Hey guys, welcome back to Mom Brain. I’m Hilaria and I’m Daphne and today we are talking with Teru Cavel, who is a comparative education expert and author. She’s a mother of three, she has raised her children in a few different countries. And she has a lot to say on our education system. Now, I love being able to hear from someone who’s experienced education out of this country and then inside the US and being able to compare them and honestly some of the stats that she’s sharing about just the state of education right now is extraordinarily eye opening. Alright guys, enjoy!
Teru Clavel 1:54
So I’m Teru Clalve. I am an author and an education specialist and I specialize in comparative and international education. I’ve done some TV work and I love talking about parenting and education as it relates to globalization. My book is called World Class and it has recently been an Amazon bestseller. So I’m happy about that. And I’m working on my second book, and it’s actually going to be a series for kids, 8 to 12. And so I’m hoping that, because it’s hard for a lot of parents and teachers to have conversations that we’re having, with our kids, so hopefully I can go directly to the source. And I’m writing books for kids next. You can find me pretty much everywhere. You can Google me, Teru Clavel, @teruclavel on Instagram, Twitter, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, I’m forgetting one… LinkedIn. I have a website. Yeah, you can find me on Amazon. I have a Simon & Schuster Author Page. But reach out to me, I love talking about this stuff. And I have three kids and right now they’re 15, 14 and 10.
So we’re in those ages where we are thinking a lot about education, a lot about school, what are some really important things that we should think about when we are in our school search?
Teru Clavel 3:03
The first thing that I always talk about is look at the community. Look at the parents, because the children are directly a product of the parents. So even though what’s happening in the classrooms and the teachers and the curriculum and maybe the equipment, that’s all really important, the reality is, those kids come in with a certain set of values. And that social interaction is most important, actually. And I hope I went through this because when my oldest was in preschool in Hong Kong, I was so worried because he had this amazing relationship with his teacher. And normally in that school, the teachers move up with the students when they go to the next grade. Oh, and they said that she was getting promoted. So they’re going to get a new teacher. So I go to the head of the school and I go, this is a problem. I don’t know what to do. And the head of the school who was one of the 60 year old veterans in the education system said, really the most important thing are his friends. And I thought, okay, I don’t believe you, but we’ll see. And it actually was it was really, really true. So I would say Anything talk to the parents. Current parents are probably more important than those who have had kids who graduated already, because schools change all the time. And you’ve probably heard even from grade to grade class to class are so much variability. So I would say look at at the parents that make up the community. The second I would say is definitely look at the teacher. There’s nothing more important in the class in the school than the teacher. I mean, you could put a really accomplished teacher in in a ramshackle building with students, but if he or she is qualified to be teaching, that’s the best thing. So look at the teacher attrition, the turnover rate, what kind of training they have, what kind of schools they’ve taught up before and look at their professional development requirements. That is really, really important. I would say if you’re only looking at a couple of things, look at look at those two things.
So you had an opportunity when your children were young to live abroad, up in Asia specifically and it feels like it set you ablaze, set you on this course of life. Is there something going on with America’s education system right now that you think is a problem or the
Sure, so as background for your listeners, so the NAEP scores came out, and that tests fourth and eighth grade American students, US students, and it showed that we are pretty much on a decline or flatlining on a decline. Last week, the PISA scores just came out in that tests 15 year olds across 79 cooperating economies and countries. And it showed that in science reading, and in math, American students, again, are flatlining, or in the case of math, declining. So that’s just a fact in terms of the background.
And that’s just on core competencies like being able to do basic algebra, being able to I guess, at 15, you’re doing calc, maybe?
Teru Clavel 5:43
Well, so no, that’s a really good question. So what it tests is people, it’s only a two hour test, and it tests in three subject areas. So what’s really interesting is, it’s not about knowing what two plus two is. It’s about applying those concepts that you learn in math, reading and science to real world scenario. So it’s mostly word problems. So if you go to the pizza joint, and you have three pieces of pizza and you’re sharing with a friend, and then you have different prices if you have pepperoni or not. And then so it’s a very straightforward, kind of how are we raising our kids to succeed in the real world? And the PISA test actually doesn’t just test for academics, but it also looks into socio economic backgrounds. It looks into mindset, academic resiliency. So it tests a bunch of different different things, even how US kids perceive their life satisfaction, which is actually much lower than we think. And their mindset is actually much lower than those of other countries. And something else that I think is really interesting that it showed,
Teru Clavel 6:43
Yeah, really alarming. And see, what I hear often is because I wrote a book on education systems of East Asia and I did spend two years in Palo Alto where my kids went to the local public schools there. But we often think that East Asian countries are too rigorous to academic you know, the whole Tiger mom association. But the PISA scores showed that US students think their schools are far more competitive than those kids that are in their East Asian schools.
