A Space to Grow

“Chinese people are too careful,” an American friend told me this summer. And I think she’s sort of right, at least when it comes to parents—they think that touching anything outside the home (and sometimes inside) is too dirty, they forbid you from eating food from street vendors, and then there’s a lot TCM-based concepts about when to eat what foods and how drinking cold water seems perpetually bad for you.

So something I witnessed today came as somewhat of a surprise. As I paused at a public playground/exercise place after my morning jog, a little girl came up to me and insisted on showing me how to use every single machine there. She was also fearless, climbing here, running there—and the mere fact that she spoke to a towering stranger like me shows something significant. Then I found out she was here alone—her father was a work and her mom was at home.

I can’t condone letting a child run around alone, especially in a big city such as Beijing. But these parents have done something that is sorely needed not only in China but all over the world—nurture in a child the curiosity to learn, the capacity to explore, and the guts to do it. Children need space to grow on their own, and a overly restrictive environment is a problem that runs from childhood through the entire length of primary and secondary education, in the form of an education system that places too much emphasis on tests and scores, leaving very little time for extracurricular activities.

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