Americans Want Parents to Be Stricter (the Chinese Not So Much)

Two-thirds of Americans think parents need to put more pressure on students

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Several times a year a spate of news reports come out highlighting how the United States has fallen behind other countries in this educational metric or that, followed by lamentation from the media about the sad state of affairs in America's school system. Whether an educational crisis exists or not, news outlets are touching on some real anxieties in the U.S.: a higher percentage of Americans believe that parents are not putting enough pressure on kids to do well in school than 20 other nations surveyed by Pew.

According to Pew's just-released study, almost 64 percent of Americans believe parents ought to be trying to get their kids to work harder in school--an 8-point jump from 2006. In China, the reverse is true. There, slightly more than two-thirds of the population believe parents are putting too much pressure on kids, more than any other nation surveyed. Other countries high in academic achievement, like India and Pakistan, join China with a large percentage of citizens who see less pressure as better, shown in the chart from Pew to the right.

It seems that with regard to China and the U.S., the grass looks greener on the other side of the Pacific. Americans seem to both envy and fear the work ethic instilled in Chinese students that is helping propel their country to superpowerdom. Conversely, the Chinese think that more U.S.-style parental approach that puts less emphasis on academic achievement might be healthier for their youths. We saw a different version of this debate, with second and third-generation Chinese-Americans, on display in January as the media couldn't stop discussing Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom, Amy Chua's memoir-cum-meditation on the virtues of strict Chinese child-rearing practices over Western ones. Some Americans took Chua's book as a call for parents in the U.S. to toughen up. "She has given American parents a big, fat and much-needed dose of reality," the New York Post's Suzanne Venker wrote at the time, for example. But Melinda Liu at The Daily Beast noted that Chinese mothers have less tiger in them today than in the past and that they are taking cues from Americans on how to raise kids. "In other words," she wrote then, "the key to success is seen as a hybrid of East and West—at least when viewed from the lair of the Tiger Moms."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.