Teru Clavel 7:08
And they’re far less collaborative. So that’s a really, really interesting finding as well.
But do you feel like that’s because there are more variation of kinds of schools in this country? Like I was in China, back in 2003. And, and it was amazing to me how educated the kids were, how structured it was. And again, this is just me looking in. So I, this is my memory of it. I remember that, that at least they were telling me that there was, there’s the parent’s bedroom, the children’s bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen, the family space/eating space and then the child study because it was so important for the child to study. So even the architecture of these homes, the child had to have a study. Sure. And I wonder if there was so much that was it. There’s just not an another option that that’s what the option is, you go when you do this, whereas you’ll see in this country, there’s for better for worse, there’s a lot of options out there. So I think we’re aware of it. Do you feel like I’m oversimplifying it?
Teru Clavel 8:24
No, I think you bring up I would say two really valid points. To go back to the diversity in this country. Absolutely. We have socio economic diversity that is a problem. I mean, if you are born in the 10%, most underprivileged or socio economically disadvantaged, let’s say, taxed district, that means your public schools are probably going to be underfunded, and you’re not going to get the best teachers which is what what you should be getting. And based on these comparative test scores, and the surveys that are done, what we see is that the least socio economically advantaged kids in China have the highest growth mindsets, meaning they feel like they have the most opportunity. And they are getting a top quality education compared to our kids. If our most disadvantaged kids were studying in China, they would be performing years ahead of our kids today.
I I think it’s also the parents mindset, because I remember that the parents were so focused, this is their child, this is when I believe when you can only have one child, this is their child that is going to lead the family name. And so that child has a lot of responsibility on their shoulders. Whereas in lower income, you know, maybe the parent is working all the time, they can’t be focusing on the kid and that’s almost sometimes unfortunately, that’s the that’s the last thing, not at all, all homes, obviously. But there is that that element of some of some families that are struggling in this country, that that the kids aren’t getting focused on, then you send them to a school that might not be that good and there’s not a lot of resources and they can kind of get lost in the shuffle. Whereas I remember at least from being in China, that was their entire focus, was their child.
Teru Clavel 10:05
I would agree with that completely. I mean, there’s many stories where families will get a mortgage, second mortgage, sell their car move wherever they need to, to fund their child’s education. And I lived in China when the there was a one child only policy, so I had three kids and a country where I could barely speak the language. And there were school notices that were constant. I mean, it was like and they were printed on basically newspaper. I mean, it was horrible, either be crinkled, I couldn’t understand them. I had to hire a college student every day who came after school to translate all the notices for me. And that prioritization of school, it’s a national value. It’s it’s culturally prioritize, like you said, I will tell you having been socialized to be a parent in Asia, I have a room that’s a separate study room. I’d rather put all three of my kids in a single room and have a separate room as study room, than to have them have their own rooms or desks in them.
Even just what you what you just said, feels like the parent is at school. As much as the children are at school like they are, they’re testing your willingness to be the guardrails, the extremely involved, the, you know, hiring someone to come and translate all the notices you’re getting from them constantly. That’s a huge expectation.
Teru Clavel 11:13
Actually, I just want to say in Japan, Japan, that may be the case. And that’s definitely something where there are more socialized gender roles where the birth rate is going down, because there’s just so much pressure on the moms and I talked about this in World CLass, where if you have a child, for every child to have an elementary school, you have to volunteer a year on the PTA, and that can literally be a full time job. So it doesn’t matter if you are a doctor or lawyer, whatever it is, you still have to do one year of volunteering, and it’s usually always, always always the mom. And in contrast, in Shanghai, basically, it was two sets of grandparents instead of parents and one child, right. So you have, if you do the math, you have 2,4,6 you know, six adults who are focusing completely on one child. So although I went to pick up almost every single day, I would say probably every single day, the pickup, there’s almost no parent. It was typically grandparents who were there because the parents were working, they were dual income homes that way. And the entire future of that lineage depended on that child,
but the kids are happy I was gonna say So talk to me about how the kids are in such good headspace having all of that pressure on them.
But that’s the thing as well as that there’s a tremendous amount of pressure I, you know, in private conversations with some people they were telling me how if they and please guys don’t generalize this because this is just my conversations with some people. This is me very uneducated about this just my experience there is that that the parents would say if my child doesn’t do well, we’re going to be looked down by other families in their community. Because the the and they use the word ostracized will be ostracized by other people in the community that because your entire focus is on the future and that’s resting on one person’s shoulders. So it’s the entire family rallies around this one kid. So, you know, I mean, I think it depends very much on if the child’s you know how the child thrives, how they, how they learn if that is going to make the child happy or not happy within the day I remember and correct me if I’m wrong. So again, this is just information that was given to me their, their day was structured by the government as well in terms of you know, there was a certain amount of play, there was a certain amount of focusing on extracurricular activities and, and so on. Am I wrong? She’s looking at me like, I’m not so sure about…
Teru Clavel 12:27
No, I’m thinking about it, because actually, so education to us is highly decentralized. It’s not only not by the federal government, it’s not only just by state, it’s actually by school districts. Japan is highly centralized. It’s all done by their ministry of education, which is like our Department of Education in DC. China’s highly decentralized. So when I talk about Shanghai, it’s a first tier city, their second, third tier cities and then their provinces in the rural areas. And in Shanghai, so they have their own they have the most decentralized, free kind of, they create their own curriculum, I guess is the best way to say it. And within China, Shanghai is known to have probably the most advanced or highest.
