Rebellion of an Innovation Mom
June 5th, 2011
09:05 AM ET

Rebellion of an Innovation Mom

Editor's Note: Anne-Marie Slaughter is the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter at @slaughteram.

By Anne-Marie Slaughter – Special to CNN

Call it the rebellion of the mother of two adolescents against the Tiger Moms, but what this nation needs to be innovative and entrepreneurial is to ask our kids to do less.

Innovation requires creativity; entrepreneurship requires a willingness to break the rules. The jam packed, highly structured days of elite children are carefully calculated to create Ivy League-worthy resumes. They reinforce habits of discipline and conformity, programming remarkably well-rounded and often superb young people who can play near concert-quality violin, speak two languages, volunteer in their communities and get straight A’s.

These are the students that I see in my Princeton classes; I am often in awe of their accomplishments and teaching them is a joy. But I strongly suspect that they will not be the inventors of the next "new new thing".

Creativity requires a measure of random association and connection and substantial periods of down time, where the mind is allowed to run and turn over seemingly disconnected bits of information, images, and ideas. Richard Florida, author of The Creative Class (follow him on Twitter at @richard_florida), observes that “many researchers see creative thinking as a four-step process: preparation, incubation, illumination and verification or revision.”

Incubation is “the ‘mystical’ step,” one in which both the conscious mind and the subconscious mull over the problem in hard-to-define ways.” Hard to define, yes, but not hard to foster, as long as chunks of the day or the week are left open for relatively random activity: long walks, surfing the Internet, browsing a bookstore, household chores that don’t require too much thought, watching the birds at the birdfeeder and gazing out at the ocean.

Tune In: Sunday 8pm ET/PT as Fareed Zakaria explores why innovation is the key to America's future on CNN.

Creativity gurus often suggest ways to add randomness to your life. Left to their own devices, teenagers are masters at drifting from fad to fad, website to website, and event to event as their fancy takes them, but that seemingly aimless, random wandering is exactly what we are programming out of them.

Entrepreneurship means undertaking something new, something that you create or make happen that does not exist in your space. It does not have to require breakthrough innovation; successful entrepreneurs can borrow ideas that are succeeding elsewhere and transfer them. But our most famous entrepreneurs have a vision and follow it in defiance of conventional wisdom.

One of the nation’s leading entrepreneurs recently listened to me pitch a new idea and patiently told me the many reasons it was unlikely to work and/or that I was the wrong person to make it happen at this point in my life. But at the end of our conversation, he smiled and said: “Of course, every successful entrepreneur started with an idea that other people said would not work but persevered anyway. So go for it.”

Read and Watch: China poses an innovation challenge to the U.S.

To nurture young people who are willing to persevere in the face of deep skepticism or outright opposition, we must reward them or at least allow them to be rewarded for breaking the rules, not meeting our expectations by jumping through an endless series of hoops.

Remember that Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of college to follow their passions.

Can we really imagine kids who have done absolutely everything expected of them both in and out of school being willing to ignore their college courses and their parents’, teachers’, and coaches’ expectation to suddenly pursue their own path?

Check Out: More from the "Global Innovation Showcase" created by the New America Foundation and the Global Public Square.

The U.S. higher educational system recognizes the value of challenging authority; that is what “teaching critical thinking” is all about. I wrote in 2009 that the U.S. was primed to remain an innovation leader precisely because we give A’s for the answers that challenge the teacher’s thinking and B’s for the answers that echo it.

China, by contrast, is not a country where the government is likely to foster challenging authority any time soon. But a genuinely entrepreneurial, creative nation cannot reward such thinking only in the classroom. We must openly value rule breakers, rebels, and iconoclasts and hold them up as role models. Scary stuff for parents of teenagers, of course – we are then inviting them to challenge our authority. And many readers are already no doubt thinking that Gates and Zuckerberg had to get in to Harvard to be able to drop out of it, and their paths in were not exactly unconventional (they both excelled at exclusive prep schools).

Read: Fareed Zakaria's TIME article, The Future of Innovation: Can America Keep Pace?

True, but Gates at least demonstrated a willingness to break the rules at an early age; he and three fellow students got banned by a computer company for exploiting bugs in a program to get free computer time.

For anyone noticing that my two examples are both men, that may not be accidental. I recall many conversations when I was teaching at Harvard Law School about why our women students did better on average than our male students but that the superstars of the class – the kids who were reinventing legal doctrines on their exam essays – were almost always male.

Read and Watch: A brief history of innovation

By contrast, one researcher had found that women were more likely to be at the very top of their class at Suffolk Law School, where they were often the first women or even the first children in their families even to go to law school. My colleagues posited that these young women had had to break the mold at every step, and had been rewarded for it, in contrast to the many elite young women who are rewarded for meeting expectations – for being good girls.

