Not that I believe they are, but it’s a catchy title, huh. Read this rather controversial article today with the same title, and had to really think about it before I decided to publicly “like” it on Facebook.

It wasn’t an easy read. It wasn’t even all that familiar in bits, because my mother had never been that crazy – thank you God! But the article scored gold stars with me for the following reasons.

  • The author displayed absolute guts in presenting a single version of Asian values in a very Western publication with – no doubt – a highly opinionated target audience poised to pounce and protect their way of life.
  • The author practically glorified the crazy competitive nature that seems dyed in Asian wool – and gave it a name, a face, an explanation that wasn’t centred around saving face or sadism.
  • While she sounded rather abusive and nuts in places, the author wasn’t that off the mark. She had some valid points. She wasn’t completely bonkers.

I’ve survived the Singapore educational system. It’s nothing to sneeze at and as much as I look back on some of the years and shudder, I am strangely proud to be a product of its rigour. I had my most difficult school years in Singapore. By the time I got to Uni in Australia, it was a breeze. And while I really didn’t enjoy aspects of my school life in Singapore, I learnt this much at least.

  • Life doesn’t slow down to wait for you to catch up.
    Sometimes, you just have to force yourself to learn. When it comes to learning about do-or-die, I think I’d rather learn it early over a math book, than later in a job that pays my mortgage.
  • Keen competition with others is good.
    It tells you never to be complacent. It instills humility because you know there’s always someone better, brighter, faster, more diligent. It teaches you to get over yourself after your 5 seconds of glory.
  • Everything requires hard work and perseverance.
    Even subjects you think you’re good at. The whole concept of reaching your full potential is very much the pulse of Asian upbringing. And the drum beats even stronger in Asian churches. Do your very best for God. Be a testament for Him. Laziness is sin.
  • Self-esteem and job satisfaction comes from doing it proper.
    Praise for every single non-event is empty indeed. Praise earned for a job truly well done is a prize far greater and worth striving for.

There are heinous stereotypes about Eastern and Western parenting styles in the article that the author was quick to acknowledge from the start. I’m not saying I agree with all she said. But a part of me read it, and felt proud because yeah… the work ethic that Asian families instill in their young is so invaluable. I see so many wimpy, aimless, idle, ungrateful teens today that I want to shake – hard! And give them a dose of REAL school homework and school activities so hectic, they stay out of mischief. Simplistic, but a girl’s gotta dream.

And yet, I wished the Singapore school system – in my time – didn’t force us all to be bilingual. Wasn’t so terribly pragmatic that it forced us to be doctors, accountants, engineers all. Didn’t make our local exams so difficult that MENSA students couldn’t even answer a Primary 6 math question easily. Didn’t pigeon hole us before we barely reached puberty. Didn’t litter our holidays with private tuition and extra classes. Didn’t ostracise us for wanting to attend a church camp instead of choir practice for the national finals.

But still, I look back largely with fondness. Because it was a rite of passage. And it was tough. And I survived by the grace of God and extra tuition. And made tremendous friendships. And got equipped with invaluable life skills.

I know I’m not a parent yet, and I’m still relatively new to my borrowed and Western country of residence. I don’t profess to have all the answers. But I had a chat with Tony today, and we know we want to find a happy medium between our two educational cultures for our children.

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