Race to the Top Turns Obama Into a 'Tiger Mom'

Jeanne Sager

President Barack obamaIf you didn't catch the State of the Union address last night, you owe it to your kids to find a video and watch it. President Obama had some pretty strong words for American parents last night as he unveiled the newest portion of the Race to the Top education agenda. 

The president is going to work on the schools. But first, he says we the parents have got work to do:

That responsibility begins not in our classrooms, but in our homes and communities. It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done. We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair; that success is not a function of fame or PR, but of hard work and discipline.

Did you hear that Mom and Dad? It's time to stop calling the lawyers when your wild child gets a speeding ticket. It's time to stop blaming the teacher for being a big ol' meanie and taking your kid's cell phone away. In short, it's time to stop making excuses for our kids and actually help them grow up. Whoa. Hold up, did I just sound like a Tiger Mom? Did President Obama just sound like a Tiger Mom?

I hate to pull out the new cliche, but there were bits of the president's speech that harkened fairly close to the few gems in the Tiger Mom's parenting style. As the much-maligned (by me included) Amy Chua warned, American parents have gone soft on their kids.

But where she prescribed a path that some say borders on child abuse in its vicious call for perfection, what the president said last night was crafted from the same agenda that made parents like me elect him in the first place. Whatever he's done in the past year, right or wrong, he was elected because he called for Americans to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and return to the middle, to start identifying ourselves once again as pieces of the American dream.

Unlike Chua, he isn't telling us to accept only the best from our kids but to teach our kids there's intrinsic value to every person. In essence, there are many versions of "best." Our kids are all special, yes, but no one is any more special than any other. No one deserves to be held in higher esteem, get more breaks, have excuses made for them.

We, as Americans, are only as strong as our weakest link. First up, teach them about who really matters. The Super Bowl is the prime example. I'm as excited about the Super Bowl as anyone who hates the NY Jets. But at the end of the day, it will matter little to my daughter's life whether it's Troy Polamalu and Ben Roethlisberger holding up the Vince Lombardi trophy or Scott Wells and Aaron Rodgers.

She depends on people like her kindergarten teacher, who is helping her craft the perfect "Q." On the hip hop teacher who is instilling in her both a love of music and the discipline of dance. Her pediatrician. The guy who drives the snow plow to keep our roads safe. Those people are the ones she should look up to right now. They're good, hard working people who keep our lives running smoothly. And I'd be proud if she grew up to take any of their jobs. Yes, any of them.

It's easy to be caught up in the flash of raising a child to be on TV or make a million dollars. We all want the best for our kids, right? But as we "race to the top," we need to remember that each person is a building block in a community, the "top" can't succeed without the so-called "bottom." 

What I heard from the president last night was more complicated than that one snippet in a lengthy broadcast. I heard him calling for Americans to start acting like parents first. It's a hard task, without a doubt the hardest I've ever undertaken. But our country needs us. Our kids need us.

Whether you're an Obama fan or not, do you find merit to what he said about parenting?


Image via Violentz/Flickr

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