A Princeton study on women’s leadership has just found that women are far more likely to take second chair leadership positions, supporting the organization and getting the work done as vice-chair, executive editor, or secretary, than to have their name at the top of the masthead.

One young woman surveyed referred to “the intensity of self-effacement,” acknowledging the social pressures on girls not to “put themselves forward.” Are not we still much more likely to reward girls for being good, while bad boys get “boys will be boys”? Who is more likely to carve their own path? On the other hand, women who leave conventional corporate and legal career path to be the kind of parents they want to be are then much more likely to start their own businesses because they require the flexibility of being their own bosses, so we may have cultural counter-currents fostering female entrepreneurship later in life.

Read and Watch: Fareed Zakaria on innovation online and on TV.

Finally, Tiger Mothering encourages competition over cooperation. The discipline that competition enforces – in the daily practice of a sport, instrument, writing or performing art – is important for later success of any kind, conventional or entrepreneurial. But the verification or revision stage of the creative process often comes from tossing ideas around among members of a trusted group, as does the courage to launch something new.

In a recent piece on the perception that the current generation of young people are slackers, Jon Gosier notes that their habit of asking for help and wanting to work with others reflects their understanding of the gains that come from teamwork, which “have been learned from the collaborative nature of their childhood activities, which included social networks, crowd-sourcing and even video games like World of Warcraft.”

The corporate culture at hubs of innovation like Google and Twitter encourages employees to hang out together, work together and explore random ideas in a collaborative atmosphere.

Read: Are we still an innovation nation?

Nothing in this post is meant to reflect on the problems with secondary education in the majority of U.S. schools across the nation, where kids need more hours in the classroom and hard work on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. But to be an innovation nation in the knowledge-based, networked economy of the 21st century, we must remember that creativity and entrepreneurship cannot be programmed, and that less is often more.

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Topics: Culture • Education • Innovation • United States

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soundoff (333 Responses)
  1. Ian Gertler

    Terrific summary of what must be reinforced to spur the next generation of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial visionaries to make our world better tomorrow. Alan Kay said: "the best way to predict the future is to invent it." Education, creativity and passion are all part of the formula ... but the equation varies for each person and I'm excited for what's ahead. Yes, cautiously optimistic.


    June 5, 2011 at 11:38 am | Reply
    • Chris2

      Princeton and the other Ivy League schools produce a lot of graduates who have little common sense and are clueless to the real world at the hoi polli level. The youth of today are being poisoned by heavy metals in their body jewelry and toxic chemicals in their tattoo ink. Too much cellphone use has microwaved their brains. The future is in China. Fear Rules. Freedom is mainly useful to the wealthy elite.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Reply
      • checi

        China? You mean that out-of-control toxic chemical dump still ruled by Imperial Communists? i doubt that.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
      • Ivanna

        lol, Chris. Of course China has less chemicals and cell phones poisoning their "creative minds." They have to! hahah

        June 5, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
      • LP

        Yeah, except that most of the great innovators have attended Ivy League schools. Bill Gates, the Facebook guy, the founders of Google and Yahoo, etc. The author of this article seemed to forget that, even as she teaches at an Ivy League school. Looks like her theory is shot.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
      • John Denver's ghost

        Tiger mom's are only good at producing kids who copy the work of others.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
      • John Denver's ghost

        There are a LOT of chinese on here pretending to be Americans kissing butt to China.. Lol..

        June 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
      • Alex

        I think you are confusing successful and Creative. Granted often they go hand in hand, but most of the people you just listed were talented programmers, not necessarily especially "creative". I think that the author is making a generalization. Steve Jobs dropped out of high school and founded apple so I think the point is that there is not as direct of a correlation between college and success as society likes to think.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
      • Aequatio Demon

        No, the future is not in China. It only seems that way on the surface. They are not masters of innovation, they are good at technical and engineering – putting the new ideas together..but not coming up with new ideas. They are masters of copycatting and being analytical though....China will eventually revolt against themselves. the people will want democracy. it will happen...they will not be able to grow they way they want until they stop closing off to the rest of the world and let their own society breathe...

        June 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
      • Deb

        @LP....perhaps you've forgotten that they often drop out of ivy league schools to "create" themselves the down time to think freely and do great things.
        Not knocking Ivy League schools or education, just pointing out your flawed correction.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:34 pm |
      • Steve Olah

        You must be talking about G W B.

