Okay, before anyone starts getting upset, I don’t really want to be Amy Chua. But, to be honest, I would like to be half a Chua. Not the crazy, Mommy Dearest half, but the half that stresses education, maintains high standards and requires commitment and hard work from her children.

Of course, to some degree I do. I’m not letting my kids fail out of elementary school or anything, and I make sure they do their homework every night, but I think I could and should be doing more. Or, rather, I think my kids are capable of more. But to get them to put forth more than the absolute minimum of effort means I would need to both raise the bar on them and hold them to it.

Let’s face it my daughter’s certainly not going to pick up the violin and beg to practice it until she’s proficient. (We already know what happened with the trumpet.) Likewise, my son is never going to ask me if he can please not watch T.V. so he can study some more.

Kids are kids. That’s understandable. But it’s the adults and the culture and the society that make the rules and set the standards. I must admit I long for higher ones.

I’m sure my husband – along with some others – would say I have fairly high standards for my children (not the threatening-to-burn-the-beloved-stuffed-animals standards), but I require slightly more homework than the school does. If the school’s rule is to read for 15 minutes a night, I up it to 25. The school also does not require homework on the weekends. I do (another 25 minutes of reading and about a half hour of math games on the computer). That’s not exactly Chuaesque. And, I do let them have playdates and sleepovers, but I wish I didn’t – not because I think they should be filling out the entrance exam to Harvard instead – simply for selfish reasons. I can’t stand them.

Still, I feel my kids could use their time a lot more productively. And I think much of their youth is being squandered on television rather than learning or even creating. But the real quandary that brought my desire for more rigorous academic standards into focus was the letter sent home in my daughter’s backpack last month.

One rather ordinary day Lily returned home from school and handed me a note. The paper informed me to select one of three languages offered next year for my child to study and send the form back promptly so the school could start making preparations. Next year Lily will enter 5th grade. She will move to the middle school and be offered the choice of learning Spanish, French or Mandarin. Since first grade, though, the kids in her elementary school haven’t had a choice. They have all studied Mandarin.

I was all set to check off Mandarin when Lily told me she wanted to take Spanish. Spanish? That made no sense. She already had the foundation in Mandarin, and I was bent on her continuing with it. Why waste this wonderful opportunity we were given to learn a complex second language at such a young age? (See the recent study, which has shown children who learn a second language early on have an edge). Plus, 12 years and the fluency I hoped went with it would look pretty darn good on a college application. I was also contemplating Lily’s future beyond that – in the global marketplace. I was doing my best to prep her for success in this uncertain world.

My husband, though, took a different approach. He was all for letting her take Spanish. And since I can only take on so many battles at once, I gave up the fight.

This week I finally checked the box that said “Spanish” and returned the form to school. I don’t think I made the right decision, but considering I can barely get my kids to do a half hour of homework, Mandarin seemed like an insurmountable challenge. Was I wrong? What would you do? (It’s not too late to get the form back!)

(Photo: Flickr/woodleywonderworks)