So you’re saying by districts so basically maybe where I was, that was their rules, but that not is is not necessarily all of China.
Teru Clavel 14:17
It may, I mean yeah, I don’t think it is. Yeah. But within Shanghai, they have different types of schools, for sure. It is more regulated, absolutely, than it is in the US. But so here’s something that I think is really interesting. It’s, you know, in the US, and I don’t know if you have this experience with your kids, but the curriculum can change, you know, year to year, day to day, week to week, and if you have twins, like what one is learning and one classroom could be completely different from what your other one was learning another classroom, and you know, a teacher can go home, like, “Oh, this is so cool. I’m lesson planning. This is a new app I can use or maybe I’ll teach it this way. ” And there’s so much flexibility, and that’s a beautiful thing in the US. But it can also not be a good thing. If you have maybe a teacher that hasn’t been trained right to be able to or not have motivate areas or what you know. So it can go both ways. Whereas in places like China, Japan, for instance, in China, the curriculum is reformed every five years. And in Japan, it’s every 10 years. And that when I was in Japan, I made this joke because I was an education journalist. And my editor would say, you could say, Okay, can you do the education roundup for the year? And I’ll make this horrible joke, I’d say, just print last year, you know, cuz I think nothing changes. But there’s a beauty to that, because what ends up happening is in that time between curricular changes, they’re evaluating every single, you know, possibility of if we if we change this, how are we going to tweak this? How are we going so the social emotional development, the morals training, the social social studies curriculum, it’s, it’s so interdisciplinary, right? And the professional development that goes along with it too is the teachers are getting trained because of professional development hours are so high. So in the US where you know, you can be a teacher, you can get your credential or license and then it’s very easy to keep up your license. In the US, whereas in China and Japan, you have to go through hundreds of hours of professional development, classroom observations. And even psychiatric mental evaluations are so many things that it’s almost like becoming a doctor where you can’t keep your license unless you’re up to date or same for, for lawyer, you have to be up to date on the latest.
Let me think about interest in terms of how the next generation is so treasured in China, that of course, the people that are going to be juniors will a better, you know, the quality better be the best of the best. So, you know, we’re, we’re in this country, and we have the education that that we have, what are certain things that we can do in our own schools? You know, there’s tons of people that I know that say, I don’t have the ability to move to go to a different school, I can’t pay for a fancy private school. So this is this is what it is, what are different invest and say you’re not that person that can go and get on the PTA because you’re working all the time. I mean, there’s like, even for me with with my kids schools, I struggle you know, I struggled to be able to find the time to even have playdates with them you know I mean our kids they get home they go to school they leave at 7:45 in the morning, our kids get home at like 4:00/ 4:15pm and then it’s bedtime you know, it’s we spend some time and then eat and bedtime and then you know, weekends are weekends, you know mean, but the amount of time is very small. So how can we improve our ability to to create these education places for our kids?