        June 5, 2011 at 11:39 pm |
      • Thomas

        Alex, Steve Jobs didn't drop out of high school.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:29 am |
    • Kathy

      What a load of crap. A week ago CNN had an article about how most engineering students end up with English degrees because they can't do the math or science! As a product of TigerNun educators I say education has become a disgrace and we're producing a generation of idiots. I've owned my business for almost 10 years and I'm grateful for the cause and effect of learning and reward, which gave me the confidence to create a very successful business. The resumes I receive from recent college grads and interviews are disheartening. China's fast tracking math and science while we fast track our way into the ditch.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:55 pm | Reply
      • WhigMan

        Kathy sums it up well. There is an inevitability to this which is obvious yet also easy to deny. Every now and then we are reminded of the momentum the Chinese have built up – the appearance of a Chinese Warship off the coast of Libya being the most recent. I am not sure there really is much that could be done now. There was an opportunity to intervene back in the early 2000's but the Bush administration was distracted. Granted there will need to be a quiet democratic transformation before the cycle is complete – but that will happen and then ..... well then we will see.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:41 am |
    • tom

      Entrepreneurship is just a code word to reinforce a capitalist order that funnels money into the hands of a few. Entrepreneurship? To do what? Build a space ship? Invent a new surgical method? A new drug? A new Operating system? C'mon. The most we can hope for is entrepreneurship to build a better lemon aide stand. Meanwhile, governments around the world are organizing money to produce new technologies. While we sit here and dream of the time when it did work... in the past... that is no longer.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:10 pm | Reply
      • Ryan

        Odd form of communist here poster here. Anyone in industry knows that what's "dead" is the idea that government research money produces anything that can be turned into a useful product.

        June 5, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
      • Sentot

        @Ryan. Research that produced the internet was funded by DARPA. I suppose you don't consider the internet a useful product or maybe you don't consider DARPA to be part of government?

        June 6, 2011 at 12:08 am |
  2. j. von hettlingen

    I do believe that nature is the best teacher! Let the kids spend a Sommer in Alaska without any of those indispensible gadgets and comfort! I am sure that will help them be independent, creative and innovative. I wish we could have the ALASKAs and MONTANAs etc. in Europe.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Reply
    • Dannon

      It appears nature is letting you down.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
      • Lisa

        The poster does better with what is obviously not his first language than many native born Americans do. Lighten up!

        June 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Thomas

      I find that really stupid to spend no time with gadgets. I'm a teen who (I would say) is quite innovative. I've been writing software since I was 12. I have drawn a lot of inspiration from the Internet and things on it as well as video games. In fact, inspiration that I drew from Minecraft (a video game) won me 3rd place in a science fair.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:53 pm | Reply
      • checi

        Nerd.....but I say that lovingly.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
      • nick

        Tom... I think you missed the point. I believe he was remarking about the deficit of streets smarts & common sense in Americas emerging generations. Seems like he described you to a "T".

        June 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
      • Eight 1000

        MineCraft FTW

        June 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm |
      • Kay

        No one is saying *never* spend time with gadgets...just to actually spend some real time without them. Too many folks are addicted to their gadgets, and no addiction is healthy.

        By the way, writing software is cool...I do it myself...but there's a ton more things to be creative about than just software. More important, the world really *needs* us to be creative about a ton more things than software.

        Plus spending time without gadgets can actually be quite inspiring, so calling it "stupid" is...well, stupid.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
      • LOL

        In terms of creativity... third place is nothing.

        June 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
      • JP0

        Third place is indeed something, as is not placing at all. It's called a learning experience. Real learning requires making mistakes. Hopefully you learn something from others mistakes but nothing makes you smarter than understanding your own mistakes.

        June 5, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
      • Thomas

        Kay, yeah I probably should have said this. I spend plenty of time outside. In fact, that's how I usually get the creative juices going. In short, I get my inspiration from the Internet, but figure out problems by just doing the randomest of crap outside.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:33 am |
  3. Holly

    What we need is balance! The children don't NEED to sit around all summer forgetting everything. Work and play MUST be balanced to each other. My children are REQUIRED! to sign up for 1 extra activity per semester, summer break included (or I will pick for them, something they do not want! because I will chose summer school vs space camp). On the other hand my youngest tends to be the over achiever! so they are limited to no more than 2 activities per semester. She likes marching band and Community Theater. There is absolutely nothing wrong with forcing them to learn the adult skill of making a decision before someone else makes it for them! Heaven forbid we raise them to be adults bit by bit, rather than shoving in their faces at 18!

    June 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Reply
    • S1N

      Nothing wrong with teaching them responsibility. You must have missed the lesson on not being a fascist c|_|nt though. I hope you die in a fire.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Reply
      • eObserver

        So you wish death on someone and call them despicable names because they want to help their children excel in school? That makes absolutely no sense.

        June 5, 2011 at 5:37 pm |

        What an ignorant comment. Not worth saying anything more.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm |
      • freddiebrown

        I dare someone to write a program that will expose people like S1N above that wishes a complete stranger death by fire.
        Such people have no place in a civil world and they need to be exposed... as in their name, address and email address made public because if people hide behind anonymous postings, they tend to spew the hatred that is already in their belly.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm |
      • Marc

        You go S1n, tell that bitch.

