Friday, January 21, 2011

Chinese Tiger Mother

Unless you never listen to radio, tv or read a newspaper or the Internet, you can't have missed the "Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother" book controversy.

A Chinese-American mother named Amy Chua wrote a Wall Street Journal essay "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior; Can a Regimen of no Playdates, no TV, no Computer Games and Hours of Music Practice Create Happy Kids?". Just reading the title, you can guess why it has started a firestorm of opinions. (There's a counter-article, "In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom". It's pretty funny but she does make a good point of parents using force and discipline to get desired results versus a child "climbing the mountain" herself.)

One thing I have learned in my years of parenting - you can never criticize another person's parenting (at least to their face) unless they are abusive (and some people call Ms. Chua's methods abusive). Beyond restricting her children's activities, she also calls them names (saying they know she doesn't mean it) and takes away activities/rewards until they do what she wants perfectly.

KUOW (94.9 FM) will have Ms. Chua on this noon-time if you are interested in the conversation.

I can only say...there's a middle ground. I think Ms. Chua goes waaaay too far in her methods. (I have to wonder what happens when her daughters have their first "sleepover" at college? Get into a highly competitive university and get their first B because there are thousands of extremely bright kids just like them there?)

BUT my personal belief is that our country is having huge public education problems because of
  • not teaching our kids a work ethic (work before play and being able to follow-thru)
  • allowing our kids too much free time that ends up with computer/texting/video games
  • lack of a belief in the pride of being smart (Bill Gates may be the richest man in the country/world but hey, he's still a nerd.)
When I was growing up, you begrudged the truly smart but you respected them. Even the kids hanging out smoking in the parking lot, even the bullies, all knew who was smart. People truly didn't want their kids to be dumb.

But fast-forward. We get a president who says, hey, I got Cs and I'm still President. We have reality show programs that give fame to those with no apparent talent other than being loud, crude and yes, dumb. So you no longer have to do something really good or really bad to be famous for 15 minutes. But that is nothing to base your life on. We have politicians that say they care about education but don't fully fund it. We have politicians that despair over the mediocre school graduation rates but then, if you do go to college, then suddenly you're an elitist from an ivory tower university.

If we, as adults, think this is confusing, what do we expect kids to think/believe about education?

36 comments:

Bird said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bird said...

Mainstream American culture still has a strong bias in favor of the belief that there are people with natural talent and people without and that work doesn't really figure into it. There may be prodigies, but they are born not made according to the myth.

It's a genuinely harmful belief - one that our family tries to swim against, but it's tough to fight such an ingrained culture.

It has a definite effect on academic achievement. Think of all the people you know or have known that say they are not "math people", and call it a day.

This culture drags down academics in general, and, in truth, because of it I have no faith that the public school system will give my kids everything they need academically. They'll get something out of school, but we, as a family, have to fill in the rest. It makes me unhappy.

That said, the "Tiger mother" isn't helping. Part of what keeps us as a country from pulling up the academics and holding kids accountable for more hard work is this fear that we'll end up the hellhole that is Tiger mom's family. No one wants that. Tiger mom is good for no one. I hope her 15 minutes of fame expire soon.

zb said...

"Mainstream American culture still has a strong bias in favor of the belief that there are people with natural talent and people without and that work doesn't really figure into it. "

Interesting insight. It's one I've always attributed to the Brits -- the idea that performance/achievement has to come without effort/work or it's not really worth anything. It's a theme that runs through the HP books. Hermione has "nothing but cleverness and tricks." It's Harry, with his untrained, but more powerful wizardry, magical talent in Quidditch,role as the most important person on earth, all without any dirty work or desire to achieve greatness, who is really great.

But aren't Americans supposed to have a Protestant work ethic that counteracts that Britishism?

Elizabeth W said...

There's no doubt in my mind that many American children would benefit if their families had higher academic expectations of them and gave them focused support to meet them.

But when "Tiger Mother" says this, she completely loses my good will:

As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English when she acted extremely disrespectfully toward me. When I mentioned that I had done this at a dinner party, I was immediately ostracized. One guest named Marcy got so upset she broke down in tears and had to leave early. My friend Susan, the host, tried to rehabilitate me with the remaining guests.

