I would like to believe (since I have no research proof) that families' enduring positions at higher socio-economic levels are handed down via the Family Ethos.
Different families have different types of ethos. Such ethos are handed down tacitly and not explicitly. You live your ethos and your children absorb it.
Elements of Ethos 1: Expectations and IQ
Amy Chua (author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother) won second place in a history contest and she brought her family to the awards ceremony. Somebody else had won the prize for best all round student... and it wasn't Amy Chua. Amy Chua's father considered in a disgrace. Given that Amy Chua was the direct descendant of the Emperor's Royal Astrologer, Chua Wu Neng (who must surely have come at the top of the Imperial Examinations to get to that exalted position), this expectation that family members mustn't just do well, they must be the best of their cohort, must have been handed down through the generations.
Additionally, families hand down their genetic IQ. Studies of adopted children show that children's educational attainment and adult income is better predicted by the educational attainment and adult income of the BIOLOGICAL parents. Not adoptive.
However, it isn't enough to have the IQ. It is also necessary to evolve in a family where you are required to reach the pinnacle position. Of course, if you didn't inherit that level of IQ, such family expectations would send you to the loony house. However, if you did inherit that level of IQ and people expected less than that of you, then you wouldn't be first among equals either.
Somewhere in Petunia's lineage (on the side of my Grandma), there were Qing Court officials. The fact that I am overjoyed with my kids being somewhere in the top 10% of their cohorts probably means that these ancestors were somewhat petty Qing Court officials? Either our IQ not quite at the top, or our expectations fall short.
Elements of Ethos 2: Perfectionism and Rigour
Grandma sold tofu for a living and Grandpa was a trishaw puller. However, Grandma's Eldest Son became at one time, Chairman of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and in that same generation, another branch on Grandma's side of the family, achieved great enough wealth and kept it till today to be considered one of the 10 richest families in Singapore.
Grandma sold tofu for a living and Grandpa was a trishaw puller.
One of the earliest lessons I learnt at Grandma's knee was that no matter how poor one was, one had to live in dignified surroundings. The furnishings of the home could be poor, but as long as it was clean and aesthetic, one could live in dignity.
At Grandma's house, the floors were mopped every day. You made sure you cooked just enough food to feed everyone and NO MORE. Never have leftovers because those attracted cockroaches and interfered thus with the cleanliness of your home. One cannot live with dignity in a dirty and messy home. Grandma slept on a hard porcelain pillow. When she woke up, her bun was still in place. That was a never ending source of amazement for me. It was almost as if Grandma was trying to maintain what she could of a lifestyle that she had known and lost. She could not afford the trappings of wealth but she could live in pleasing and aesthetic surroundings.
I would imagine that she brought this perfectionism into her tofu making, so much so that her tofu sold well and she could eventually afford (after Grandpa died of over exertion at the trishaw) to set her Eldest Son up with a bicycle shop.
These habits have come through my mom to me. Our HDB flat had vinyl floors but they were mopped daily. Though we had only a few pieces of cheap furniture, their colours and styles matched. There was no clutter in my home. I couldn't afford the trappings of wealth, but I insisted on pleasing and aesthetic surroundings.
Perfectionism extends into my work. If I mark work, I must mark properly (putting in sometimes up to 1 hour into 1 composition) or else, I prefer not to mark. I also insist that the children give me quality work.
Parents appreciate how strict I am with their children's quality of work because you can lose plenty of marks in exams for sloppiness. However, few parents have perfectionism hard coded into their DNA. Some parents even have sloppiness hard coded into their DNA. Such parents don't think sloppiness is a big deal at all. Their homes are messy and they don't see sloppiness as a cardinal sin. It ain't good, they reckon, but it ain't that bad. Me, I DO see sloppiness as a cardinal sin.
I am not saying that it is all good. Grandma was such a perfectionist that my older cousins had their hair pulled if their bedsheets had a crease during the day. It meant that they had been lazy and had gone and laid down in the middle of the day. It was tough love. Her expectations were high and those of her descendants who did not inherit her steel nor her IQ, did actually end up in depression and one cousin was even admitted to the loony house.
