Sunday, January 30, 2011

Having a Problem with the "Tiger Mother" Debate

Yale University professor Amy Chua stirred up a lot of controversy in the last month with her January 8 article in the Wall Street Journal under the headline "Chinese Mothers Are Superior," an excerpt of her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

Chua berates American mothers for a lackadaisical attitude toward their children's levels of achievement, in contrast to Chinese mothers, who harshly (by American standards) harangue their children into meeting standards of perfection in academics and musical performance. Because of the time and energy that the Chinese tiger mother invests in keeping her child marching to the dictates of competition and achievement, Chinese children are getting into the best colleges and universities and far outstripping their American competitors in the field of classical music. Western mothers, wimps that they are, want their children to have fun and they reap the reward: children who cannot compete with Chinese children. I suppose a subtext is that the United States will soon be eclipsed by the expansive People's Republic of China.

Since the article appeared, there have been answers forthcoming from various quarters praising American ways as superior in fostering creativity, among other arguments.

I'd like to address the underlying assumption of the debate that I have read in the secular press: the major goal of child rearing is the high achievement of the child in society and the world.

To me raising a child involves a sacred trust to raise children who become good people. The questions that nag me are not Will my child win the next piano competition? Will my child get an 800 on the SAT? Will my child get into an Ivy League college? or even Will my child be happy?

What worries me is Will my child be a force for good in the world? Will my child have the courage to stand up for the truth under pressure? Will my child have charity and serve and give to others less fortunate? Will my child raise children who are good? Will my child be willing to sacrifice for others? Will my child keep their faith? Will my child be a beacon of hope to those in despair? Will my child have the character--an old-fashioned word--to do what is right under pressure? Will my child have the courage to stand up to evil? Will my child always love God?

These are the questions we never stop worrying about not only for our children, but for ourselves.

I assume that if my child knows and fights for the goodness within them, they will know that they are required to do their best in whatever vocation they choose, since they will understand that one's life is a precious gift not to be wasted--another problem that is posed constantly throughout one's life.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Fine Arts Friday: In Praise of Winter

January Morning, John Fabian Carlson

February, Tres Riches Heures of the Duc de Berry, 1410

Detail, Winter Landscape with Skaters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1565

Train in the Snow, Claude Monet, 1875

Thompson Neely House (Pennsylvania), John Sharp

Round Hill Road, John Henry Twachtman, 1900

Columbus Circle (New York City), Guy Wiggins, 1911

Winter Lyric, John Fabian Carlson

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Fine Arts Friday: Painters Painting Their Children

My Little Daughter Dorothy by William Merritt Chase, 1894.

William Merritt Chase has once again inspired me, thanks to this painting in which he (the unseen artist) and his daughter take such delight in each other. Chase has set her before a heavy frame for a large artwork--art being the backdrop to her young life. But her stance is not languid in any way as if she were a mere art appendage or adornment of scenery. She is dressed for going out--to be her own self and make her own world, as I imagine, given her plucky expression, she did.

Jean Renoir Drawing by Auguste Renoir, 1901

I saw this painting this past year at an exhibition of Renoir's late works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Internet does not do it justice, as Renoir's brushstrokes in the painting are almost like caresses, giving the painting a soft effect although the substance and weight of the subject remain. The son became the great movie director. Through the close juxtaposition of Jean's face and hands with the drawing, Renoir captures the intensity of thought in his son--a celebration of childhood creative tension and concentration.

Portrait of the Artist's Daughter, Julie by Berthe Morisot, 1886

Julie Manet was the daughter of the French impressionist Berthe Morisot and the niece of the ground-breaking French painter, Eduard Manet, who also painted portraits of Morisot and Julie. This portrait was done with pastels. Here, although Julie looks like she is peacefully reading a book, the frenetic lines in the dress suggest that she is a lively soul and at any moment might leap up from the chair and skip out to the garden.

The Fairy Tale aka Tanis Seated by Daniel Garber, 1917

This young girl, on the other hand, is absorbed and will not be moving til the story (or painting) is finished. I like this portrait for the beautiful light that Daniel Garber, a Pennsylvania impressionist, wraps his daughter in against a wall softened by its texture and fawn-like color. Her pose and concentration tell me that Tanis feels perfectly safe and secure in her chair as her father watches and paints.

Portrait of a Boy in Fancy Dress aka "Titus" by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1655.

This is an early and lesser-known portrait of the great master's son, Titus. The National Gallery of Art in Washington says that evidence suggests that this might not be Titus, but does not say what the evidence is. It looks like Titus to me--the apple of his father's eye.

A Daughter by Carl Larsson, 1897

Carl Larsson delighted in painting his children. I chose this painting because of the ambiguity in his daughter's face and in her position alone at the table, which suggests that she is in the middle of a situation. Clearly there is someone sitting on the other side of the table outside of our view, or through the door out to the kitchen, who has captured this child's attention. Is she fascinated but doubtful of a conversation between two other children at the table? Is an adult gently reprimanding her? Or is she just patiently watching through the kitchen door for the food to come to the table?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"An Ordered Plan of Love"

Karin Larsson, by Carl Larsson, 1909

The genesis of this blog was a search on the Internet to investigate the effects on children of a physically and emotionally chaotic home, which led to Homeliving Helper and eventually to Under the Gables.

However, none of the explanations I read about the importance of maintaining a loving and clean and orderly home for children was satisfying. But at last, in Lift Up Your Hearts to Mary, Peace, Prayer, Love, by Caryll Houselander, I have found an explanation that makes complete and perfect sense to me. Here is what this most poetic writer says in her essay, "The House on the Rock," in this book:
To a young child home stands for God. In it he learns to see and touch the gifts of God. If his mother is wise she will make his home beautiful. She will copy the world's creator and make a tiny new Eden. She will bring in flowers and give the child animals and feed the birds. The food on the table will be clean and simple and good. It will not only taste nice, it will look nice....

It is in his home that the child should assimilate the Sermon on the Mount, not as if it were being drilled in his brain by words, but as if he were breathing it in his whole being like the air....

The ordering of time, which seems so simple, really requires great skill and energy from the mother. It has tremendous importance, above all if it is related (as it obviously should be) to the rhythm of day and night and is interwoven with prayer.

The child should wake to the singing of the birds (and they sing in the cities as well as in the woods). Give his heart to God, when light is young, play for long hours when the world is awake and lively. He should form habits of regular hunger and thirst, so that food and hunger come together, and his grace is a real thanking. With twilight there should come stillness in the house and he should be lit to bed by the stars.

From such ordering of time he will learn unconsciously, though it may be years before he thinks this out, that he is not part of that chaos that man has made of this world, with its fearful abuse of time, but part of an ordered plan of love.

Illustration for her book Bright April by Marguerite di Angeli.