I don't like the way she treated her daughter, but I'm willing to suspend my disbelief and assume for the moment that this is just a small part of their family life, in which there are compensating sources of love and care.

However, I cannot help but think that Ms. Chua is very pleased to have reduced another woman to tears, and that she specifically calls her out by name in a national newspaper in hopes that she will suffer again.

It seems to me that Ms. Chua believes in success as a zero sum game. That's certainly not what I desire in a neighbor.

Patrick said...

Obama got Cs? More than one? I know you don't have to have As to be President, but I thought the University of Chicago was more particular about its faculty members.

Yes, I would seek a happy medium between not pushing one's child to excel at all and borderline abuse described in the book.

Melissa Westbrook said...

No, I said "a" president, not "the" President. I meant George W. (Although Obama may have received a C or two in his life.)

Anonymous said...

I agree with Bird's post. Ms. Chua wrote by design a controvesial bestseller and she, her publisher, and media pundits will benefit $$$$ because of the buzz. I don't take what she wrote seriously anymore than NYT's articles on "mommy wars"-- working mom vs. stay-at-home, rich women using surrogates for babies, etc. They are written to provoke and elicit comments (usually very emotional ones). How often does WSJ get nearly 7000 comments from one article?

The worst part to all of this is the stereotypes that get reinforced or generated. More $hrill.

-Pining for Walter Cronkite and Daniel Schorr

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, my kid has come home after report cards in middle school more than once and thanked me for not being one of those parents who beats their kids if their grades aren't good. (His are mostly A's and some B's) Kids do share their stories with classmates! I usually get lots of hugs and extra (unrequested) help around the house at these times.

Yes, to high expectations. But the name calling, domination, and abuse leads to another set of real problems...

Ox Mom

maureen said...

I agree with Bird and with Carol Dweck. We as a society createn too many kids with the wrong mindset: they don't believe (as one of my kids' kindergarten teachers does) that you have to "work hard to get smart."

Too many kids (especially the ones whose parents tell them how smart they are all the time) give up the instant something gets difficult, because they are afraid that that proves they aren't smart.

Dweck has a book out and was also featured in NurtureShock. I wish I could find an article about it written at a fifth grade reading level. If I could I would push to have a unit on it taught in my kids' school.

zb, interesting point about British literature and Harry Potter in particular. I bet we could come up with other examples as well.

Anonymous said...

She seemed to be doing a lot of backpedaling on the radio today. She came off as insincere and really not very bright.

-altmama.

emeraldkity said...

I agree with Bird's post. Ms. Chua wrote by design a controvesial bestseller and she, her publisher, and media pundits will benefit $$$$ because of the buzz. I don't take what she wrote seriously anymore than NYT's articles on "mommy wars"-- working mom vs. stay-at-home, rich women using surrogates for babies, etc. They are written to provoke and elicit comments (usually very emotional ones). How often does WSJ get nearly 7000 comments from one article?


Ive seen this more & more lately- publishers will go to any length to make money, I expect a "reality" show based on the premise soon.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

A agree Emerald Kitty. Chua is no more real in some ways than Snookie. The publishing world is sadly all about best sellers, and less and less about literature or quality writing and original thought.

Bird said...

Since Chua seems to be either a crackpot or, more likely, a simple huckster, I think it's hard to seriously take up a debate about her or her methods.

I'd be more interested in looking at the general response to a movie like Spellbound, where pre-teens and teenagers devote hour upon hour to what is, admittedly, not a particularly valuable end goal (winning a national spelling bee).

I would expect a lot of folks would have a negative reaction to some of the parents in the movie, like Neil Kadakia's dad, who throws a whole bunch of resources into his kid's attempt to win the bee --- studying with him, buying him software, paying people in India to pray for his success.

I'm willing to bet lots of folks would see him as a crackpot as well, but I have to say, having watched this movie now as a parent, I'm totally behind that guy, and see him as a great parent. It's pretty clear in the end that his goal was to get behind something his kid wanted to try to achieve and then help him pull out all the stops for it. In the end, the father seems pleased even though his son doesn't win. He clearly got what he wanted out of the experience, a chance to show his son what it means to really study and work hard at something.

I suspect how folks react to that character in the movie would be a more intersting litmus test.

Bird said...