        June 6, 2011 at 12:38 am |
    • Maty

      You missed the whole point- your kids should come to you and say "I'd like to do X", not be forced to choose off a menu you provide. My parents raised me to be independent, now I own my own successful business. I was never a straight-A student or anything, but my folks taught me to want to learn, they didn't make it a 'chore' or 'responsibility'.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Reply
      • Bridget

        I agree Maty. The key is to be in a family or environment that is supportive of freeform thinking as well as structure. Brooklyn Free School is one example where the students are in charge of their own learning and progress. There is adult supervision and guidance but no grades. Sure this makes it harder for the college admittance boards, but the focus is on individual greatness, not checking a bunch of activity boxes. To get a feel for how it is in action listen to Act Three of This American Life:

        June 7, 2011 at 2:55 am |
    • tensor

      Good for you; your kids will thank you. Encouraging kids' decision making skills and sparking creativity, especially in theater and music, these days is harder for parents than it once was.

      * I suspect we all will soon see S1N's progeny on CNN/Nancy Grace or as the late recipient of a Darwin Award.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Reply
    • Maty

      I saw a segment on some news program in which they handed a recent Harvard grad a wire, bulb and battery, with the challenge being to light the bulb. Nearly all of them failed.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Reply
      • nick

        As much as I wish that were true... I find it very hard to believe.

        June 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
      • Kay

        I'm not sure what your point is...or perhaps that of the experiment...because I'll bet the same experiment could be done with kids from many walks of life with varying degrees of education with pretty much the same results. (Oh, and contrary to popular misconceptions, Harvard doesn't restrict its admissions to straight A students with money.)

        June 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
      • Kay

        I'm not too sure what your point is...or perhaps that of the experiment...because I'll bet the same experiment could be done with kids from many walks of life with varying degrees of education with pretty much the same results.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
      • LOL

        "a recent Harvard grad ... Nearly all of them."

        You fail. One person does not equal multiple failures. You can't give ONE person an assignment but have MANY PEOPLE fail. Can you count to three?

        June 5, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
      • JP0

        It's not so hard to believe. I once had a trial lawyer in a patent infringement case ask me "What's a graph?" The patent attorneys understood the details just fine but the trial lawyer who had to sell it to a lay jury blew it.

        June 5, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
      • jrg

        The other day on the PBS News Hour on a segment about how well people plan for the future they reported that when a cross section of the population was asked "if you invest $100 at 2% annual interest, after 5 years will you have
        a more than $102
        b exactly $102
        c less then $102
        and only 50% picked a.

        June 6, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • PB

      Holly is right. Push them (the kids) as well as let them be innovative.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Reply
  4. Sara Au

    It was fortuitous I read this post with one eye while the other watched the five kids in my pool, ages five to 12, navigate the rules of Marco Polo. My son and daughter were enjoying the first of what will be many summer days with their cousins – nothing planned beyond the expectation of swimming, watermelon and grilled hot dogs. I experienced the reality of what Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote unfolding before my eyes in real time. The Tigermom trend resonated in our family, but in different ways than Amy Chua might have expected. My Chinese husband was raised in America but instead of a Tigermom, he had a Tiger grandfather – pushing his grandsons (to a much greater extent than his granddaughters) to learn and excel. All of his grandchildren are successful, well-rounded adults. The next generation, now entwined with other nationalities by marriages, including my Irish roots, is being raised with a wide variety of influences – some more Tiger-ish or innovative than others. As it turns out, I exhibit more Tigermom tendencies than my Chinese sister-in-law. I temper it with a focus on one or two activities (piano, soccer) in earnest, but am also careful to leave enough downtime for free play. (As a working mom without the ability to hire a nanny, I do this by necessity as well as by choice.) Back in the pool this morning, the five kids negotiated like pirates as to whether they had their eyes open when they tagged the other or whether an accidental kick equals a tag, fiercely competitive but innovative in crafting versions of new rules to adapt to their group's sense of fairness. Gender politics certainly play a role, as do age and temperament, but I've learned my best response to most problems is, "You guys need to find a way to work it out." And they (usually) do. Each of them have different interests they pursue in after-school activities, and each are ingrained with the ideas of success enhanced by passion, rules enforced by common sense, and ingenuity expressed through both schoolwork and play. As a parent, I appreciate both Amy Chua and Anne-Marie Slaughter's perspectives, but it is the ability to strike a balance between the two that is crucial to my personal sense of success, as well as my sanity!

    June 5, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Reply
    • Kelly G.

      That was a really honest an admirable statement. I agree with everything you say; you go, Sara Au!

