On Chinese Mothers

Mister Litlove sent me a link to a hypnotically fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal that, the last time I looked at it, had garnered over 2,700 comments. It’s entitled ‘Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior’, a provocative little header there, and is written by a Chinese mother, unsurprisingly, explaining that the route to academic and musical success is unbending parental discipline. She describes how her daughters have never been allowed to get less than an A grade, have been forced to play the piano and the violin, and forbidden all tv, play dates, sleepovers, extra-curricular activities, etc, in the pursuit of excellence. The crux of her argument is that Western parents worry too much about their children’s self-esteem, which is a form of lack of confidence in them.

‘If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A. Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.’

The best lesson, the author writes, is the one that shows the child that it can succeed, despite initial failure or resistance. And since children are fundamentally lazy, they require a ranting mother at their side to impart the necessary motivation. She claims, and I’m sure quite rightly, that this is not a lack of love on the parent’s part, quite the opposite in fact, since the Chinese mother will put endless graft into the education of her children to ensure the right results. It’s just a different model of what good parental love looks like.

Now of course, this is interesting to me because it’s about education, as well as parenting. But on the parenting side of this issue, I want to suggest just one thing: children are very malleable, particularly when little, because they both love their parents excessively and require them absolutely for survival. Parents underestimate time and again how much power they wield over their children. And probably just as well they do, because if you thought too much about it, you might be crippled in action. But still, it’s perfectly possible for a parent to forge a child in the image required, particularly if you are not too choosy about your methods. However, the exercise of power reflects scarcely at all on its victims, but profoundly on those who use it, and only the very best rulers know how to avoid being corrupted by it.

But let’s look at the education side of this. There’s a basic question here that risks being overlooked: what do we put children in education for? When they emerge from the process, what is it most important for them to be able to do? In my perspective, education is about teaching children skills and discernment. They want to be capable of a whole range of abilities, and I don’t really mean calculation and literacy, I mean problem-solving, self-expression, critical thinking, and they need to know when and how best to use them. It’s not like the facts about geography or history that you learned at school are the things most useful to you in later life. No, it’s the ability to think and reason and evaluate that sticks with you, the ability to find things out, and work creatively and appropriately.

So here’s the first problem with the Chinese mother’s approach for me: it is too one note. It lacks discernment. It insists there is only one response to be taken towards non-mastery and that is to practice and practice and practice, until mastery is achieved. Now I agree that it is not the best idea never to force a child to keep going in the face of frustration, but at the same time, it’s no answer to never let them admit defeat, either. The skillful approach, it seems to me, is to help the child see when tenacity is worthwhile, and when honorable retreat is equally useful. This is a tricky thing to learn, and it might be best to wait until the child has enough emotional intelligence to really understand the nature of the conflict that is self vs. immovable object. You might, as an educator, recognize that sometimes this problem requires more resources than a ferocious mother – it might be better solved in group work, where children are very easily and happily motivated by the company and the engagement of their peers. It might be more vividly taught in an extra-curricular activity that the child is particularly passionate about, which can then be taken as a transferable skill into the realm of schoolwork.

I agree that motivation and determination have to be acquired, but I think that this doesn’t have to be through traumatic battles of wills with parents, that it might be less painfully acquired, more cannily acquired, in favourable circumstances. All the child really learns otherwise is that it has to perform or else, and that’s horribly restrictive. You want that child to come out of education with a whole range of behavioural strategies at its disposal, able to push ahead or to hold back as appropriate, able to compete when it’s valuable to do so, and husband energetic or intellectual resources when it isn’t. The key notion is what is appropriate, what is skillful – just teaching one response is ultimately very reductive.

The other problem with the Chinese mother’s approach is the question of whether excellence at set work is the only truly important achievement in a child’s school career. There’s a statistical problem with her never allowing her daughters to be anything less than first in their classes – what would she have done had she had twins? And let’s not even begin about the issue of socializing. But the point is that if education is to be of any value to its culture, then it has to find ways to encourage children to see themselves as valuable, worthwhile members of their community, able to contribute usefully to it in later life, because they have a very specific set of accomplishments and innate talents. There is no point in pointing all children towards the one goal and forcing them to compete for it – the world beyond school doesn’t work that way. Our cultures gain more from innovation and originality than they do from people able to produce white-collar professional work in a reliably accurate way. In fact, if we were perfectly honest, our lives would fall apart if it weren’t for the legions of overlooked and unsung employees cleaning houses and offices, looking after small children, keeping public areas safe and tidy, nursing in hospitals, driving lorries and stacking shelves in supermarkets. Any education that dares call itself decent ought to be able to instill pride in all its student for the things they CAN do, not shame about the things they can’t.