So the way I think about it is I break it up into micro and macro issues because there’s so many things like you said, it may take a lifetime to change kind of the macro level policy issues. And those changes may never happen while your child is still in school. So what can you do on the micro level as a parent at home, and one of the first things I say is, and this is a buzzword now, but this idea mastery, and I go back to okay, so as a parent, your values. When you talk about it, education. And I also say you can never start too soon. I mean, literally, when you’re starting to talk to your child, when they’re first born, start talking about these things. What is an education? What does it mean? What is the privilege of an education? Is it reading all the time? Is it getting a certain score? Is it making good friends? Is it evaluating your friendships? Is it art, music? What is it about art and music? But these are things, because we are we’re really, really busy. So talking about those things. So for example, I, when I talk to parents, I’ll get a question, you know, well, “how am I supposed to watch their homework or do all this stuff when I’m taking them to club soccer five days a week?” And my answer to that is, okay, well, as much as we want to say kids don’t want approval from their parents or it’s not good for them to get the every everybody wants approval. For me. It’s just human nature to be validated, right. But if you’re showing your kids that you’re spending that much time taking them to club soccer, but you’re not asking them about their education, they’re going to want to get really good at soccer, and they may not really care that much about their education. So it’s modeling that behavior for them or our Oftentimes I’ll say my kids just don’t read. And I’ll say, “well, how much do you read? Do you show them your reading?” Because you are their most important role model. Right? So these are conversations that we should be having. And you know, certain families have different levels of expectation within school, so I can tell you, and this was a heart wrenching story, actually, that I thought when I when I had my oldest in school in Shanghai, when he was in elementary school, and he was kept after school and then I had to pick up my two younger ones from preschool, I can’t speak the language, we were kind of not really allowed as non Chinese nationals to even have my kids in the public school, so I was not going to make a fuss, right, and but he’s in this school, and he’s kept after school his with his math teacher, and he’s kept late is like 10 minutes, 20 minutes, I swear every minute felt like it was like a gazillion years and, and I’m going, you know, pointing at my watch, like, we have to go, we have go, to and he starts crying. I’m going oh my gosh, this is a disaster. I’ve destroyed my child. He’s gonna hate school forever. And the long and the short is, he was kept after school that day because he didn’t get a 95% on his arithmetic quiz. And that was very normal, if you didn’t get it, you just stayed after school. And you stayed until as long as it took to understand the material, to master it. And he only started crying because I was putting so much pressure on him to leave. He thought it was normal. He said, “Oh, lots of kids stay through dinner.” Which is, that’s the level of mastery. That’s the level of expectation. And when you think about a class like math, it’s foundational, right? You’re not going to do well in calculus if you don’t know your basic arithmetic. And I bring that story up because I was socialized to parent there, so within our family, it’s like, that was always the kind of the standard. 95 is a little high, but you know, but it’s like in this country, you can pass at a 60 or 65. And what is at 60 or 65? So it can be, you know, when you get your report cards, some of that can be based on pure class participation or attitude and they may not even know how to read, write or spell properly. I mean, these are things that parents can really look into and have these conversations all the time, you know, and talk about, “Oh, what did you read today? What did you think of it?” You know, and don’t force the kids to To give whatever answer you want, have them initiate the conversation and prod, you know, you’re you’re, you’re managing their educations. I mean, it breaks my heart, when I go to parent groups, sometimes they’ll say, so why do you think your kids want to go to school? Or why did they go to school? And I’ve been to sessions, because I run workshops and some parents are like “because it’s the law.” I mean, that is such a low bar, that hopefull, we think it’s the gateway to opportunity. Because it is. I mean, if you are, you know, let’s say, as an adult, you’re down and out. You’re 25, 30, 35 you’ve been laid off or you have some some tragedy in your family. The people who are most educated have the most options to pivot. Right?
Teru Clavel 22:01
I think it’s interesting that you drew the analogy to Tiger Moms and that like this is like a buzzy thing for Americans that that this idea that it’s only because the mothers are there like driving them forward and withholding the affirmation that kids are so motivated to perform what you just said feels like your son was the one who was like, No, I meant he socialized to because his peers were these words around him doing the same thing.
But but it sounds like the motivation was very internal for him. He was actually if anything educating you about how to…
…care about education the way that he did. And I think you said that, you know, you you were culturally you know, educating and in Asia now that you you sort of brought that same way of thinking back now, is it different than the way you see parents of your kid’s friends parenting? And like, are there things that you would say? You would sort of try to teach them that maybe it would be helpful?
Well, certain things, I would say, so when you walk into our home, the first room that you see, it’s an apartment in New York City. But the first room to our right is our study. And everybody including me, we all have desks in the room. And that’s our room that’s
Everybody works in that one room?
Teru Clavel 24:24
Everyone works in that one room. And so the kind of the stories I told before, like if your kid isn’t reading, or here’s a good one, when we came back to the US, and this was in 2016, and my youngest was in second grade at that point, and my older two I had, what grades?.. I had a fifth grader and a seventh grader. And then my daughter comes home and she says, “Ugh, I’m just not good at math.” And I’m looking at her like, “what?!”, I’ve never heard this before for my children because it didn’t exist. I mean, maybe math is easier or hard for certain children, but you still do it, and everybody can do it. It’s just a matter of how to learn the content. So There I am looking at her. And it’s kind of this mindset thing too. So, parents, teachers, they bring that mindset with them, they’ll say, “Oh, I’m just not a math person. I don’t read many books or I’m just not a good writer.” And it’s really easy then to give these kids around you, whether you’re a teacher or parent, a pass, it’s permission to not be it.
