Appreciating “Concerted Cultivation” – thanks to Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’
I used to criticize, and laugh, at the way some Korean mommies schedule their children’s activities, study time, all-kinds of hagwon time… My few collection of books is pitiful compared to a typical Korean’s home library. I had this first taste of shock when I once visited the house of my son’s friend (they were 8 months that time) and I was greeted by a living room with floor to ceiling bookshelf FULL of children’s books. I asked, “Do you read all these to your baby?” Another friend explained that it was typical of a Korean home. I was dazed! I mean, even at 8 months my son loved browsing small books but never got into it for a long time. I never even dared to read to him for so long.
The grueling schedule of children can be so distressing to think about… at least, for me. When I finished reading the discussion on “Concerted Cultivation” in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, I softened my criticism on the tendency of the Korean mothers to control their children’s schedule in the name of competitiveness. I am still not taken by the whole system. I still would not allow my son to go home at midnight from various hagwons for various after-school lessons in the name of competitiveness. Just this morning, one Korean mom I talked to admitted that most moms spend so much money for nothing. Anyway, this is not what this post is all about. But after reading about “concerted cultivation“, I have a new-found respect (not necessarily admiration) for the Korean mom’s ways.
Malcolm Gladwell discussed the concept of “concerted cultivation” in his book “Outliers” as one of the advantages that outliers experienced while they were growing up. This concept was from a sociologist named Annette Lareau who described it as a “middle-class parenting style which attempts to actively foster and assess a child’s talents, opinions and skills“. Parents who use this parenting style “talked things through with their children, reasoning with them”. “They expected their children to talk back to them, to negotiate, to question adults in position of authority”. This parenting style also encourages providing a different sets of schedules to children, exposing them to constantly shifting set of experiences. Schedules would be good to children as this would give them an idea on how to “cope in highly-structured settings”. Korean children who adjust very well to their tight daily schedule would be good in this. They have an early start from this very early training. This is also actually the reason why I am convinced to bring my son to day school twice a week and I am contemplating on making it three times a week. His sense of schedule would be highlighted. For now, he has an idea that on Mondays and Thursdays he goes to school for two hours a day. Other days of the week are scheduled playgroups with different playmates. I say scheduled playgroup because we are lucky to be requested by different moms to have a playtime with my son. He is enjoying his playtime with these boys very much. Well, as they say, education is not limited to the four walls of the classroom:-).
Because of this parenting style, children would have a sense of “entitlement“. Annette Lareau has a positive definition of the term:
“They (children) acted as though they had a right to pursue their own indidvidual preferences and to actively manage interactions in institutional settings. They appeared comfortable in those settings; they were open to sharing information and asking for attention… It was common practice among middle-class children to shift interactions to suit their preferences.”
I would love to see my son having a sense of “entitlement” in a non-aggressive and non-confrontational manner. Lucky him he has a daddy to model after. He could learn a lot of negotiating skills from his Dad. I imagine I would end up exasperated from the negotiating table from the two of them.
At 31 months, he now knows what he wants and often bargains with me to get what he wants. That’s a good start. I can say, he is a free spirit! I have a non-Korean friend who has a number of times told me that I should control my son. The first time she said that, I was taken aback. Mothers just don’t say that to other mothers! Yes, compared to her son, my son could be described as “wild”. She has a good son who stands still upon hearing her raised voice. I learned my lesson a long time ago not to “try to show and prove to the other mommies around me that I discipline my son”. I could always do it in the privacy of our home. Not seeing me angry towards my son may have prompted her to comment like that. Upon sharing it to my husband, he just advised me to charge it to being “lost in translation”. She still keeps on seeking my son’s company for her son.
One thing that I wouldn’t want to destroy on my son’s personality is his free spirit. As long as he is not hurting others and does not do the hitting first, I let him manage on his own. That’s how he enjoys his childhood. That’s how he learns. And I believe, that’s how he will manage to bring himself to “shift interactions to suit his preferences”. Another thing that I tolerate is his frequent, and often, repetitive questions. I don’t want to kill his curiousity. I am sure most parents tolerate this from their own children. Being given answers to their questions, no matter how trivial, would give them a sense of “entitlement”. They would feel that they are entitled to ask and to be answered. This would encourage them to speak more confidently.
I don’t wish for my son to be a genius. I don’t wish for my son to have the highest academic honor but I do wish for him to be able to face all sorts of people with confidence. I don’t wish for him to have the highest IQ but I do wish for him to have social savvy. Gladwell calls it “practical intelligence“. It is a “set of skills that have to be learned. It has to come from somewhere, and the place where we seem to get these kinds of attitudes and skills is from our families”.
I just hope that hubby and I would be able to provide this kind of environment to our children.