I have plenty of experience of the products of Chinese-style mothering, because often they turn up in my rooms at the university, stymied by higher education. One of my toughest cases was an Asian lad who arrived determined to be the best student the university had ever seen. His approach to this was to work 23 hours out of every day – perfectly in keeping with the dictates of this article. He was throwing himself at the problem of his work, over and over and over again, believing this would be the best way to solve it. Alas, whatever intellectual resilience this approach may foster, Chinese children are biologically the same as any other. He suffered from a massive physical breakdown and was forced to leave the university on grounds of ill health. Not that he wanted to go, or his parents wanted him to go. In fact when his mother appeared to pick him up, she flew at him in a violent rage. ‘There was nearly a punch-up,’ declared the Senior Tutor, in shocked tones. No, the college authorities made him go because he was physically and mentally incapable of working. And then there was another student I saw, who had lost all motivation for his studies almost from the moment that he had entered the country. His mother was safely on the other side of the world, and without her overbearing pressure, surrounded by students who often didn’t work when they didn’t feel like it, he found he just couldn’t force himself to knuckle under. Plus, he wasn’t at the top of his year group and a rapid assessment had assured him he probably never would be. There was suddenly nothing left for him to strive for.

So I don’t believe this article very much, not in the value of the principles it preaches, or the methods it embraces. What’s intriguing to me is the wealth of comments it has brought forth. It has evidently touched a raw nerve among the parenting community who read the Wall Street Journal. I didn’t read all 2,700 odd, but they polarized in much the way you might expect, some expressing extreme horror and disgust, others arguing that it’s about time we toughened up on our children and stopped producing namby-pamby surrender monkeys. There are probably all kinds of excellent comments I have missed. But it seems to me that the proper response to this article is to dismiss it as a piece of provocative fluff, attempting to cause a fuss in order to sell the book that this particular Chinese mother has apparently written. But if we can’t just laugh this off, then it suggests that we are becoming increasingly confused in the Western world as to what education really is for. And that the relentless insistence on examinations and grading is starting to erode our sense of what is valuable in schooling. Because one thing this article never mentions is that if we put such importance on our children passing their exams with top grades, we have to be really, really sure that those exams actually do represent the best education has to offer and I, for one, am not at all sure about that.


27 thoughts on “On Chinese Mothers

  1. I totally agree with you. Of course China is a country with a recent very restrictive history and is evolving fast, including the options becoming available. The fundamental question is what is life for? If it is being the best then very few can possibly succeed. And if you are the best, fine, what then? If you were the best blogger around [not saying you aren’t], would you not say ‘Is that all there is?’

  2. I had lunch with my Chinese friend and colleague today – UK university lecturer with phd from US and a one-year old British-born son – and she mentioned that she and her friends had been dicussing this article. It’s certainly gone viral quickly, showing how important these issues are. Shame it is deliberately provocative rather than subtle or thoughtful.

  3. Well done. Thanks for the thought-out response. Certainly a lot wrong with our educational system – of course a lot wrong with the one espoused in the article as well. Moderation in all things, yes?

  4. I have a friend teaching in Korea and he was saying that kids have no life outside of school, grinds, homework and eventually going to bed to rest before the following day.
    I have just started a course as part of my PhD and we were asked to do a group excercise. I was in a group of three with an Asian student doing Asian studies. We were working on narrative, the narrator and the text. Now, I have very strong ideas about these and I can be quite affirmative about them. I was able to discuss and argue with the other student, but the Asian student just kept nodding as if he was just accepting my ideas. Now, I don’t know if he is from China or if he is just shy (the little English he spoke was pretty good though). It just seems to me that, as you point out, that type of education will lead to conformity and blind acceptance.