It is tricky. I mean, I am one of those people that I have said my entire life, and I’m gonna put myself out there like, I’m not good math. I’m not good at math. And part of it is because I didn’t get a great education in math, part of it is because my brain doesn’t actually work that way, part of it is because I was really good at other things. And so I was very focused on wanting to do those other things. But it is difficult, you know, when, for our listeners to say, you know her saying “Well, I’m doing this and I’m doing that and I’m doing the next thing and doing this thing. I don’t have the resources to get tutor. I myself am not good at math.” You know, it ends up being this whole….it’s difficult and when you don’t have you know, and this is seems to be kind of part of your point when you don’t have a whole system like you would in China where, well, if you didn’t get this on your arithmetic, you’re going to stay after class and we’re going to help you figure that out. If you don’t have a system and…
But it’s also not punishment, it’s like here, you’re gonna stay, you’re gonna get detention.
No and that’s what I thought! I thought he was getting in trouble!
And you’re going to learn it!
And you get something additions, it’s a bonus,
It’s, you know, free tutoring!
And you’re not stupid because you need it. You just haven’t gotten this concept yet. So that’s on me as a teacher, I’m going to stay here and help you. Which goes back to the resource question, because if you’re not able to pay your teachers, a salary that would allow them to have that extra time with every student that they have, or there’s so many students in the class that are not at the professional level, that they can devote those resources, we kind of leave ourselves in a unwinnable situation.
Yeah, so I’d say two things to that. I’d say we definitely have to revamp our teacher recruiting and retention and professional development in this country. I mean, there’s no question that we can’t fault our teachers, not in all cases, but you know, for the most part, we can’t because the teacher training is so poor in this country…
And the pay! And how teacher’s are getting… I mean that’s really it comes in, how are you going to retain them if you’re not treating them well.
Teru Clavel 27:11
Exactly. So I mean, being a first year teacher in this country is miserable and other countries, there’s mentoring for year after year, you know, and you’re going to get assigned to teacher mode for the most part in your school who will take care of you. And here. I mean, first year teachers are absolutely miserable. How are you going to retain them? And it costs so much money on our system to keep finding new ones and keep training them and then losing them. So we definitely have that problem here.
What about internal motivation? I think that you know, lots of parents are concerned about are curious about, you have young kids, you have older kids, how do you get them to want to learn for themselves, to value that hard work that it takes, and to not do it just for the external validation, but for something internal as well?
I think it’s really having those conversations really early. On in showing them and role modeling for them, what those opportunities are, how empowered you are, especially in a country like ours, where we are very capitalistic. And it’s really hard, especially today, to move ahead without an education. And so there’s, you know, something called intergenerational mobility and ours is going down, meaning so much of your life is predetermined by who your parents are, and what kind of opportunities you are given by them. So hopefully, we can change that around a little more and show that the education can move the needle, but you know, it’s showing them… Okay, so here’s an example I like: Even if your kid does badly on a test, and they fail a test. I mean, I hope I actually shouldn’t say I hope you fail the test, but I failed the test before and those hurt more than anything. I remember those. And I remember the content on those more than anything, because it was humiliating, right? And so those experiences, when you show your child, okay, so how good did it feel to learn that content and that struggle? It’s something we’re taking away from our kids all the time at home, in the classrooms and our community…let your kids fail! Let them fall, don’t always go in and fix their problems for them. Because all they all they learn is that “Oh, someone can come fix my problem for me.” You know, and we’re so on top of them, in the classrooms they’re getting multiple takes on a test, on a project, on an assignment, which, you know, we all need training wheels, but at some point they have to come off. And then we have this issue whereby our 18 year olds, 22 year olds, are not launching, their encumbered with debt from college, but we have to be better about supporting them and showing them, show them, give examples give them by biographies, your own examples of what an education did for you. And Hilaria, I would say to you, so you see you’re not a math person and I can tell you, and I’m very open with my my holes in my education in World Class. I mean, how I got an Ivy League education, never taking geography, never took physics, how is that possible? You know, these things I… chemistry, I did miserably in and these are hangups that I have, but I think I went the other way and it’s almost like since I felt very handicapped by that, I learned this in Asia too: I don’t want to give that to my kids. And there have been studies that show that Asian parents, regardless of how they were educated, they will give every opportunity to their kids so that they don’t have that. Whereas in the US, it’s almost like we’re giving them a pass. You know, so what do you do with that? And I’m, and I’m thrilled to say, I think that’s why it was so hard with my kids about math too. It’s like, you just have to learn it and whatever we do. So in terms of resources, which is something that you addressed, you have to pull your community resources so if you can’t hire a tutor, get a tutor to meet with five kids after school. You know, go online, I don’t like… this may be controversial…I don’t like his learning online. I think it’s, it’s deteriorating their brains, it’s atrophying, they don’t retain stuff, I can go on and on about that. But as a parent, you can learn this stuff online, and then spend time with your kids on it. You know, and again, pull your resources, look at the community. I mean, there were so many, countless times I went to the library and like look for retirees or like a college student who was maybe in a gap year or someone who just graduate from high school, high school kids, when we lived in Silicon Valley, everybody’s starting a startup, right? And they’re all need to make money. I mean, they can be Uber drivers or they can be tutors. So I’d be like, will you come work with my with my children. So find anybody you can and prioritize it in a way that okay, maybe you’re not going to go out to dinner. Maybe you won’t have a family movie, maybe. I mean, my kids will probably… I felt good actually, I heard Obama being interviewed and saying that his mom made him do this. But in Japan, I woke up my kids a little early, 10 minutes early and we did math drills for 10 minutes every morning.
