The New York Times reports on an interesting statistic on the schooling choices of the wealthy. Contrary to native-born Americans, immigrants prefer to use the public schools of their adopted country. A study, which considered foreign-born US residents in large cities with a household income of at least $150,000 per year, found that 68 percent of this group chose to forgo the expensive private schools their American counterparts would choose.
Why is it that, among Americans, those who can afford private schooling for their children almost always do so, while for new US residents, the public school system is considered more than adequate? The Times carefully avoids proposing any explanation at all. I have my own suspicions. But first, in the comments section for that article, some members of the group in question have spoken up:
“Like my husband, most foreigners can’t conceive that there can be such a disparity between private and public — they come from places where there is less inequality between the two,” says one European-born mother.
“As a foreign-born parent (now naturalized citizen), who deliberately chose public schools for both my kids, I can say that I never liked the elitist environment in the private schools that I’ve seen. Race wise, those schools always lean heavily toward white, and they are very big on pedagogical ideologies,” says a different father.
But the closest thing to a consensus was several foreign-born commenters saying something like “The parents have confidence that their kids will bloom where ever [sic] planted and the primary responsibility for their children’s school performance rests with the parents not with the school or teacher.”
It’s this last line of reasoning, which appeared more frequently than any other, which I immediately jumped to on hearing this statistic. I’ve lived and taught in China where the children of the rising middle class experience significant academic pressure from their parents. Due to China’s One-Child Policy, most have no siblings, and since their parents are part of the generation that was first to gain wealth in China’s new economy, that means they also remember what it was like to be poor as children themselves.
Why does this translate into less willingness to invest in private education? Actually, the question is flawed. The American way of thinking, particularly among the wealthy, is that the way to ensure your children’s success is to throw more money at it. For parents in many foreign countries, both Asian and European, the way to ensure your children’s success is to invest time and effort. Perhaps to a manic degree.
Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” has been hotly debated. I don’t want to get sidetracked by the debate of Western versus Eastern philosophies of parenting and education, but what isn’t contested is that the children of these hyper-involved and ultra-strict parents tend to excel academically. Universities have even raised admission standards for Asian applicants, because most non-Asians can’t compete.
It’s no surprise to me then that parents who take the attitude that school success depends on their children’s effort, as well as their own, won’t therefore be overly concerned about the school they enroll their children in (so long as it offers the advanced programs they want). If there’s one thing American parents could learn from this, it’s that the surest path to success starts with instilling a powerful work ethic in your children. The most elite school in the world can only do so much with a student who won’t put forth the required effort.
Photo credit: Ericci8996