    It has happened to me to give bad marks to some essays, because they weren’t answering the question directly or the English was poor; yet, I would actually find some of them quite good because they were challenging and thoughtful. Thankfully, those students weren’t in China!

  5. A thoughtful post, Litlove, and I agree with everything you’ve said. One of my objections to this woman’s article is that she speaks of Chinese mothers and mothering as if it is monolithic. I’ve had conversations with Chinese mothers who don’t fit this “method” at all. They want their kids to do well in school, but not in the way suggested, and they are happier with the education system here than in China because they feel it provides a more balanced childhood, where kids get a chance to play and explore, as well as learn skills.

    One of my children is quite strong-willed (rather like me!) and to push her too hard is to invite greater resistance. I won’t ever forget when she was about 2 and had an eye infection how well that stubbornness stood her in good stead. She was resisting the eyedrops and I (because of my own history) found the prospect of having to hold her down to administer them impossible. We battled for a while, with her refusing, and then I explained the situation and the medical necessity, followed by how much I would hate to have to hold her down but I would have to make myself do it because it was a medical necessity. She responded by saying that she wanted to stand while I put the eyedrops in.

    Darn it if she didn’t stand there, holding her hands behind her back so she wouldn’t bat mine away, while I gave her the drops. Litlove, it took all I had not to weep at her brave spirit.

    How can it be a good thing to break a spirit like that over a lousy A?

    Yes, I want her to do well in school, and she knows it, but my expectations are, I hope, balanced.

    Even being completely cold and rational, success in life involves other skills than what grades indicate. Not only are there many subjects not taught in school that are studied at university or in professional programs, but the ability to persevere, get along with others, work collaboratively as well as individually, take criticism, handle difficult people, and many other things determine success at work.

    What about outside of work? Life doesn’t equal work. There are people who can’t manage in relationships or choose bad ones, people who can’t think of what to do outside of work, etc.

    Work doesn’t necessarily last a lifetime. Character does.

  6. I guess I have been outside the regular parental pressures (good grades, sports, etc) since my eldest was diagnosed with ASD. These days my main concern is not his grades but his ability to speak – which leads me to wonder how Chinese kids with developmental delays fare in these kinds of pressurized families? On the other hand, I can kind of see the benefit of expecting your child to excel; I became aware at Henry’s mid-year review that he has all kinds of skills at school, like writing his name, that I never thought to quiz him about at home. (Instead, I am all, “Hey! You drew a line! Awesome!”)

    Having a kid with autism has completely cured me of caring about grades. If my (neurotypical) daughter wants to get her As in gym and her Cs in English, I am okay with that. We are all individuals – we all have strengths and weaknesses. Grades are a pretty narrow measure of a person, anyway; nobody, unfortunately, hands out As for kindness, punctuality, thank-you notes, good driving, the ability to put a picnic together, or any of the other things we need to know.

    I like your thoughtful take on this, Litlove.

  7. Well, according to Amy Chua, I’m a failed Chinese mother. I let my son sleep over at his friends’, encouraged him to audition for school plays and other extra curricular activities, let him play video games and watch TV, and spent countless hours driving him to birthday parties and social events. But these things are true: he learned the piano at 4, the violin at 5 and for a few years tried to master both. I let him give up the violin after three years to just focus on the piano, my failure again. I’d like to think because giving up the violin, he could stay on with his piano until completing his ARCT at 16. After that, he strayed and took up the electric guitar, Amy Chua would have been devastated. With all the failings on my part, he managed to graduate top of his high school class and now in his last year of University, majoring not in science or math or computer or engineering, alas, my greatest failure, but in History. He will be spending three more years of post-grad studying law. If he ever became a law professor at Yale, I hope one day he would write a book extolling the idea of that good old Chinese proverb: “Failure is the mother of Success.”

    The best I could make of this article is, it’s a ploy to promote a book. Sensational and provocative statements do sell, whether it’s a Penguin book or the Wall Street Journal. Every comment in the online article is evident of its marketing success.

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  9. I only flicked through that article this morning, and assumed it was a satirical ‘humour’ piece. I didn’t realise it was serious.

