All over the world, the middle classes take temporary leave of their senses when they bear their first child and especially when junior is ready to start school. We all know about China's Tiger Mums, but as far as I can see, other countries have ferocious felines too.
Chinese mums are not the only ones loading their tiny ones up with after-school classes, to make sure they do well in college entrance exams (China's own version of this — the dreaded gaokao — finishes on June 9).
I sent my first daughter to pre-school at 20 months, convinced that if she waited to start with all the other two-year-olds, she would never get into Harvard.
By that time, she had already completed courses in baby music, baby swimming, baby gymnastics, baby Chinese (and doubtless some other dumb thing that I have since forgotten about). Last week she finished sitting final exams for her first year of high school. I am not prepared to disclose the results but I think I can safely say that I could have waited on the whole pre-school thing — at least until she could talk.
It seems I am not the only one having a rethink on the idea of academic training for toddlers though, even in China. One of the most popular series on Chinese television recently was Tiger Mum and Cat Dad, about that perennially tortured topic: does ferocity or meekness produce the best gaokao scores? The child in the series has a nervous breakdown due to too much homework pressure: I guess that is your answer. It seems it is no longer so obvious that it is a good idea to start cramming kids for university entrance in the same week you take them out of nappies.
"Parents born in the 1980s, unlike their predecessors, are more aware of the importance of the happiness of their child at kindergarten, instead of just the development of their academic capacities," the official China Daily quoted the general manager of Kids R Kids in China as saying.官媒《中国日报》(China Daily)援引Kids R Kids驻华总经理的话说："80后父母与上辈人不同，他们更能意识到孩子去幼儿园更重要的是快乐，而不再仅仅关注孩子学业能力的进步。"
They would say that, wouldn't they, since Kids R Kids is a US early education company whose motto is "hug first, then teach". You can't sell that kind of thing to Tiger Mum — but there must be more Cat Dads out there than before. Otherwise who will Kids R Kids peddle classes in things like infant sign language and "lying on the belly with friends" to?
当然了，人们肯定会说，这是因为Kids R Kids是一家美国早教公司，其座右铭是"先拥抱孩子，再教授知识"。虎妈是不会接受这套说辞的，不过现在的猫爸肯定比以前多。否则Kids R Kids向谁推销譬如婴儿手语，"与朋友们趴着玩儿"这类课程呢？
The government also seems to be more on Cat Dad's side these days: changes in official education regulations introduced in Shanghai this year halved the number of children interviewing for slots in highly competitive private kindergartens and primary schools, according to state media. Shanghai Daily said the goal was to "ease the parent frenzy about getting offspring into the best schools". Sounds like feline fathers are getting the upper hand there, too.近来政府似乎更站在猫爸的一边：根据中国官方媒体的报道，今年上海出台教育条例改革，使竞争极为激烈的民办幼儿园和民办小学的入学面试报考人数减半。《上海 日报》(Shanghai Daily)表示，改革的目标是"缓解家长对于择校的焦虑心态"。听起来，猫爸们似乎逐渐占了上风。
State media gave this as an example of the kind of question primary school interviewers might ask: You have a 5m pole. If you take a deep breath and climb up 2m, but then slip down 1m each time, how many deep breaths will you have to take before reaching the top?" I'm glad they didn't ask my high schooler that.
Yang Huiyu is a young dad with a child entering primary school next academic year, and he thinks pre-school cramming is a waste of money: he holds up a maths test from such a school — which even includes a few algebra questions — and points out that children only have a limited period to answer the questions. Not for him, he says: "It's just a matter of time, my child will learn this in school anyway," adding that if his son is given more than an hour and a half of homework per night, "I'll ask him to take the unfinished work back to the teacher."
Like many Chinese parents these days, he plans to administer after-school education himself — in a fun way. "I can teach him about physics by telling him the story of Archimedes while he's in the shower," he says. I hope my kids learnt that at school, since I surely wasn't up to teaching them physics at bath time (and if you're rusty on it, I can suggest a good infant cram school). Will he send his son for extra lessons after he finishes his primary school day? "Definitely not, unless he wants to," says Mr Yang. Don't let Tiger Mum hear you say that.