As an Indian mom raising her sons in suburban America, I have often felt confused between the culture I grew up in and the one where I now live. For instance, starting in elementary school all the way to high school, my education was dominated by exams at least twice a year. These truly were high-stakes examinations as failure could result in being held back in the same grade for a year while all of one’s friends moved up. Compared to that scenario, my children who are both in elementary school have no tests or exams to worry about. Even their performance on the dreaded PARCC exams have no direct consequences for them as it is their schools that are held accountable rather than them. Therefore, it has been something of a mystery to me why parents worry about their children being traumatized by these exams.
Maya Thiagarajan’s book Beyond the Tiger Mom, East-West Parenting for the Global Age articulates these and many other conflicts clearly, and in an objective manner with multiple examples that include the voices of parents and children. This is a book that will benefit parents from all cultures and help them take the best of Eastern and Western thinking to achieve a balanced parenting style while raising future global citizens.
The author is uniquely qualified to comment on differences in world parenting philosophies. With an American mother and Indian father, she grew up in India, and pursued higher studies and a teaching career in the US. She then moved to Singapore to continue teaching in an International school that is a melting pot of expat and local kids.
Ms. Thiagarajan draws upon her personal experiences as a mother of two as well as her teaching experiences to support her statements. Her views are backed by parent and student interviews in every chapter. She also quotes relevant academic research on each topic. The book discusses important differences in Eastern and Western systems of education – the huge emphasis on math and STEM subjects in the East, the equally high importance laid on reading and language in the west, the insistence on memorization, practice drills, and supplemental tuitions in Asia, and the differences in the approach to high-stakes examinations in the US and in Asian countries.
The author considers the merits and values of each approach in a balanced manner without bashing either side. What I found really useful is that each chapter ends with a set of practical strategies that parents can use to incorporate the best practices of Eastern and Western style parenting. For instance, Ms Thiagarajan has offered suggestions to build a math-rich home, strategies to encourage critical thinking, and ways to help kids memorize information.
Going beyond differences in education systems, the author talks about the ways in which we build a support system for our children and the myths and stories we bring them up with, which form the backbone of our children’s value systems. This section has given me much to think about. What seeds of core Indian values do I want to sow in my children? Simultaneously, how do I instill in them the wonderful never-say-die American attitude, the creativity and free-thinking entrepreneurial spirit that characterize Western thinking? The book provides suggestions on raising children with a sense of extended family and community and tips to encourage a growth mindset in children.
I do wish though, that the author had offered solutions to the difficulties of inculcating a particular value system in one’s children when they are growing up in a society with a completely different set of beliefs and philosophies.
I think every modern parent will relate to the section on the role of technology in our children’s lives and how to help them make the best of it without getting a harmful overdose. Finally, the author raises the all-important question of the true purpose of education. Is it to ensure that our children grow up equipped with twenty first century skills to become the best workers in a “knowledge and innovation” economy? Or is to teach our children “a deep love of knowledge and learning that becomes an end in itself, regardless of monetary outcomes?" Questions that all parents need to ponder and find answers to.
Beyond the Tiger Mom, East-West Parenting for the Global Age
by Maya Thiagarajan is available on Amazon
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tuttle Publishing for review purposes. All views expressed here are my own.