  10. Thank you for commenting on this article, many of my friends have been linking to it, several of whom are the recipients/victims of this particular parenting method. I agree wholeheartedly that this approach encourages the wrong thing, academic excellence is not for everyone nor should it be. It is valuable to learn one can push one’s self beyond one’s perceived limits, but once the parent is out of the picture, there is either no incentive to continue on that path, or that attitude has been so internalized that happiness is impossible. I know so many people not doing what they want to do because of their parents, and am so happy that my parents encouraged me to follow my passions, even if I was somewhat pushed beyond my limits in math, they let me accept defeat there and I have gone on to excel academically in other areas.

  11. How bizarre. It does sound like a marketing ploy to me. There’s a slight reflection to this in German society, where parents take a lot of responsibility for their kids success: coaching, tons of extra lessons, hovering over them as they do their homework. However, it stems less from extreme competitiveness and more from a state that cannot provide a full-day school system and which relies on parents to fill that gap.

    I make a bad German mother, and I’d make a terrible Chinese one.

  12. Very well said on both the parenting and education fronts. I like the message that discernment as well as tactical retreat are as important as hard work. And instilling pride rather than shame.

  13. I read the article, trying very hard to keep an open mind, remembering that different cultures see things differently, yada, yada, yada…By the time I got to the end of it, though, all I could think was “child abuse.” I almost cried for that poor child learning the piano piece (and being compared to her older sister to boot). Sure, she finally learned it, but at what cost? And my guess is that she also would have learned it had her mother been patient, kind, and persistent, rather than punishing and brutally insistent. I was dying to know how the daughters feel about the way they’ve been raised. Are they depressed? Do they have eating disorders? I’m hoping the father, who sounds like he is kind and understanding, balanced out the mother’s brutality. Knowing what I know about the American educational system and our standardized tests and how, although there are some wonderful, wonderful teachers out there, I’ve also met some horrible teachers, I was appalled by the notion of assuming a child is just being lazy if she isn’t making straight As and scoring in the 99th percentile on standardized tests. Where’s the room for the child’s creativity? Did her children, when they were young, get to write stories? To paint pictures? To put on plays (oh, I guess not, since they probably don’t know what a play is)? To – God forbid – just play? I know that American parents often do have a tendency to side too much with their children and to be overprotective, but my feeling is that there are two sides to every story. A parent ought to meet with a teacher or a principal or guidance counselor to figure out if the problem is merely a child’s laziness or has more to do with a bad/difficult teacher (and vice versa: is the teacher merely bad/difficult, or is the child lazy?) who doesn’t know what he or she is doing, before assuming anything. Your last sentence is spot-on.

    • “I was dying to know how the daughters feel about the way they’ve been raised. Are they depressed? Do they have eating disorders?”

      There was an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper recently which included some comments from her daughters. I quote from the final paragraph

      ‘Whether she has made a mistake in revealing her parenting style remains to be seen, but perhaps the last word should go to her older daughter, Sophia. “When we were younger, I thought my mum favoured Lulu, but as I’ve got older, we’ve become so close. It’s not really the focus of the book, but my mum and I are incredibly similar. She understands me and always knows what I’m thinking. We crack up at each other’s jokes and ask each other for advice. Most importantly, I can tell she wants me to be happy. The other day, I messed up a math test. I texted my mom that I got an A- and she replied, ‘Who cares! Mummy loves u!’

      “It made my day.”‘

  14. It’s actually interesting, I just realized that the book I reviewed yesterday is about the exact opposite of this. David Gilmout decided to take his kid from school and let him watch three movies per week that he, the father, chose. Not only did the kid snap out of being a lethargic no-future teenager but they developed a very deep and touching relationship. I doubt there is much of that between Mrs super Chinese mom and her daughters but maybe I’m mistaken. Be it as it may, what is probably the hardest to take is her saying she is superior. I am aware that in such a huge country like China other rules might be important (would really have to do some in depth analysis here), still… from there to saying “We are better” is quite a conclusion… While reading her article I first thought she was being sarcastic… but no..

  15. Amy Chua was born in the US (1962, Champaign, Illinois), daughter of immigrant parents of Chinese descent from the Philippines. She doesn’t represent Chinese mothers in China where, due to its one-child policy, children, especially boys, are often pampered and spoiled, just the opposite of what Chua claims to be doing. Chua actually cannot represent anyone except herself. As a Canadian immigrant mother of Chinese descent (from Hong Kong), I can understand some of her concerns and expectations, but I definitely do not share her parenting style as I said in my previous comment. I found this interview in the Toronto Globe and Mail, where Chua explains herself in a more subdued tone. I’m more convinced that the exposure she’s getting is boosting sharply the sales of her book.