Like flashcards and stuff like that.
Teru Clavel 31:33
Yeah, it depends, so I just had a sheet and every morning, and they had to fill out, it had, I don’t know 50 to 100 kind of math problems. And they were grade it themselves. And then they would be proud with whatever score they got.
You’d have three different versions because your kids are all different ages?
Teru Clavel 31:49
Yeah, I had different versions.
Do you have like a workbook you would pull out from? Or you just made them up..
Teru Clavel 31:53
Yeah, I made them myself!
I think your next thing needs to be workbooks with tear out sheets and stuff like that. I’ll sign up for it.
Yeah, I know, a mailer of just educational games you can play with your kids.
Like this is what you shouldd do every single day.
Teru Clavel 32:06
Do you think that just primed their brains to go and learn better at school? Or you think it just gave them a sense of like, I want to accomplish therefore, I’m going to learn?
I think it’s a bunch of things. You know, I was asked this question recently, at a book talk I gave, someone in the audience asked me, “so do you think your kids have different brains and different capacities?” Because so they’re trilingual? Right? Because they went to school in Mandarin and in Japanese and I taught them English at home, and now they’re in school in English. “And are they different?” And I said, “Oh, completely, but at the same time, that’s the way a lot of the world educates their kids.” So while I want to say, “Oh, yeah, they’re super special.” They’re really not because most of the world I mean, if you go in many countries in Europe, kids speak five plus languages, right? So we’re already at a disadvantage. So as much as we want to say, “oh, every child should speak Spanish or Mandarin.” It’s like, well, that actually just helps the brain development and the code switching and an appreciation for different culture. I mean, there’s so many things we can get from it. Just for neuroelasticity, actually,
Well they say especially with Mandarin.
Teru Clavel 33:12
Yeah, there’s a lot of memorization and rote just to be able to read and write and Mandarin or Japanese. There are a lot of languages where there’s a lot of memorization, and that requires a lot of discipline. And so that’s something that carries through in life as well.
How do you give that your kids discipline? Maybe yourself discipline, in ways that are not just about education? Like does it carry through the rest of your day? I mean, because they’re in school, eight hours a day, do you feel like there are behaviors that you exhibit throughout the rest of your day that sort of reinforce that somehow? Are you very structure the rest of day? Are you very loosey goosey or you do eat the same meals? Do you do, like, Taco Tuesday every Tuesday? Do you change it up? Like I’m fascinated by the way that organized people live their lives. (laughing)
Teru Clavel 33:37
I think it’s a great question! I have to say so when my kids were really little and you know three kids! And you have more than I do. You know, we had that typical board, you know, the family board where everybody’s schedule was up, and everybody knew everything. And then, for some time, I think I had the weekly dinner menu and, and so again, I went on another book event at someone’s home, and I went to their wall, and it was exactly the same, and my heart almost, I was like (gasps), it made me so nervous. And I was like, wait, but I did that, too. You know what I mean? It’s this funny thing where I feel like, maybe it’s just age and I’m getting tired, but my youngest is now 10 and she’s probably benefited the least from that because it’s kind of like you know, and my older to say this to all the time, they’re always like, when we were your age, we were a bit by seven! She made us go to bed by seven! And these days, I’m like, you want to watch TV? It’s like 10 at night!
Teru Clavel 34:45
It’s so bad!
She’s gonna rule the world. What does your husband do?
Well, actually, I’m going through a divorce right now. But he was a banker. He was in finance.
Is he all like on board for the way that you do things as well?
Teru Clavel 35:05
That’s a really interesting question. I would say, while we were together, he was gone most of the time. He traveled all the time. So for the most part, I feel like I was a single mom, which in some ways is easier in some ways isn’t. Right?
Because then you get to call all the shots! So my husband who, we’re not divorced, but like I definitely am alpha in the home. Yeah, I get to call all the shots and it’s fantastic.
Yeah, I mean, I like that. And people would ask me like, “Well, how do you make the decisions?” I was like, “what decisions” like I make, I decide everything. And so you know, but now, interestingly enough, there’s this important word called co-parenting, right? Yeah. So now I have to actually check in with him!
It’s like, oh and by the way she’s watching TV at 10 pm! (laughing)
Teru Clavel 35:54
It’s different. Yeah. So there’s been a learning curve there. But for the most part I think, oh, I know, we both very much prioritize education. So on that we are, we are definitely on the same page. And for that I’m very, very grateful. Absolutely.
