Listen to “Tiger Mother” Author Amy Chua on Forum
I would try to curate a decent post made up of web content related to the controversy over this book, but I don’t have the next three days to spare. If you’re unfamiliar with the hubbub, here’s an excerpt from an essay Chua wrote in the Wall Street Journal, which started the frenzy a couple of weeks ago.
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
…What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more. Full essay
The flap went somewhat local last weekend when Berkeley author Ayelet Waldman wrote a response in the Journal. Waldman, who is the wife of novelist Michael Chabon, suffered through her own round of parental opprobrium when she wrote in a 2005 New York Times column, “I love my husband more than I love my children.” (Update 4:07 p.m.: Just found out Chua grew up in Berkeley and went to El Cerrito High School.)
From Waldman’s piece:
Here are some of the things that my four children of a Jewish mother were always allowed to do:
• Quit the piano and the violin, especially if their defeatist attitude coincided with a recital, thus saving me from the torture of listening to other people’s precious children soldier through hackneyed pieces of the juvenile repertoire, plink after ever more unbearable plonk.
• Sleep over at their friends’ houses, especially on New Year’s Eve or our anniversary, thus saving us the cost of a babysitter.
• Play on the computer and surf the Internet, so long as they paid for their Neopet Usuki dolls and World of Warcraft abomination cleavers out of their own allowances.
• Participate in any extracurricular activity they wanted, so long as I was never required to drive farther than 10 minutes to get them there, or to sit on a field in a folding chair in anything but the balmiest weather for any longer than 60 minutes.
• Quit said extracurricular activities, especially if their quitting coincided with league finals that might have demanded participation on my part exceeding the requirements stated above.
…Were I crafting my own bombastic and compelling rebuttal to Ms. Chua, I might point out, as others have, that Asian-American girls aged 15 to 24 have above average rates of suicide. I might question the hubris of taking credit for success that is as likely to have resulted from the genetic blessings of musicality and intellect as from the “Chinese” child-rearing techniques of shrieking and name calling. But I have a feeling that she knows that.
If you missed the Forum episode, it will be archived here.