths to "academic excellence." And, the winner is . . .

CJ Westerberg, March 26, 2012 10:13 AM


  "We want them to be independent, self-sustaining, happy adults"

 "They have to develop a passion for something and push themselves . . . If they don't get into Stanford, they'll get into another good university."

"Two families choose different paths
to academic excellence"

by C.J. Westerberg

Teresa Wannabe's piece for the LA Times adds a bit of a different spin (thankfully) to the Asian "Tiger Mother" appoach vs. the "lax" American approach that's been a topic of discussion ever since Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother" was released.  In this case, one family is Chinese, acting consistent with the Tiger Mother stereotype; the other, Mexican/Jewish, reflecting a more "American" approach, albeit one that is full of stimulating activities and opportunities to learn emotional and social "EQ" intelligence, such as visiting art museums and playing tennis.   Here's the framing:

Jade Larriva-Latt and Derek Lee are both successful students. Her summers are
filled with non-scholastic pursuits. For him, summer is the time to sprint ahead in the race to the academic top. The two approaches - one parent-driven, the other more relaxed - have become part of a national debate.

I would think most parents do a combination of both - some structured enrichment, if needed, such as (on-line or in-class) tutoring or summer school, while also allowing time for real-world activities, reflection, and play.   All of these decisions depend on the child, the situation (does my child do better with some summer enrichment in Math, or does he need more emotional-social intelligence opportunities, such as a non-academic camp?), and recent circumstances (did my child have a bad learning experience this year with classmates and/or teacher, and "lost" a year?).

One particular bone of contention to this interesting read was the definition of the Lee
parenting style (aka Chinese or Asian) -  as "parent-driven," and the Larriva-Latt parenting
style (aka Mexican-Jewish or American) -  as "more relaxed."   Both styles are clearly
deliberate and thoughtful.  So, both are parent-driven in that sense.  Both parents are striving
to create the right conditions for academic excellence for their children.  I'm guessing Wannabe intended the term to evoke that Asian parents were the master-commander type of "directing", while the getting-out-of-the-way-with-guidance-when-needed type
of parent "directing" doesn't count, or, is "relaxed" (aka lax).

Yet, it probably was Chua who opened up the battlefield of parenting style "wars" with opposing teams of extreme absolutes, which seems to be the way just about everything is going these days - the land of abolutism.  For the purpose of this post, we won't get into the definitions of "achievement" or "academic excellence," and whether this is the sole purpose of education, or, how well that goal if singular in purpose serves those who receive that prestigious Ivy League diploma - as the controversial recent article about Asian-American over-achievers brings to light.

Here is the introduction to the two family styles:    

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."

Both families live in a competitive school district:

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 951 out of 1,000 on the state's Academic Performance Index, based on students' standardized test scores - both Derek and Jade have excelled.

Two roads, similar outcomes:

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.

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

The ending of the article has a surprise twist, but you have to read the full article HERE.

What do you think?  Are most parents one or the other "type?" 


Published May 2011

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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