Suicides of Top Students and The Worship of Academic Perfectionism

We previously reported the case of a straight-A student in Singapore who killed herself over two B-grades, despite scoring scored distinctions for her other subjects.

Here’s another story (albeit in the United States) that appeared recently in The New York Times.

Now, if you are contemplating suicide due to academic failure, may we please ask you to watch this video?

We feel that too many students (and their parents) are selling themselves short in the quest for academic perfectionism.

Education — which was meant to be a blessing — is turning out to be a heavy yoke, because it has been substituted into a form of idol worship.

As Christians, we are taught that it is God who supplies all of our needs (Philippians 4:19) and who gives us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). However, society instills into us a false belief that the only guarantee to a bright future is academic perfectionism (and thus, the need to worship at its altar).

The two stories (in the hyperlinks provided above) illustrate that when parents and their children buy into this false belief, it can lead to tragic consequences.

You see, academic perfectionism leaves no room for error, no room for a anything but an A-grade, or for others being better than you.

The spirit of academic perfectionism flogs you into thinking that in order to survive in the world, you need to be ‘Number 1’ in every subject, everytime.

And when you are not the ‘Number 1’, the spirit of academic perfectionism ridicules you and tells you that your life is not worth living.

On the other hand, the Spirit of Christ tells us that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28), meaning that even if you fail to achieve academically what you had set out to achieve, God still has a wonderful plan and destiny for you.

God’s plan and destiny for each of us stands firm even when other people are better than us. Indeed, the Spirit of Christ teaches us to be humble, to think of others as better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

Now, think about it again — isn’t it liberating to be able to acknowledge others as being better than ourselves, yet at the same time, rest in full assurance that God has a wonderful plan and destiny for each of us?

And when we do that, we find ourselves less stressed up, less desirous of making comparisons with others, and more able to become what God had intended us to be.

That’s why the Spirit of Christ tells us: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest“. (Matthew 11:28).

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BITTER HYMN OF THE TIGER MOTHER: Straight A Student Commits Suicide Over B-Grades, Mother Takes Her Own Life Months Later

Judging from the sales of the bestseller “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother“, many parents seem to have taken to the perfectionistic parenting philosophy of the author, Amy Chua, but not realising that there could be a flip (and detrimental) side to it.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Chua disclosed that in raising up her two daughters Sophia and Louisa, she forbade them to “get any grade less than an A” or to “not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama“.

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.”” wrote Chua in The Wall Street Journal.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn’t get them, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because the child didn’t work hard enough. That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it.”

Now, Chua may have succeeded in raising her two daughters this way, but one should be cautious about emulating her, as highlighted by a recent case in Singapore.

Recently, a straight-As student who attended a top school in Singapore committed suicide over scoring two Bs in her GCE “O” levels, reported Singaporean daily, The New Paper.

The GCE “O” levels is the final exam for teenage secondary school students in Singapore and except for two Bs – in English and Mathematics – the student had scored distinctions for her other subjects.

The only child left a note for her parents: “Mum, I am sorry for being a disappointment. I should have done better.”

Dad, I am sorry you will not have the chance to walk me down the (church) aisle to give me away.

The teenager jumped to her death just three hours after learning of her results.

To add to the tragedy, three months after the 16-year-old had plunged to her death, the teen’s mother also killed herself.

According to Madam Ng Siang Mui, the grandmother of the teenager, the teen’s mother had been grief-stricken and guilt-ridden over her granddaughter’s death.

The teen’s parents used to fight over their daughter’s education. The mum wanted to push her to excel and her dad felt that the child should be left alone.

Said Madam Ng, “My Xiao Mei (her granddaughter) was always affected whenever her parents fought over her studies.”

My son-in-law felt very sorry for his daughter. He used to approach me to help him talk to my daughter, to ask her not to push Xiao Mei too hard. He felt that they should let Xiao Mei be, as she was a good girl.

Whenever I tried to broach the issue with my daughter, she’d get angry and tell me not to interfere with the way she wanted to bring her child up.

She often compared Xiao Mei’s results with those of her friends’ children and would ask, ‘How come so and so can do this and you cannot?‘”

Xiao Mei’s mother wanted her to get into medical school.

Madam Ng said that a month after Xiao Mei’s death, her father moved out.

That broke my daughter’s heart. I think it was then that she, too, gave up living.”

Madam Ng recalled the conversation she had with her daughter a day before she killed herself.

She told me, ‘Ma, I shouldn’t have pressurised Xiao Mei in her studies. You didn’t do that to us when we were young and we all turned out fine’.

According to The New Paper, Xiao Mei’s father is now mentally unstable and seeking psychiatric help.

Madam Ng was originally reluctant to speak to the media, but changed her mind later because she hoped that sharing their story could help save lives.

It should be highlighted that Xiao Mei is Chinese, and her profile fits that which Amy Chua had written in the The Wall Street Journal about children raised in Chinese homes.

That said, although Chua esteems the draconian Chinese approach in pushing their children to achieve academically, it’s clear from Xiao Mei’s case that there is a detrimental aspect of it, which Chua did not mention in her book.

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother author Amy Chua with Hilary Clinton

Above:  Amy Chua (author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) with Hillary Clinton (Source:  Facebook)