      June 5, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • Rebecca

      I would just like to that I am a 20 year old college student, and while in my personal opinion I have absolutely no shred of imagination in my body I am a pretty intelligent and occasionally creative person. I think what people are potentially going to take from this article is that we should just let our kids sit around and be slugs all the time without any guidance whatsoever. How do you think the dustpan with the handle was made? I guarantee it was probably by some teenager that was forced to get on their hands and knees to sweep all the crap into it. I personally am very grateful for whoever did that =). I really think ingenuity is by doing things and thinking, "gee there's got to be a better, cleaner, more efficient, simpler way to do things. Like a car. Sure horses got people around great, they still do, but cars are better. Letting kids do nothing all summer in my opinion is just asking for them to start doing things they shouldn't be. Like stealing and doing drugs. Growing up I loved school until about 8th grade when it wasn't 'cool' to like school. Throughout my entire life I got decent grades, but it wasn't because I wanted to exactly, but there were things I wanted to do like play sports and do band and such. The deal was you get all A's and B's you get to play sports. I also was required up until high school to enroll in some kind of summer school type activity. Usually it was summer band classes. Nice thing was it was only half the summer.This way I wasn't laying around the house all day or finding trouble. Because believe me if I had had the time I'm sure that laying around at the pool or playing basketball all day everyday would have got old sooner or later and I would have turned to things I shouldnt have been doing like picking fights. I think we need to find a happy medium here. Allowing kids to be kids and just have a great time, but also keeping their minds occupied. On the flip side, dont enroll your kids in avery activity that falls in their lap or ALLOW them to be in every activity. They need to choose a few because everyone gets burnt out even kids. Keeping them doing things till 9 or 10 at night everyday isnt healthy either. Ingenuity is thought up by doing things, not by laying around all day. All of the cool things ive thought up, were thought up because of chores, or because I was doing something that seems counter-productive in my head, but all those ideas came from being in school or at home while doing work around the house. Not by lying around staring at a wall.

      June 6, 2011 at 1:20 am | Reply
      • Fairlady

        Exactly right! As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

        June 6, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  5. Karen

    Totally agree with so many points. As a female entrepreneur starting at age 25 and later working for Corporate America (then to consulting), I have experienced first hand that Corporate America in general is far from understanding and embracing "real" innovation. And it is typically the politically correct individuals who are unwilling to risk that prohibit real innovation. I also believe you cannot really "teach" innovation skills. It comes down to how our individual brains work. Some people are born to think analytically. Some are born to think conceptually. Our country for a couple decades has rewarded linear thinking versus full spectrum thinking. I've met many innovative people in my life and almost all of them have had at least one employer tell them they were "crazy". I personally now see this as a compliment. But this way of thinking is yet to be rewarded.

    June 5, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      Nice post Karen and the reactions of many of my past employer's have called me crazy also but I learned many years ago to take it as a compliment also.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Reply
    • JP0

      I've never been called crazy to my face but I know I am considered strange by some. The same applies to my adult son, another innovator. An lesson learned early in my life was to ignore other people's negative opinions.

      June 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Reply
  6. jrg

    1) Lumping Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg into the same "innovators" group shows only that you don't know what real innovation is.
    2) If Ivy league schools are promoting the wrong characteristics for admissions, what are YOU doing to change that at Princeton?

    June 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • checi

      Zuckerburg's mediocre product merely sells ads. That is innovation? That's just sales.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Reply
      • Credit_where _it's_due

        Zuckerberg and his mediocrity are laughing at you all the way to the bank.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
      • SuhnLvng

        It also helped start a revolution in Egypt

        June 5, 2011 at 7:36 pm |
      • UaintWise

        "Laughing all the way to the bank" is not innovation, it's actually what is hurting society. That and the people who value everything's worth in dollars and cents.

        June 5, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • UaintWise

      1) Both people were copy cats who stole their idea from somebody else.

      2) Ivy League Schools have the right admission standards; but their students are encouraged to cheat and lie, and they often do. In the end they have a piece of paper that carries a powerful name but they're worthless (...and you wonder why the leaders of this country can't think their way out of a cardboard box).

      It doesn't take a genius to see how those two FACTUAL statements are woefully related.

      June 5, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Reply
  7. Maria

    Totally agree! But often, the students at these elite prep schools work the way that they do 'round the clock to build their resumes is because the colleges they want to go to such as Princeton, Harvard and Yale etc., generally admit only the straight A students from their schools. If the Ivies, and then others, have a less stringent approach to the grade point average, and work to find students who are creative and willing to be outside the box...they might admit more students who spent their days taking a walk, gazing at the ocean or browsing a book store...there currently isn't enough time to do that based on their work load and what is required to even make the cut at these schools. The ball's in your court!