I feel like I got a fabulous education. And I certainly had teachers who inspired me to love learning, which I think is the single greatest gift that you can give your children as you go through the educational process.
But I will say that I think it was prioritized for me to know, I knew what I needed to do to get a great grade. And I didn’t necessarily learn for the purpose of learning or learn to retain like I have, I’m a terrible procrastinator, I have an excellent ability to retain information in the immediate term. Remember it for the test next morning. And literally, if you to ask me that afternoon, I could not tell you a single thing that I needed to know for the test. I mean, it’s just and you learn, again, you learn how to do the things that are being told to you are the priorities and I wasn’t it wasn’t prioritized to me to learn for long term sake or to learn from my own personal sense of confidence it was told to me learns you got a good grades and go to a good college you have a nice life like that was sort of the hypothezied progression. So I’m curious if you feel like your kids have a sense of empowerment from what you’ve given them in this like gift of hard work and gift of seeing that hard work pays off.
Teru Clavel 37:16
So this is a great question. It’s the first time I have been asked something like this. So I don’t do you remember the scene in Clueless, Alicia Silverstone, where I think she gets, I don’t know what her grades were, but they weren’t that great.
Yeah, she says, “look Dad I got a B+!
Teru Clavel 37:27
Yeah, and her dad says something like, “we’ll go back and negotiate, you can do better.” And she goes back and I think she gets straight A’s. And I think that epitomizes kind of what we can do in this country, because I was like, wow, yeah, okay, right there, black and white. It’s showing us that we can game the system. And that was something that didn’t happen when we were overseas, the grades very much reflected the knowledge.
And It was much more numerical, it was a different way of grading. Whereas you know, when you write a papers,
it’s exactly participation or
participation or even when you’re grading the paper. It’s it’s pretty tricky because that is subjective.
Yeah, but it wasn’t always numeric. It was basically, okay, so guess how many pages the report card was for my for my son in elementary school in Shanghai?
Teru Clavel 38:12
Teru Clavel 38:13
I swear to God.
Teru Clavel 38:17
Actually, I think it’s 48.. maybe 46. But that’s the thing. It wasn’t numeric. When I first got it, I actually didn’t even know what it was. I thought it was a new textbook or something that it got, you know, and I’m like, looking at this. What is this? And it was this book. And then immediately I thought, because I can’t read it, right? I have someone translate it. I’m thinking, “Oh, this is great. It’s just going to be numeric. It’s just going to be all on academics.” And in Shanghai, starting in first grade, the teachers are subject specific. So they have a separate math teacher science, English, Chinese. And the top half of the page was all academic stuff like content, how they’re learning. Yeah, in the second half, was all about the social emotional, was about the motivation, the organization and all that stuff, so I was going, “Oh, wow. Isn’t this…?” I had no idea. And then here’s the kicker, it was the teacher evaluation. And then the student had to evaluate and then the parent had to evaluate. So it was so, so thorough.
So when they’re giving grades though, it’s not on the class participation?
Teru Clavel 39:18
There’s no final one grade in elementary school. So it’s based on different areas. So you know, it’s, it’s kind of like we would say, excellent, very good, good, satisfactory, and they were just checked, different categories. And it was amazing. So back to your question about my kids. And it’s interesting, because I do feel like the end, we moved around a lot. My kids are on their seven schools, right?
Because of your ex-husband’s work?
Exactly. Exactly. So we were in we moved from New York to Hong Kong and Shanghai than Tokyo, then Palo Alto and just came back to New York, Summer of 2018.
And where are they going to school now?
Well, they go to private schools now in New York City, which which is like one of my great sorrows because I do believe in the public school system, but basically, my kids when we gain residency in New York City, my older two would have had to been enrolled in the remedial tracks in the assigned schools where we were living. And I was, I mean, my kids are already just years ahead in math, and I just, it broke my heart. It’s just another example of how the system is broken. But I do feel like my kids walk into a school and they feel like they own it, because they’ve done this so many times. And I haven’t given them like external validation because
Okay but ever tell them like you’re really good at math, or like you’re great at math, or you’re great at something else. Because the other thing that really scares me is stunting language like I tell you, you’re great. And then you become terrified of being bad or messing up or not being great and you stop wanting to go out on a limb, which stunts your growth long term.
Or it drives you because you’re like, wow, yeah, I’m really good at it. So I should do it more, it depends on your personality. Or you become like Tina Fey’s boyfriend Jon Hamm in 30 Rock, where everybody tells him he’s really good his entire life he’s actually really bad at everything, he’s just really good looking. So it could be one of the three! Just pick one!
