SolutionLiz Cormack

A Nation of Wusses?

SolutionLiz Cormack

After reading the Time Magazine cover article "Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?" I couldn't help but repeat in my head the quote of Ed Rendall, former Governor of Pennsylvania. "We've become a nation of wusses," he said. He was talking, specifically, about a football game that was cancelled due to a little snow. In China, he claimed, fans would be trooping out on foot to see the game, blizzard and all. Granted he also claimed that the Chinese would be doing Calculus as they hiked through the snow to watch football, but the point still stings. The image of American children browsing the web and playing video games for 9-10 hours a day is prevalent, and many studies have asserted that kids in this country spend about twice as much time staring at screens than they do at school OR studying on their own. This is a combination of lenient schooling and failing public school systems (a fact which is most poignant in urban areas) but also the lack of effective parenting at home.

American parents (and I'm making broad generalizations here) may be loving, nurturing and encouraging, but they're certainly not making up for the shortcomings of the school systems. Somehow, Chinese mothers know just how hard to push their kids to make excellency the norm. For most American parents, excellency feels unnecessary, almost absurd. Not every kid is meant to move mountains, so just tell them to do their best! But the fact is kids are falling by the wayside in terms of education, and many of them could have moved mountains if someone had made it clear that failure was not an option. That sense of competitiveness always seemed a little ridiculous when I saw it in the Chinese and Korean students at my public high school, but the fact is that China and the United States feel it every day on a global scale.

Is this the new cold war? As Obama is quoted in the article as saying, "this is a Sputnik moment." And what are we doing with it? Are the American people (as a general whole) using freedom and individuality to be lazy and unorganized? While students toiling away in college dorms would love to insist otherwise, I can't help but think of the 90% of my high school population (myself included, no doubt), that viewed school work as a relatively unfortunate distraction from actually living life.

The only reason I had so much passion and energy in high school was because of my professional Fashion Design courses at a separate Academy for Communication and the Arts. This fact alone supports one of my favorite arguments: the argument for creative thinking in the public education system.

Fashion Design courses demanded that I create something original, and therefore something over which I had full ownership. They demanded that I brainstorm, organize my thoughts and think outside the box. They demanded that I be entrepreneurial, and that, above all, is the advantage America has over China at the moment. Start-ups and small businesses have more ability to thrive and prosper in the United States than anywhere else, and they make up a huge portion of the economy.

According to The Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, "34 percent of the adult population (or 340 out of 100,000 adults) created a new business each month, representing approximately 558,000 new businesses per month in 2009." Unfortunately, we can't sit contentedly on our superior creative thinking and entrepreneurial skills. According to Time Magazine, China is expected to far surpass the number of US patent applications within this year. China recognizes that while their students blow us out of the water in standardized testing, they lack the creativity and inventive drive that shapes the Unites States in such an incredible way.

So they're changing that. They're making changes to emulate the American school system. And we need to start doing the same in reverse.

The solution to the education problem in the United States isn't to embrace the robotic qualities of Chinese education, but to recognize why their practice succeeds so immensely and to pull their strengths while embracing our own. The school system needs to start integrating more creative thinking and needs to take measures to give students a sense of entrepreneurial independence and ownership over certain aspects of their education. At the same time, they should start enforcing the discipline and competitive edge that is ingrained innately in Asian culture. Last time we saw Sputnik, we went to the moon. This time, we  could create an educational system in America that will push our youth to go just as far.

Graduated with a B.A. in Communication Design from Emerson College. Studied Product Design in Startup Insitute Boston's inaugural class. Marketing Manager at The Tap Lab, a mobile gaming startup focused on location & augmented reality. Founder of Colab Boston, an AIGA Design for Good partner. Raised overseas, uncomfortable with familiarity, lover of live music, skiing, Bourbon Ales, black coffee and weird food. Current favorite topics: The Internet of Things, serious games, data visualization and epic burgers.