Education, creativity and the “mining of minds”

Tuesday’s Globe and Mail ran an article on Yale law professor Amy Chua, who just published a book entitled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin Press 2011). The article, “Confessions of a Tiger Mom: Why Chinese parenting is best”, focuses mostly on the sometimes extreme parenting style Chua advocates in her book, which is itself influenced by a specific cultural perspective that places great value on obedience and self-discipline, especially in terms of academic and musical achievement. Implicit in this child rearing treatise, however, is also a particular understanding of human creativity, the conditions necessary for it to thrive, and who should, ideally, benefit from its manifestations — the individual, the networks of other people to whom we feel a sense of obligation (e.g. parents, teachers, peers), or “society” more broadly?

Reading this article made me think of a great TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, on how schools kill creativity. While the talk is less about parenting and more about institutionalized education systems, it nevertheless provides a vastly different perspective, particularly regarding academic achievement and why its dogged pursuit is detrimental not only for the individual — Robinson argues we educate children “out of creativity” — but also for society more generally. He makes a convincing argument that the production of a specific kind of intelligence by current education systems is not only akin to the “mining of minds” within a human ecology, but is also making young generations ill-equipped to deal with the complex social and ecological challenges they’ll inevitably have to face in a future we can’t yet imagine.

Is pushing children to excel academically — which, Chua seems to argue, is best achieved by limiting their other social experiences and following a strict regime of schoolwork and musical training — endangering other forms of human intelligence? While I haven’t read Chua’s book myself, there seems to be an especially salient tension between these two perspectives.

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