Teru Clavel 41:06
Have you seen that episode? It’s so funny. But I feel like I’ve dated like 12 of those. He’s like, “I’m such a great cook” and it’s like really bad. Or like “I’m so good at playing tennis” and like he can hit the ball but he thinks he is great and you’re like because he’s so good looking, you’re like, okay, we’re just gonna go with that.
Teru Clavel 41:25
That’s funny because I think it is so true.
Now we know that John Hamm has it easier. (laughing)
No, but I guess so. Do I tell my kids..I you know, I read all of the parenting books that tell you don’t tell them they’re great at things and don’t you know, don’t ask them leading questions and ask them open ended and all but I think what I try to do and this is not a recipe for everybody, but what I try to do is just say, “listen, I say this to each of my kids, you’ve been given so many gifts. You’ve shown you can do this stuff repeatedly. Completely on your own, because when they’re in Shanghai, I couldn’t help them. Right? I mean, I did get them a tutor two times a week to come after school because they were literally my, one of my children was the only non-Chinese student in his school of over 1000 students, you know, and they’re getting tons, as you know, tons of help at home, you know, and he was a second ranked student in his grade. Wow. So, I just say to them, you can do this. And if you are wasting your education and not performing, it’s on you. Because this is an opportunity. This is this is a gift, the gift of education. So it’s, it’s really on them and I say, if you need anything you let me know, you know, “Mama, what does this mean? And that mean” and I’m the annoying one, like, “look it up in the dictionary!” you know, to the point where a couple years ago, my kids were like, your vocabulary is really bad because you have to look everything up in the dictionary… I was like no, I don’t think that’s it but…
I just want you to learn how to use the back of the book!
We like to ask our guests, “What’s your favorite thing?”
That really amazing heart ring that you have on your left hand?
Teru Clavel 42:59
Oh, I do like this. Very much. Between us and everybody who’s listening, this is my freedom ring because it was really hard when I was starting my divorce, to not wear a ring on this finger. So I said, someone told me to get a ring for your middle finger. Which is kind of ironic. (laughing)
Throw it up there. Love you!
Teru Clavel 43:20
Yes, its my freedom ring on the left finger. Okay, so I’ll tell you, and this is again, a big secret that’s no longer going to be a secret. It’s hip-hop. I’m taking hip hop classes now. And I’ve promised myself I’m going to, so I’m doing it with a girlfriend of mine, and we’re going to come up with routines every month and post them on social media!
Oh my god, I can’t wait. I am going to start following you.
Wait, So fun. I’m obsessed. Are you a good dancer?
Teru Clavel 43:43
So okay, so I used to be a good dancer. And then I kind of felt like I was a mother and I had to be appropriate.
But were you a good dancer like ballet? Or were you a good dancer like hip-hop
Teru Clavel 43:51
No, I was one of those girls in middle school, middle school when the dances started, and then there were dance competitions and the boys and girls started like… everybody wanted to dance with me because I won all the dance competitions.
Oh my god this is awesome. I am picturing a whole like, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” moment for you here.
Teru Clavel 44:08
We have this amazing teacher and so we do semi private lessons.
Oh so it’s just the two of you!
Teru Clavel 44:12
Just the two of us, so we’re doing this, we’re like going to be you know, like this duet every month. But the funny thing is the instructor is always like, “you two work so hard, I’ve never had students like you!” and I looked at him and I go, “We’re both Asian. We work really hard.” So, my girlfriend to this day, she’s texting me all the time. Sorry, Jennifer. She said she was like, “we’re not ready for our routine. How many more hours do you have this week? How many?” I am like, “Jennifer, I have interviews, like I have to…” No no no are you free 9 tonight?
This is when you didn’t get a 95 and you have to stay after.
Teru Clavel 44:46
So that was Teru. And obviously you guys heard at the end we got a little loopy with her but she’s, she’s got this freedom ring on, she’s going to hip-hop class!
I want to go to drinks with her! She started out like super, like let’s just, education and you have your own study and you better not get lower than a 95 and all that kind of stuff, to yeah, hip hop class, freedom ring.
Like if you work hard, you can have fun.
Teru Clavel 45:11
That’s the point. So guys, go home, get a 95. And then we can all do hip hop. And wear really nice jewlery.
I will say, though, I do think it’s very funny that our brains are like, 95 is so high! Why do we have to get 95? It’s, you know, that should be good enough. And I am fascinated by the whole Tiger Mom phenom. I’m not that she’s saying she’s a tiger mom, but she but like, having been around this experience of education in Asia and then coming back and educating her kids in the US. I don’t, I don’t want to push my kids to get hundreds and everything but I want them to want the best they can possibly do.
And her simple thing is you should understand the material. That is her message.
And don’t limit yourself by saying Well, I’m not good at this or I can’t do it because you haven’t done it perfectly yet!