Though the actual topic of debate was over education and parenting, the underlying cause of such a heated, passionate backlash from the American public was the uncomfortable awareness of America’s waning claim to international superiority. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States had enjoyed relatively unchallenged authority in the global sphere. However, especially following 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States was too mired in its own problems to notice the awakening of Napoleon’s “sleeping giant.” In other words, China happened.
The diminishing state is nothing new to history. All nations have a birth, an apogee and a decline. However, the aspect that differentiates America from the Romans or the Ottomans is that its financial deterioration endangers the philosophy integral to its founding and success. While the fall of past empires and nations entailed the loss of influence and power in the upper ranks of society, American economic decline not only imperils the United States’ stake in the locus of international power, but also the everyman’s stake in the American Dream.
With American financial institutions crumbling, unemployment on the rise and perhaps the realization that this recession may not be a mere hiccup but a permanent condition, the ethos central to this country — that if one works hard, her children will have a greater future — may become fodder for the history books. The key to America’s success has been its ability to attract human capital with this dream, from the Puritans’ landing at Plymouth to the continual influx of immigration today. However, with China’s rise, America’s decline and the knowledge that our children will inherit a world of fierce global competition, this dream may be reverting to its actual condition: simply a dream.
The underlying basis for the strong reaction to Chua’s arguments is that parenting is inextricably linked to the future of this nation. Criticizing American parenting, especially belittling central tenets to our child-rearing such as “everyone’s a winner,” is nearly a direct assault on how our society functions and the ideological basis of the American Dream (and, dare I say, the Princeton mindset). Moreover, criticism coming from the East — whose success is an increasingly inauspicious reminder of American decay — is almost like a bucket of cold water over the head and a blunt “You’re doing it wrong.”
As the future of this nation and, more importantly, the future of our children, becomes less and less certain, the defense of our parenting styles becomes less of a defense of how we raise our children, but more of a staunch resistance to change. After all, parenting and schooling are the primary means of imbuing American values and traditions in young minds. Thus, as the future of America itself is questioned, retaining our philosophy of education becomes less of an act to propel our children into the future, but rather a desperate attempt to preserve the past and its former glories.
America’s key to its characteristic ingenuity has been its ability to adapt and harvest new ideas from the tundra of traditionally accepted modes of thought. So what exempts our parenting and education from this fact? If we continue to alienate ourselves with the indignation of having our ways challenged, the durability of that proverbial house and white picket fence grows less and less robust.
Instead of recoiling at the looming threat from the East, we ought to recognize the merits present in both paradigms of Eastern and Western schooling and reimagine American institutions with their combined incorporation. As our globalizing world necessitates the desertion of entrenched dichotomies between East and West, we must, in its place, embrace the creation of hybrids that can extract and utilize the benefits of both. In the end, the uncertainty of our nation’s future should be enough to jolt us awake from our paralyzing nostalgia and demand the hybridization of our educational philosophy for both our children and the perpetuation of the American Dream as it ventures into the 21st century experiment of reorientation and integration.
After all, our picket fences need some painting over now and then.
Christy Chun is a freshman from West Windsor, NJ. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/11/31467/