  16. What a very interesting post, Litlove. I have not read the original article, but I find your discussion of it very “sane” and well thought out. I particularly like your last point, about our focus on grades not being necessarily representative of what education has to offer.

    Many of my friends chose to educate their children at home using the Unschooling model presented by John Holt in “Growing Without Schooling”. All of these children are now productive members of society, seem to be deep thinking and happy now that they are adults. I joined their ranks when we removed our son from school.

    I for one believe education is about learning to think and learning how to find the information you need, not about getting grades.

  17. What an interesting article and thank you for such a thoughtful post Litlove! I don’t have children but some of my family members and friends are teachers so I’ve passed on the article to them as I’d love to hear their take as well. All I can say what is why not strive for balance? Don’t you think? Granted, finding balance is oh so very tricky and hard to do.

  18. I’d seen the article on Google news but didn’t click through to read it. It sounds like she is being purposedly provocative to sell more books. And there are so many parents in the US right now worried about education and about China that I’m sure it will get lots of people riled up without them even thinking it through as carefully as you have.

  19. Bookboxed – too right I would! And you know what, I would never be in that position in any case, because even if I WERE the best blogger, it’s doubtful, having been brought up in a fiercely critical regime, that I would ever FEEL like the best blogger. To reduce life to a set of test results, particularly at a gorgeously expansive age like 16, 17, 18, seems a travesty to me.

    Kristi – I do not think you were alone in doing that! And thank you – you’re very welcome.

    Jean – those are excellent links – I really encourage everyone interested in this debate to read them.

    I do so agree, Jean, that there are elements to this discussion that could have been productively brought out – like the issue of self-esteem. In my experience, children are no happier being told they are good at something they either hate or find difficult. They are the most objectively truthful creatures and if they suck at something they know it, and would like to be loved nevertheless. Good self-esteem doesn’t come from being bigged up, but from being seen exactly as they are, and encouraged to become the very best version of their unique self that they can be, or at least, that’s how I see it.

    Pages of Julia – absolutely, moderation and humility. No one has solved the problem of education – the best we can do is keep looking at it, keep thinking about it, keep evolving it.

    Em – how very interesting to hear about your experiences. I have indeed found my own Asian students to be very shy and very compliant, in a way that isn’t always helpful. Compliance can be a really valuable trait, but only in the right circumstances, and only as an active choice. Forced compliance has always been understood by the psychotherapists as a way of arresting development. Oh and tell me about answering the question directly! I am always trying to drum that into my students too! 🙂

    Lilian – I couldn’t agree with you more. I also feel sure that this Chinese mother was by no means representative of an entire race. Surely but surely people the world over are diverse and different. And I feel vicariously proud of your child for being so very brave – she will need that strength of character, and the ability to say no, for the rest of her life. I feel that way about my son. I have always thought the chances of him getting into a car with a bunch of other young lads late at night, when there had been drinking or drug taking because he couldn’t resist peer pressure and could only go along compliantly with his friends was far greater than him suffering from not getting his homework done on time. I would much rather he had the power to say no across a range of situations. And whenever I’ve had to interview students for my university admissions, I have always looked for character first and foremost – flair, passion, creativity, those are the most important things at the higher levels.

    Ella – absolutely. Having worked with lots of very bright kids, I have seen more misery and neurosis and low self-esteem amongst them than I am comfortable with. Give me a child with a good heart, and a happy image of himself any day of the week. High grades are by no means the direct route to a fulfilled life. I think you’re perfectly right to nurture your children according to their choices and individual skills.

    Arti – I had no idea what your family background was, but I am delighted indeed to know that you do not represent the rigid stereotype depicted in the article! By the sounds of it, failed Chinese mothering works a treat. I also thought the piece was shameless promotion. But I do wonder whether it won’t actually backfire in the end.

    Andrew – lol! I love that. Keep thinking it.

  20. Miriam – I’m so glad to hear that you were allowed to follow your passions. How can anybody hope to succeed at something they don’t much enjoy? And even if they did, what would the point be? I’m so pleased you commented, to state your views and to show that there are all kinds of variations in this parenting model.

