Tag Archives: China

Confucianism and the Drive for Self-Cultivation: Parenting Without Borders, Part 7

[Note: This series started two years ago! I had hoped to finish it last summer, but packing/moving made that a bit more complicated than I thought. I finally finished reading this book this past weekend, so I’m confident that the last several posts in this series will be published in the coming weeks. Thanks for sticking around!]

In the Introduction, we broached the idea that the way other cultures parent might be more “right” than the way that the culture in North America parents, as discussed in the book Parenting Without Borders. In Part 1, we looked at some of the different cultural thoughts around sleep. There was also that stunning example of how it’s normal for babies in Scandinavia to be found taking a nap on the terrace in the dead of winter! In Part 2, we explored “stuff” and how having more of it might not be best for our children. In Part 3, we looked at how different cultures relate to food in the context of parenting. In Part 4, we looked at how saying “good job” to our little ones might not have the effect we think it does. In Part 5, we talked about the virtues of allowing our little ones the space to work through problems on their own. In Part 6, we examined the importance of unstructured “play.” In Part 7, we’ll explore what education is like in East Asia.

Early on in this chapter, Gross-Loh explained that Confucianism has a big influence in China and South Korea. In particular, learning isn’t seen as a means to an end, necessarily. Rather, learning is a way to better one’s self through self-cultivation. While my understanding might be somewhat limited to my experience, I don’t know that I’ve met many people through my extensive education in North America where the goal was self-cultivation and not a means to an end (i.e. get the degree and get out). That’s not to say that that’s necessarily a bad way of looking at education, but just to highlight possible differences.

There’s one passage that emphasizes this ideal of self-cultivation. Gross-Loh is visiting an elite boarding school in China. As her trip is wrapping up, she was meeting with some of the people at the school:

On our last day in China, I met with Gao Chen, head of the entire school, with two teachers and interpreters. After our conversation, something happened that really surprised me. Gao Chen asked my advice, my thoughts, on learning, on how to raise children to become successful in life. The moment I began to cobble together a hesitant answer, every person in the room bent her head down to the table and began writing down every word I said. No one, not even the illustrious head of one of the most elite schools in China, was going to let a potential opportunity for learning and self-improvement pass by.

Even these experts in education, at a well-regarded institution, thought that they could still learn something from their humble guests. How wonderful!

Earlier on in the chapter, we learn the importance that East Asian cultures place on learning “skills.” For instance, in the school discussed above, every student must be skilled in Chinese, math, and science. This ideal is shared amongst East Asian cultures, too. The quote that hammers home this idea of the importance of skills:

No one thinks it’s interesting if a calligrapher breaks rules of calligraphy that he has not totally, and utterly, mastered. Once he has mastered the rules, that’s when thinking outside the box is interesting.

There’s certainly merit to that. Sometimes, it takes knowing a topic inside and out before you’re able to see it from a different angle and appreciate that different angle.

As the chapter comes to a close, there’s a discussion about the level of children’s responsibility through adolescence. In North America, children feel a decreasing sense of obligation to “hang out with their family,” whereas in East Asia, this doesn’t happen. In thinking about the two different cultures, there appears to be a logical reason.

North America tends to be “individualistic” and so it’s natural that as children make their way through adolescence, they would stretch the boundaries of the individualistic culture. Similarly, East Asian cultures tend to be “collectivistic,” so you’d expect that there’d be a strong sense of family and community that continues as children mature.

The key difference in the research shows that this hands-off approach in North America might not be what’s best for children still trying to internalize goals and expectations:

Research on American adolescents’ drug and alcohol use shows that teens who are emotionally close to their parents and know they disapprove of substance use are more likely to abstain.

The researcher quoted goes on to note that there’s a dearth of research on what happens to children after early adolescence who’ve had a closer connection with their family.

“I think we could use a little Chinese parenting, and they could use a little American,” she said with a laugh.

Global Museum Attendance has Doubled in the Last Two Decades

A little more than a week ago, The Economist published an article about museums. In particular, they drew attention to the fact that the number of museums isn’t in decline. Instead, it’s quite the opposite. Would you have guessed that today, not only are museums not in decline, but that there are more than double the number of museums there were two decades ago?

As a soon-to-be parent, I can’t help but be pleased with this fact. I’m very much looking forward to taking my little one(s) to the museum to learn about the natural world around them. It seems I’m not the only one pleased by this either, with museum attendance way up.

I suppose what’s surprising to me about this is that I figured that with the advances we have had in technology, most people would be more inclined to explore the natural world around them from the convenience of their couch. While I’m glad that this is not the case, I wish someone would do some sort of study to better understand this behaviour. The article ties in the idea of higher education. That is, more and more people are going to university and graduates are more likely to visit museums. This makes sense, but I don’t think that it explains the whole story.

Another point raised in the article is the burgeoning growth in other countries. If you look at the graph embedded above, you’ll see that there’s quite a bit of growth planned for the Southeast Asian countries. [As an aside, in The Economist’s “The World in 2014,” you may be surprised to know that over 40% of the world’s population will be voting in a national election next year.] While this growth may help explain an addition piece of the growth in museums, it still doesn’t quite feel like it’s explained the whole puzzle. Of course, in science, especially the social sciences, we know that it’s not always possible to completely explain behaviour, but I’d like to think that one aspect of this has to do with technology.

That is, I’d like to think that as a species, we’re recognizing that technology is a useful tool for helping us navigate the world around us, but that it’s not the be-all and end-all of human existence. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely appreciate technology. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to type on this external keyboard connected to my laptop, while looking at an external monitor connected to my laptop. Beyond that, you wouldn’t be able to read this article on your smartphone or on your laptop/computer, if it weren’t for technology.

With that being said, technology, in my opinion, hasn’t been able to capture the visceral experience of being there and seeing something. Technology can’t (at least not yet) involve all five of our senses in experiencing. Until it does, I’m happy to continue visiting museums.