Tom Smith is worried that all that overachieving may lead to a sense of entitlement encompassing rather more than a lot of Americans might like.
[I]f some parents want to push their children, even to an extent that seems crazy to me, so that they will end up wonderful musicians or inventive scientists, this is much to my advantage. Who knows, little tiger girl may end up playing Mahler in a new way, and add some new meaning to my life. I may download that mp3, listen to it on my iPod or whatever we have 25 years from now, and the world will be a little better place. Or some Tiger dad will make his kitten memorize the periodical table at age three and when he grows up he will invent donuts that make one lose weight. You never know. It could happen. These would be good things for the world, maybe not so much for the kid, or maybe it would. I am happy leaving that one for the psychologists.
But here’s the thing. And here the point has been made easier to make by the curious fact that Tiger Mom is a Yale Law School professor and as Professor Bainbridge has pointed out, it seems almost an epidemic among faculty parents in New Haven. My fear is that little tiger kittens are not being groomed to make things that you and I can buy if we feel like it. I’m afraid, call me paranoid if you like, that those little achievers will want to grow up to, well, rule. Not in the imperial Chinese way, though I take it that is the ultimate inspiration for this model of child rearing. If my high school understanding of Chinese history is correct, that Empire used to be ruled by a giant bureaucracy into which one got by passing extraordinarily difficult exams, competing against other fanatically hopeful parents who saw it as one of the few ways to get the young persons out of a life of horrible drudgery. But rather in something more like the imperial Chinese way than my ideal, which is more like Thomas Jefferson’s, without the antique and misguided dislike of commerce. So, if I’m sitting in the middle of my Jeffersonian space, able to order whatever I want, within my budget of course, from Amazon, working at something I like, not taxed to death or harassed by officious officials; if I can provide for my family and hope to provide a similarly independent life for my offspring, then what’s it to me if some mom somewhere wants to drive her children so that someday they will produce a recording or a pill I might want to buy? Only good. But if we are sliding toward a world like the one that is, to exaggerate only a little, like that I was taught we should be sliding toward when I restlessly roamed the hallowed halls the The Yale Law School many years ago, then I am not so sanguine. Then I worry that all this fierce intelligence, all this ambition, all this work are going toward the building of world in which my children will be mere, well, what do you call the people who support those who so intelligently manage things from on top. Not to mention the unbelievably well educated 35 year old who will tell me someday I didn’t score well enough in some algorithm I can’t even understand to get my arteries bypassed or my prostate cancer treated. I want to live in a world, and I want my children to as well, where we are free individuals, and geniuses can sell us stuff if we want to buy it. When I suspect the little elites of tomorrow are just being made more formidable still, it excites not my admiration as much as my anxiety.
Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.