With my most recent manuscript out my hands and in the hands of my publisher, I have gone in a new direction with my morning writing. I’ve moved from recalling my experiences in the natural world to reflecting on my daughter Clare’s bilingual and bicultural upbringing and education. As has been my habit when I take on a new topic, my initial efforts are as much reading what others have written on the subject as putting my own thoughts to paper. Of the things I’ve read, Little Soldiers by Lenora Chu and The Hybrid Tiger by Quanyu Huang stand out. Little Soldiers is written by a second generation Taiwanese American who moved her family to Shanghai and enrolled her son in a Chinese elementary school. The Hybrid Tiger takes on the same material, but from the opposite direction. It is written by a Chinese scholar who moved to the United States and placed his son in the American public school system.
The two books come to the same conclusion that Chinese culture has something to teach the West and the West has something to teach the Chinese, but the tones of the books are completely different. Whereas Huang is reluctant to criticize too harshly either the Chinese or the American ways of doing things, Chu is happy to lay into both and is especially hard on the Chinese. A good example of this difference is each book’s discussion of the 2018 international math scores. 2018 was the first year for Mainland China to participate in the PISA (Program for International Assessment) exams, and it immediately jumped to the very top of the list. Huang acknowledged that China only tested kids in Shanghai, but speculated the results would have been similar had tests been given to students from across the country. Chu, on the other hand, called it a sham. She accused the Chinese government of handpicking students from a city replete with private prep schools, knowing full well the rest of the country is laced with dysfunctional public schools where even the kids realize the next step is a career as an unskilled laborer.
On more than one occasion, brutally honest friends have told me I write on topics that no longer need to be written about. In one instance, I was told I was beating a dead horse. In another, a friend suggested that if I’m only going to say what’s already been said, at least put some sex in it. In reading Little Soldiers and The Hybrid Tiger, I am again asking myself not only whether the topic of Chinese versus American education has been exhausted, but whether it was done by writers more qualified than I am.
I ask these questions, but the answers don’t really matter. Everything I have ever written has already been said by someone else, and there always is someone more qualified to write about it. When I think about childrearing in a bicultural home, even my own daughter understands the subject better than I do. She, however, is busy making the world a slightly better place and does not have time to write every day. This is exactly the point. Whatever Manyu (an Asian woman dragged to the US by an American husband) and I (a middle class, Middlewestern, formerly middle-aged male) did to raise a thoughtful, independent, good-hearted daughter deserves my attention.