The thing with having such a Grandma is that when things get tough, the memory of her keeps me going. I keep telling myself that Grandma had it much worse and she prospered. Hence, what kind of Grand Daughter would I be if I crumbled into pieces at the first sign of something daunting and difficult? It really is thanks to Grandma that I did not blink twice at teaching Chinese to my son, even though I was and still am illiterate in Chinese. It really is thanks to Grandma that I hunkered down to analyse school exams, school syllabus even though I had not the slightest clue what the PSLE required. I did not go hire tuition and hope for the best. One does not merely hope. One must ensure.
Perhaps Grandma had in her mind to encourage and motivate her, another ancestor?
Elements of Ethos 3: Quick To Change In View Of The End In Mind
For this, one needs some level of IQ and the guts to do things differently even though everyone else you know does it the conventional way. Petunia ain't Mensa but I ain't dumb either. I ain't in the same league of Sim Ann or Amy Chua, but I ain't dumb.
It took me just 1 month in Little Boy's P5 year to figure out that if Little Boy completed all the homework the school assigned, his brain would be so tired that he would learn nothing. On some days, he was so tired that he slept at 8pm and woke himself up at 4am to finish his HW. I asked myself whether the important goal was HW done or learning achieved.
Once I had decided that the important end was learning achieved (and NOT HW completed), I had no problems forcing my son to skip HW that was a waste of time. In the end, he did perhaps 20% of his school HW (in P5), played from 7pm every night, played Sunday and half of Saturday... and still ended P6 2nd in class. It was clear to me that a tired child learns nothing and all this play helped him learn.
Since then, I have given this advice to every parent. Sadly, for some parents, the-die-die-must-also-complete HW is hard coded into their DNA. In the entire P5 year, their kids learnt nothing only to pay the price in P6.
Every time the social environment changes, change adept families are fast to grasp the rules for success and to recraft their attitudes to get the results they want.
Elements of Ethos 4: Figure Things Out
Smelly Boy has to do some Persuasive Writing. This means that he needs to write a speech aimed at enthusing and motivating his listeners to action of some sort. Persuasive Writing is one of myriad different style of writing that I thought schools don't teach. I am thrilled to bits that his school does. For PSLE, one only needs to learn narrative writing.
It has been a long time (3 years since Smelly Boy has asked me for help with schoolwork).
This is how I taught him. I asked him to google "Persuasive Writing" and read up first, before coming back to me. Then, I passed him Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech. Then, I asked him to brief me on the features of MLK's speech which matched with what he had read about Persuasive Writing. He told me plenty and missed out one feature that I thought was important. So, I pointed it out.
In 3 hours, I explicitly taught him one thing only. Everything else, I made him figure out and teach me. I don't know why but figuring it out is something I always knew was expected of me. In turn, I expect it of my children. Some kids are really smart but they come from families that do not expect them to figure out novel situations. The mindset is that there must be a teacher to tell you explicitly what to do.
The kids have the IQ, but their mindset prevents them from figuring things out for themselves. In situations of great social instability and with every change of political regime, the world as we know it, comes to an end. In China, descendants of intellectuals and wealthy landowners who were lucky enough to escape death, figured out faster than others what it took to succeed under the new Communist regime. As such, many descendants of previous Qing Dynasty court officials have now made it into the communist Central Government (and their kids go to Cambridge + Oxford). These families expect their progeny to be top in country. Their kids have the IQ to figure out how. They make it happen.
The fact that no one in my extended family has ever gone to Cambridge nor Oxford probably means that we expect and can only do so much? Not more?
Maybe I should try my luck and set higher expectations for my grandchildren, on the off chance that their IQ can make it but we have set our expectations too low. Kekekekeke! I might even ask for the genealogy of potential children-in-law. Hopefully, we can find one that descended from Chua Wu Neng too. Shall be on active lookout for young Chuas of marriageable age.
This post is musings. Please don't take it as gospel truth. They're just mental ramblings in black and white, done for the fun of it. Read, but believe nothing I write in this post.