Unintended Consequences of That Whole ‘Tiger Mother’ Thing

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You remember that whole debate over Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mom” book, when folks in the West were wondering whether their kids were losing their competitive edge to academic grinds from Asia? One aspect of the so-called Asian approach, we were told, is to de-emphasize physical education. Whether that has any basis in fact is debatable, but it is a great segue to this bit of sad news:

The cancellation of long-distance races at university games has highlighted the issue of declining physical fitness among college students. Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, canceled the women’s 3,000-meter race and men’s 5,000-meter race in its university games held over the weekend. Organizers from the university’s physical education department said the races were scrapped because most students lack the stamina to finish the demanding course, and ill-prepared runners may injure themselves. (China Daily)

That’s a huge bummer, not to mention a surprise. I have to admit that when I first glanced at the news feed headline “‘Deadly’ Long Runs Dropped At College Track Competitions,” I just assumed that the reason was air pollution. I didn’t expect an article on distance running that described how a lack of fitness was causing injuries and, since 2002, over 40 deaths of minors. (Of course, given the population of China, incidence of heart defects, etc., that low number is probably meaningless.)

But anyway, WTF? How does this sort of thing happen? I understand that some parents, Tiger Moms or otherwise, don’t always push their kids to stay in shape. I was raised by Jewish parents — I am only too aware of this problem. But what about the schools?

I’m no expert in Chinese high schools, but don’t they have teachers whose job it is to coach students who participate in athletics? Does the basketball coach simply show the kids where the court is and throw ’em a basketball? Does the badminton instructor lob a few shuttlecocks at the net and tell the kids to get to work?

I’d expect that any kid who was participating in a long-distance event would have been training for a long time and had been supervised by the coach for months, if not longer. And if weather conditions were adverse to competition on a given day, wouldn’t the coach say something like “Hey, Xiao Wang, get the hell off the track, it’s snowing. Maybe we’ll give it another shot next week.”

So let me get this straight. The kids are in bad shape and are getting injured, so instead of helping them to get healthy with, you know, exercise and shit, the schools simply cancel the programs. Perhaps this is my cynical nature talking here, but it almost sounds like the schools are more interested in covering their asses in terms of liability and bad publicity than they are in helping these students. Nah, couldn’t be.

Someone please explain this to me. My head hurts.

4 responses on “Unintended Consequences of That Whole ‘Tiger Mother’ Thing

  1. Bob Walsh

    That is a weird bit of news, especially coming out of Huazhong, which is one of China’s best Ag schools. Would have thought there were more tough farm kids going there, as that’s all I seem to meet when I work with that school.

    But you’re right about the general lack of preparedness. Any time I see a “field day” on the schedule of some school in the neighborhood (Nanjing), I’m curious about the evident lack of sustained physical training beforehand.

    Peter Hessler touched on this in “River Town”, in a story about the field day his school ran…

  2. H.Z.

    Can you get any permanent health problems from a 5k race, even if untrained? It is not a marathon. Not even a half marathon. As for unpleasantness, it can be really unpleasant doing a 400m dash as well (if you are not conditioned and you go all out).

  3. Robert Park

    The interesting question for me is whether these kids would have been allowed to start walking if they got too tired. Not being able to finish 5k while running the whole time, I understand. I honestly don’t think I would have been able to do that in high school (heck, I still can’t, I’m a lazy bum). But if walking breaks are allowed, I can’t imagine any kid being unable to finish, except the truly obese or malnourished. And I can’t imagine any races where you’re not allowed to start walking if you’re too tired. Totally sounds like a liability thing.

    Another thing. PE was mandatory in university, and you wouldn’t be able to graduate if you failed? /blink That anecdote in the article was even crazier than these races being cancelled. Before, I couldn’t think of a single university where PE is a mandatory class. But now I can.