Unintended Consequences of That Whole ‘Tiger Mother’ Thing

November 13, 2012

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.