    June 5, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • Scott

      Elite prep schools? lol. This is the true story of these elite prep school kiddies: First, they got a ticket to ride because of mommy and daddy. Second, they're being hand-fed and babysitted. Third, teachers know fully well that they better behave and treat these little trolls with respect or else mommy and daddy will retract their donated millions from the universities. If elite prep schools are the only places being sought for innovative and creative students, then this article proves that the OP and her so-called "expert" friends and followers have no clue what they're talking about. How about going down to the local farm or small town, USA and finding some creative and innovative young people there? Ya know why they don't? Because these kids don't have parents with millions to donate to Yale or Harvard. The light doesn't shine out of these kids' rears anymore than the kids from small town, USA. When I hear a 20-something brag and act important, that does not show me they have creative thinking but a limited, shallow mind and many times, these elite schools love to propagate this very arrogance by encouraging this behavior with these kids.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  8. hart

    You had me all the way up until that last disheartening paragraph: "Nothing in this post is meant to reflect on the problems with secondary education in the majority of U.S. schools across the nation, where kids need more hours in the classroom and hard work on the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic."

    In other words more of the same only harder. Real innovators in education are challenging the core assumptions that most people, including apparently Ms. Slaughter, hold as inviolable truths on the path to producing educated members of society.

    Most school is specifically designed to discourage innovation. Even supposedly self-chosen projects like those for science fairs are defined by extremely narrow parameters and success is defined in an even narrower way. Real decision-making and responsibility are entirely removed from the daily lives of even older adolescents.

    Whatever the questions raised by truly alternative education I am grateful every day that my children are able to attend a democratic free school. Innovation is part and parcel of their daily lives at school. Every day they have to come up with concrete and novel ideas that change their lives and the lives of the community around them.

    "More of the same only harder" is not a policy for improving education and it certainly isn't one for producing innovative thinkers.


    June 5, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
    • zoundsman

      Bravo. The writer is deep. In the arts, creativity is exactly what she's saying. I remember Gary Larson (cartoonist
      of the Far Side) saying he was constantly asked how he got his ideas. He said something about reaching down
      into his skull and pulling something out (not really sure). Philo Farnsworth (inventor of the TV) was inspired as a boy of 15yrs.while furrowing a crop field. Zingo, the electron path for the Cathode ray tube was solved-seemingly a random
      connection. Day dreaming, unstressed with the minutiae of life may be the drwaing board for mentally sketching ideas.
      Excellent article, but will be hard for many to understand the value of "downtime."

      June 5, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  9. Tom


    June 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  10. Dood

    It makes sense that a kid who has his whole life planned doesn't have to to learn to create his/her own plan. A person needs to have free time to think; ancient philosophers have always said this.

    June 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  11. hart

    To Maria:

    A few thousand students in total every year are admitted to these few schools and yet our entire educational paradigm for all the millions of students who won't be attending these schools is increasingly built around attaining this result. A massive mythology is structured on the supposed wonderfulness of Harvard and Yale and their ilk and our society has been executing a massive experiment on the lives of our children in aid of this mythology. Few people seem to have stopped to question what kind of disservice this is doing all the students, even elite students, who will not be attending these schools.

    Not to mention the disservice we may be doing our country and our future by producing several generations of burned-out grade-grubbers instead of imaginative and innovative members of society.

    The vast majority of college-bound students, by necessity, go on to lead successful lives without attending Harvard or Princeton.

    The very fact that you regard fighting tooth and nail to try to get into these schools as a foregone conclusion that trumps the entire argument of the article amply demonstrates my point.

    June 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply
    • Maria


      Believe I know that there are an incredible amount of schools beyond the Ivies–I did not mean that you have to fight tooth and nail to get in or you are done...but let's face it...the Ivies set the tone and if real change is going to happen, it would be incredibly helpful it it happened from the top you pointed out, it is because of them that students are working this way, and if they start changing their acceptance policies, requirements, it would make a huge difference.

      June 6, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  12. Texrat the Crypticum Keeper


    You know something is wrong when we have to invent terms like "unstructured play".

    June 5, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  13. Paul NYC

    Hint to parents: Don't stifle your child's creativity. If they want to write, let them write. If they want to sing, let them sing. A human life is only worth living if it brings a certain amount of contentment to a person. Creating generations of business robots is not good for the human race.

    June 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  14. vuduchld

    Very interesting article! This "Tiger Mother" culture is breeding a bunch of kids who are nothing but zombies, with no sense of self or "out of the box" thinking. I see the results of this with people who I work with, great at rote tasks, but lacking any kind of creative thinking or innovation skills. Our world is changing where having a global vision is paramount to success or failiure. If we as a nation think that all we have to do is kkep kids noses to the grind stone with the goal of getting into an Ivy league school or job, then we as a nation are in serious trouble.