    Charlotte – lol! But you make a pretty damn fine mother, all the same. I do sort of remember that from visits to Germany with my pen pal. It seemed so strange, everyone clocking off after lunch (but lovely too!). I can quite see why German parents take up the burden of German expectations. But it does seem to put a lot of pressure on everyone all round. My son has always deplored it if I have moved from my role as mother to that of teacher. He doesn’t like that version of me one little bit. 🙂

    Pete – I know for sure that hard work can get you only so far. Putting the pen down, sitting back and dreaming is so often the way around an impasse. I just think it works when you scale it up, too.

    Emily – I completely agree – there are many sides even to the simplest story. Child development is certainly not a simple story! I was talking to a friend today about this article and she felt that the mother was setting herself up for disaster, since her children were only 14 and 17. She felt there was the possibility of all kinds of disasters on the horizon that would blow the mother’s theories out of the water. I could see her point. I would also expect an article such as this one to wring your tender heart – you’d be in there like a shot to get that poor child away from the piano, wouldn’t you? 🙂

    Caroline – I do agree – the lack of humility is rather symptomatic, isn’t it? And it does make one disinclined to believe the mother. If she insists that this method is superior, without proper investigative back-up, then it all looks a bit suspicious. I will visit to read about the book you read which sounds fascinating.

    Arti – how very interesting to see the article rewritten in that gentler, more considered tone. I still can’t quite agree with her methods, but the piece is nowhere near as provocative as the Wall Street Journal one. But I am still inclined to think, given the outpouring of articles that have followed subsequently, all debunking or challenging the validity of her methods, whether she has actually done herself a favour this way (I hope not!).

    Healingmagichands – I’m so very curious to hear more about your homeschooling experiences. I would just love to know more about what it was like – not for myself as my son is past that stage now. But it always struck me as an intriguing choice to make. In any case, I certainly agree with you about grades. What a terrible reduction of young life!

    iliana – absolutely! I’m all for balance, not least because it IS difficult to achieve. Excess is somehow easy, lazy, indulgent. Striving to find a balance in life, which is itself so rich and complex and bewildering, is surely the way to stay sane and find some contentment.

    Stefanie – those comments don’t lie! I wonder whether they’ve passed the 3,000 mark yet, and the people who left them were definitely riled up. It will be interesting to see what effect this has on the book. I will think less of the book buying public if they buy it out of sensational curiosity (although it won’t be the first book to sell that way). Let’s hope this publicity actually ends up having an adverse effect. I certainly wouldn’t buy it myself.

  21. I could not agree with you more! My son is in an exclusive private school and we have seen these types of things over and over. I always feel sorry for the children raised this way. I see them walking around the campus and they always look so tired and miserable. My son gets good grades but isn’t the top of his class. I’m teaching him to think critically and to foster his own creativity. He’s happy and well-balanced (so far) and he would be miserable if I took this other approach with him.

  22. Oh, thank you for the balanced post as things are getting rather passionate on the subject. Having lived in China, I know Chinese mothers who are like that and Chinese mothers who aren’t. Chinese children I’ve met don’t strike me as particularly balanced little people, either too spoiled or too pressured (which is really two sides of the same coin), so I couldn’t imagine praising the model and trying to export it into other cultures (although the Pisa results made a lot of Western people worried and envious).

  23. Well, that article sounds utterly ridiculous, and I guess it was meant to be provocative, as you say. But still, I’m tired just thinking about the energy it must take to be a “Chinese mother” and also one of her children. To be in a state of rage so often! I can’t imagine what that must do to both mother and child.

  24. A while back one of the national news shows did a week long series of reports from China and I recall seeing a story on education over there. They showed a classroom of small children who could already communicate in English and speak fairly well. The older kids they interviewed sounded as though they spent quite a lot of their free time studying in order to be competitive scholastically. It does give one pause. You’d think there would be some healthy in between. I get the feeling it isn’t just education but also athletics (and no doubt other areas) where the young people are really pushed to succeed. I suppose there must be some pay off in the end, but it must come at a high cost. Imagine knowing you would never be the best (like the students you encountered) and how miserable you’d be then.

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