Bringing up future responsible leaders (Part 1)

Published August 31, 2021, 7:00 AM

by Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

Those who follow the New York Stock Exchange must have been shocked with the billions of dollars in share values lost by listed Chinese companies involved in the business of tutoring Chinese children to make them more competitive in getting into the best universities in China.  The Chinese Government decided to prohibit making profits out of tutoring.  As reported in the Financial Times, investors who poured billions of dollars into Chinese tutoring start-ups are exploring how to claw back their capital after China introduced sweeping restrictions that will destroy the bulk of the companies’ value.  Without too much advanced notice, China’s highest administrative authority issued rules prohibiting companies that teach school curriculum subjects from making profits, raising capital or listing on stock exchanges.

Two of these companies, Yuanfudao and Zuoyebang, had a combined valuation of more than $25 billion before the crackdown.  Yuanfudao raised $2.2 billion at a $15.5 billion valuation last October 2020 while Zuoyebang raised $1.6 billion last December.  The former had 3.7 million children enrolled in courses and 30,000 employees while the latter had 50 million daily users and 35,000 staff at the time of the fundraising.  These are only a small part of the billions of dollars being wiped out in the Chinese and Hong Kong stock markets as the Chinese government tries to limit the economic power of conglomerates, especially in the IT sector.

These types of enterprises were very profitable before the shake down because of the tremendous pressure that parents put on their children to excel in their studies.  No expenses were spared to make sure that their children will get into the best universities when they finish their basic education. What is often ignored by the parents is the tremendous psychological pressure they put on the hapless children because of this obsession with academic success.  Something very similar happens in Korean society where parents go to extremes in assuring that their children will get into the most demanding courses in the best universities, oftentimes disregarding the adverse effect of this constant pressure on the mental health of their children.  It is no wonder that South Korea has the highest rate of suicide among the young, having overtaken Japan in this dubious reputation.

What can Filipino parents learn from parenting practices in China and our Northeast Asian neighbors whose culture is distinctly Confucian in contrast with our culture which is a combination of our Malay and Christian heritages.  In an article entitled “Traditional Chinese parenting:  What research says about children and why they succeed” by Gwen Dewar, there is a reference to “authoritarian” parenting which features the threat of punishment and lots of psychological control which  characterizes parenting among  some but not all Chinese and other East Asian couples.   This approach to child rearing is usually not associated with the best academic and emotional child outcomes.   In contrast, “authoritative” parenting emphasizes high standards, but is accompanied by high levels of parental warmth and a commitment to reason with children.  Authoritarian parenting is linked with lower levels of self-control, more emotional problems, and lower academic performance.

Chinese parenting practices that are based on authoritative parenting have one clear advantage over contemporary Western parenting:  Chinese parents –like many other Asian parents—are more likely to emphasize effort over innate talent.  Experiments have shown that people learn more when they believe that effort, not innate intelligence, is the key to achievement.  In contrast, research suggests that Westerners are more likely to assume that a child fails because he lacks innate ability.

When Chinese and American practices in parenting were compared, studies of adolescents in the United States suggest that some kids pay a “nerd penalty” for studying hard.  When these kids perform well at school, they get rejected by their peers.  Chinese children are less likely to face the choice between scholastic success and social acceptance.  It is possible that “pro-achievement” peer pressure protects Chinese kids from some of the negative effects of authoritarian parenting.

In understanding the difference between authoritarian and authoritative parenting, it may be useful to remind ourselves that authority has an eminently positive meaning and should be viewed as a service of the one exercising authority to the subordinate.  This is well explained in an article in the website entitled “Parental Authority.”  According to this article, authority is a light that guides whoever follows it towards the goal he or she is seeking.  In fact, the very word authority comes from the Latin verb “augere” which means “to make grow,” “to develop.”  When the parent exercises authority over the child, he or she is helping the child grow or to develop.  This should remind us that education should be viewed in the same manner.  The word education comes from the Latin word “educare” which means to draw out. As the Greek philosopher Socrates already explained centuries ago, the educator is not pouring all his or her wisdom into an empty vessel which is the student.  Like a midwife, he or she is drawing out all the potentials for learning that the student has

The exercise of parental authority is not always easy and needs to “get down” to very specific aspect of life.  Those who have had experiences in educating children know that if no standard of behavior and rule of life is applied even in small daily matters, the character of the child is not formed and the person will not be ready to face the trials and vicissitudes that will come in the future.  It is never easy to find the appropriate balance between freedom and discipline.  In fact, some modern parents in our culture have a fear of disciplining their children, perhaps because they themselves have suffered the negative consequences that can come from imposing things on children.  They are afraid, for example, that peace at home may be lost, or that their children will reject something that is good in itself, especially in matters related to their religious beliefs.

As we shall discuss in greater detail in the future parts of this series of articles, whoever acknowledges an authority adheres, above all, to the values or truths it represents.  The educator, the formator, is thus a witness to truth and goodness, someone who has already discovered the truth and made that truth his or her own.  Those being educated, in turn, need to trust their educators:  not only because of their knowledge, but also because they are ready to help lead them to the truth.  For comments, my email address is [email protected]

To be continued.