    June 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  15. Matt

    While I agree that students should not be put under the "Tiger Mom" mothering barrage that would be that kids life, to say that a student needs more time for self-reflection and time to think is just wrong. I myself am currently a Medical Student, attended a prestigious undergraduate university, participated in varsity athletics in college, sang in a chorus – overall I would consider myself (without being pompous) to have been fairly successful academically.

    But the only time I ever found myself in "trouble" was when I had too much time on my hands. In high school I had plenty of free time because I didn't have to do work to succeed, and found myself playing video games for 5 hours a day. In college, when I was not in season or training, I found that I had so much time that I could watch an entire season of a TV show in 3 days or party with friends far too much. And it was during these times that I fell behind academically the most. When kids are given "free time," most of them will waste it. And those who don't, who do something amazingly productive, those are the kids that would have done just that regardless of the amount of time off.

    Your examples of Zuckerberg and Gates as being people who "had the next big idea" as being mavericks and rule breakers. The only way that they were able to successfully break those rules was by understanding them in their most fundamental form. They didn't "break" the rules, they took the rules and said "I can do the rules better my way, let me change them." But to get to that point, they had to put in the time and energy to be able to truly internalize what it meant to "break the rules."

    As an aside, I think it is an extremely dangerous point to say that we need to give kids more time and less rigid structure when test scores are falling and overall our country is "dumbing down." If the children in question are those who will be attending the top schools in America, then by all means, don't pressure them into 8 hours of studying a day in high school. Let those kids have free time to explore sports, arts, friendships: the normal high school and college things. But to the average student, structure is the only way that we have, right now, to help them improve.

    June 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Reply
    • jjk

      Free time means "free from television, internet and other distractions". The only way kids can become creative and independent thinking grown ups is by having the time to make sense of the world in their own way in their own time. Not being crammed full of 'activities' and then sat in front of educational tv will lead to creativity and innovative thinking. It also helps reduce depression.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Reply
    • badparent

      Right on! It is dangerous to think that kids who graduate from high school in us with math or reading level only comparable to 3rd graders anywhere else in the world (a little exaggeration here) can become more innovative than the rest. Yes, it may be important not to limit well educated children from free thinking activities or environment. People in us needs to realize that the education standard has declined during the past decades that free thinking is no longer the top priority. Let us all make sure our kids and their friends understand that knowing 1+1= 2 is essential to life, not being nerdy. The result of innovation by a person without adequate education, i.e. solid k12 schooling, will turn out to be rudimentary and insignificant.

      June 5, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Reply
  16. Monica Johnson

    This educator hit it right on the mark. I am an old teacher who saw years of innovative teaching in large classes. We educated the kids who were inspired by world events. Kids of all ethnic and social groups, myself included. It was when we went back to pigeonholing and boxing kids into demographics and testing mania that we began to lose the thinkers. Also, I might add, when we eliminated Speech and Dramatic Arts, Visual Arts, Music and Physical Education our culture took a hit. Maybe they should be back in instead of multimillion dollar testing programs and activities.
    Who wants to be like China anyway?

    June 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Reply
    • Knucklehead

      Exactly. The Arts aren't given enough credit for their influence on the hard sciences and other parts of the curriculum. It's a proven fact that music study tends to increase kids ability to understand math. When they play and study music, both hemispheres of the brain get active. Where we get lost, I think, is this: we tend to see education as some kind of fertilizer for the economy; high achievers create new ideas that fuel the economy. But there are other aspects of our life just as important as the economy. The economy is there to serve us, not the other way around. If we would just relax, and quit worrying about "winning" the d@mn economic race all the time, we might actually enjoy ourselves, might actually improve the quality of our lives, even if we don't become as rich as Zuckerberg. Oh, and one other thing: it's not like Facebook is the equivalent of Quantum Theory, or something. It's simply a way to waste time, and produces next to nothing.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply
      • jjk

        Well put!

        June 5, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • tensor

      We will likely see some of our strongest innovators in the current and next generation come from those that are homeschooled, for all the reasons stated in this article: parents who see nothing fertile growing out of stale lowest common denominator public school curriculums. Many homeschoolers are on a parallel track with the upper echelon private schools that emphasize independent thought, classical instruction, art and music – in addition to a challenging scholastic excellence.

      June 5, 2011 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  17. Knucklehead should I do again?

    June 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  18. Pitdownman

    Why are these ideas only applied to the young? All these things are discouraged in the corporate world.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  19. Jeff

    Funny...if the Father does the same thing with their's called...abusive..

    But when the Mother does this...they are called...Tiger Moms.

    Double standard.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Reply
    • checi

      Awww, poor picked on men....

