Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Another Chua post

Shannon Love has an interesting and thoughtful post on the Amy Chua article, although I don't really agree. First, the word "teamwork" as applied to anything I did in K-12 education leaves me cold. There were the two science teachers who decided that, rather than teaching science according to top-down methods, we would teach each other in teams. To assess our competence at teaching each other, our grades on quizzes would be averaged together. This was a fantastic deal for the relative slackers in each group and a nightmare for the more diligent. Two of the girls in my group and I would try to drill each other while failing to dissuade the other to put away her nail polish bottle and focus. The whole misadventure did convince me that incentives and free-rider problems matter and also unfortunately made me more susceptible to Ayn Rand than I would have been otherwise, which I think was not actually not supposed to be the point.

Second, even under Chua's overly narrow conception of what counts as an appropriate activity, some teamwork is still possible. I would be surprised if neither of her daughters ever performed in an instrumental ensemble, for example. In my own case, because I am terrible at all manner of athletic activities, I wound up being captain of my high school's quiz bowl team. We were largely seen as being less public-spirited and well-rounded than the athletes, much to our frustration. But we did think strategically about division of labor and other teamworkish type things. My husband says much the same thing about debate at his high school, which was predominantly disproportionately Russian Jewish and various Asian immigrants. (He told me once that a coach from another high school once commented on the perpetual lack of native-born Americans on the Lexington team.) The same thing seems to be true of various math and science type competitions, although I didn't really participate in very many past middle school.


  1. A small correction:

    I was the only Russian Jew on the Lexington HS debate team at the time (1989-90). There were lots of native-born white Americans, though immigrants were overrpresented on the team. But it so happened that there weren't any in the group that went to the tournament at which the rival coach made his comment.


  2. The issue, I think, is less teamwork on sports teams, in biology lab, etc., and more about unstructured socialization, learning to deal with cliques, how to interact with friends in the moments the teacher's looking the other way. Banning sleepovers is about declaring socialization of that nature a waste of time. To a degree, it's fairly standard for American parents to be suspicious of children's socializing - this is, after all, when kids are likely to "experiment" with whatever substance or activity a given parent fears most - but balancing that, usually, is the knowledge that skills are acquired through this kind of socialization, or, more obviously, that not having any friends is itself a distraction, one with implications for schoolwork and more.