I mentioned my friend Liz in my blog a while ago. When I forwarded the link to her and said that the website had gotten hits from all over the world, she said “interesting how you’re getting responses from other cultures where one would have thought that conformity was the norm and there was no such thing as a ‘bad boy’.” I asked, “Where on earth is conformity the norm?” This is what she had to say.
Where on earth is conformity the norm? I live in Queens, the most diverse county on the planet. I mix and mingle with people from all over the world. I know many Asian families for whose children anything but conforming to strict norms and expectations is unheard of.
Years ago, when I was a public school teacher in New York City, my counselor colleagues in the town of Syosset, NY, which had an increasing Asian population, lamented the lack of parental participation in the college selection process. Asian students were getting accepted to top-tier colleges in record-breaking numbers without their parents ever coming to school to check on their kids’ progress or attend conferences with the guidance team. When asked why they didn't come to school the reply was, "You only come to school when your kid makes trouble." In those families stellar behavior was the default mode.
In my second career I worked with many young, first-generation Asian and Southeast Asian IT professionals. From the conversations I had with them I learned that there was no way they would have survived having a teacher telling their parents that their behavior was less than expected. Many expressed shock and awe at the way children behave here in the US of A.
When my mother and stepfather first moved to Fort Lee, NJ, in the 1980's, there were many Japanese families who were sent to live in the US for 2-3 years. I heard many of my mother’s Japanese neighbors sitting around her apartment discussing the lack of discipline in US schools. They were incredulous when I described behavior that I routinely encountered as a NYC public school teacher.
The Japanese neighbors said that since their kids would be returning to the Japanese school system they couldn't risk them falling behind in our schools, not only in terms of curriculum but behavior and attitude as well. "The Japanese School" was a private school located in Jamaica Estates, Queens. I was amazed to learn that some of my mother’s neighbors bussed their kids to this school each day, over the George Washington Bridge which took approximately 45 minutes each way. They explained that they would go to any length to see that their kids attended a Japanese school and never set foot in an American school.
I do remember looking over the math work of one of my mother’s neighbors who was in junior high school. As a junior high math teacher I was amazed at the level of work being taught in the Japanese school. When I asked him if he was in a special class he replied, no, everyone takes this level of math. I asked him if it was difficult to keep up. He said he had to work hard because he could not bring home failing grades. His father said that his son was too busy learning difficult material to have time to misbehave.
This discussion took place almost twenty years ago. Perhaps things in Japan are different now. However, the folks I meet in Queens still seem to be hanging on to their cultural norms.