      June 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  20. Jamie

    That's great and all... but I feel like a large number of youth in this country would use all this free time you propose to veg out in front of the tv or play XBox for days on end. If parents don't structure a schedule for them to do, can they at least set rules for things they aren't allowed to do (in excess)?

    You make creativity sound like a virtue of the unambitious. Kids lives can also be structured around self-motivation. Usually, children aren't self-motivating and so without artificial direction will settle into a comfort zone and not explore. This creativity you propose actually requires lots of self-motivation which I would say is a skill that can be developed through an ambitious and rigorous workload ingrained from youth, so that when it is time to rebel they are at least empowered with a solid work ethic and professionalism. (Hate to bust your bubble, but Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did both go to Harvard... despite not finishing).

    June 5, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  21. Janet

    The world doesn't need new lables for motherhood or fatherhood. Grizzly Mamas', Tiger Moms'. What does all that mean. If we're going to have lables then I'm proud of my lable: the June Cleaver Mom. I do everything that June Cleaver does; I cook their meals lovingly. I clean their rooms with care. I talk to them with kindness. I do not punish alone but with my husband, their father. We sit down together at dinner, whether at home or at McDonalds. And with praise come condemnation(only when the kids do something really bad). Being a June Cleaver Mom is something that all mom's should TRY to be.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Reply
    • Leo

      the only type of mom I like is a cougar momma!

      June 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm | Reply
      • Kermit Roosevelt

        Best post in this entire thread.

        June 7, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
  22. Adam Gardner

    My problem with all this is that is still encouraging parents to try and affect too strongly the direction of their child's life, If you don't want your child to watch TV then don't have one, if you want your child to read books, than keep books all over the house, if you want him or her to eat healthy, then have nothing but health food in your pantry, thats about all you can do, give you child a good example and hope it sticks. The fact is , most creative minded children will end up wanting to be musicians or artists, or otherwise fail in their innovations, or will end up unsuccessful, but if they live their lives with joy and conviction what more could you want for them? If you are trying to breed innovation in your child, then you are simply viewing them as so cog for the furtherance of the economy or the society at large, and thats too much to ask of anyone, let alone a child.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply
    • tensor

      The overweening point is that if you want your child to read books, don't just "keep them all over the house" but actually participate – sit and read to and with children, as well as work with them to summarize what they've read – even as little kids – to instill a love of not just reading but of understanding the processes of writing, grammar, etc ... Same holds true of history and geography, math and science. All children crave understanding the world around them; they turn to entertainment, instead, because it is easy and because they haven't learned how to engage with larger, broader interconnected concepts. i.e. how things happen or work, as opposed to just that they do.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  23. Parkity

    How sad that the author lists Zuckerberg and Gates as examples of our greatest achievers. She entirely misses the point. Their products/services are not technologically innovative. Their only "innovation" was doing what it took to make more money than most everyone else. Multi-billinionaires is not what we need to be inspiring our future generations to become. Perhaps the fact that the dear professor - and others like her that teach our children - continue to think this way is the real problem.

    June 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  24. edvhou812

    Are they tiger moms or abusive moms?

    June 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Reply
    • checi

      When did they stop calling them 'Helicopter moms'? I just can't keep up with all these trendy stereotypes anymore!

      June 5, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  25. Patrick FItzgerald

    This focus on innovation and patents is misguided because the US respects intellectual property and will respect Chinese patents even when the Chinese are ripping off the U.S. left, right, and center. But IP in China is not worth a bucket of warm piss because to them it is not a matter of right and wrong. They can steal, they have, it is profitable, and they will continue to steal. 2 good examples. The Geely trademark in China. It is an upside down Toyota symbol. From 20 meters away, it look like a Toyota. But Chinese court says ' we don't think so.' Viagra patent ripped off in China with the express approval of Chinese judges. (Viagra patent has some weight now after China backed down a picometer, the way they Chinese relent to Geithner's pressure – they pretend with a big fake Chinese smile).

    "First, get rid of all the lawyers" comes from a character in a Shakespeare play about Utopia.

    Well, that utopia is China! Mao eliminated all lawyers in 1959. They've been allowed to come back but they are expected to be lawyers as the Nazis used lawyers(li) lawyers with a choice to get beat up and put in a concentration camp or ii) stand up for justice).

    June 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  26. BlackPowerHo

    Was the broad who wrote this article inspired by the Social Network? WTF is a tiger mom?

    June 5, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • checi

      It's another dumb term to make mother's seem stupid for wanting their kids to succeed.

      June 5, 2011 at 6:14 pm | Reply
    • Kermit Roosevelt

      It's a nice way of saying "Dragon Lady".

      June 7, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Reply
      • Kermit Roosevelt

        Or, as it's pronounced in the vernacular, "Dragon Rady".

        June 7, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
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