Incidentally, Spellbound is somewhat interesting as a study of native born and immigrant Americans, although it is, of course, filtered through the film maker's lens, so may not be all that accurate.

Nevertheless, it was a little depressing to watch the native born kid from DC being shown more focused on prayer than studying for success, and to have a scene where native born Harry Altman, who clearly was studying, jokingly deflect discussion about it by pretending he didn't know anything about his enormous dictionary filled with post-it notes (American born kids might cram, but, shhh, don't tell anyone).

The immigrant kids appeared decidedly unabashed about the fact that they were studying for the bee.

basically said...

I grew up with British parents in the US. My dad will lament forEVER about the anti-intellectual culture of America. He has MTV blocked out on his cable so he doesn't accidentally watch it and become dumber. (his words) It makes him crazy, and he was pretty tough on us about our grades. I don't know what it means, but he's an example of a British guy who valued academics over everything. I had to beg to take ballet. And of course, I did, but I also kept my grades up.

Floor Pie said...

She's reading at Elliott Bay Books tonight. I may be too curious to pass it up...

public school mom said...

I say to each his own, as long as a parent does not abuse or neglect their child. I hope that we can all agree, whether we agree with Tiger moms approach or style that she did not abuse or neglect her daughter.

Different cultures approach and value education in different ways. I don't find this mothers domineering style any more offensive than a Western mother who can't be bothered showing up at parent/teacher conference, changes their phone number and does not inform the school, has no idea what her kids grades are, or allows her child to flunk or drop out (and believe me there are plenty of Western parents in this category they just don't post on education blogs).

Who are we to trash this mother, her style, or her Chinese culture? Best to just say "personally I wouldn't choose this style of parenting" and just move on

maureen said...

I don't find this mothers domineering style any more offensive than a Western mother who can't be bothered....

But, public school mom, (and I really don't understand why you change your name every three weeks, but that's your business), are you possibly offended by them in different ways?

I agree with Melissa's point that you shouldn't criticize people's parenting unless they are abusive.

But, there are certainly more and less effective ways of parenting.

The Tiger Mother conversation reminds me of the research about spanking. Apparently, if it's normal in your culture to spank, it does no harm. If it's seen to be extreme in your culture, then kids are damaged by it. The question then to me is, what culture do Dragon Mom's kids see themselves to be part of?

WS Resident said...

Patrick

I think this thread was referring to Former President George Bush's bragging of earning C's and still becoming president, not President Obama. And for eight years, BOY DID IT SHOW.

Been there, ran screaming from that said...

Wow, this sounds like MANY of the parents I encountered last year at Lafayette Elementary.

Syd said...

Maybe we should read the book first. All I have read is this this, in which the author, a Yale law professor, talks about the "book’s three-paragraph subtitle, which concludes with the words, “and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

Insert all the ages of my children, and that pretty much sums up my feelings about parenting.

dan dempsey said...

WOW!! take this thought one more step....

"BUT my personal belief is that our country is having huge public education problems because of
....... not teaching our kids a work ethic (work before play and being able to follow-thru)......


How about the Board and TEAM MGJ ....

They rarely commit enough time and effort into planning and analyzing so that an appropriate program can be followed..... to success.

Follow Through What a TOTAL JOKE ... NSAP will make every school a quality school ... and 10% open choice seats are guaranteed.

Where is any integrity in what we've been watching over the last several years?

MGJ needed a Chinese Mother and as for the duplicitous actions of the Board that speaks volumes.

MathTeacher42 said...

the wall street journal snippet last week was ideal for taking a few sentences out of context and blasting away. my internet stinks these days, I'm including the url. ALL need to read her definition of "Chinese mother".

MY favorite thing to take out

"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."

This is contrary to the pedagogy turned theology of the math reformistas.

BM

seattle citizen said...

"She's reading at Elliott Bay Books tonight. I may be too curious to pass it up..."

Elliott Bay (bless 'em) also co-hosted Wallace Shawn last night ("tonight") at Town Hall. I went to this, instead, expecting much more thoughtful words, and getting them. Thee were five hundred people there. I wonder how many people the reading room at the store holds...50?

Leave it to EBBS to give you a choice between Chua and Shawn on the same night...

hschinske said...

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.

I couldn't disagree more. If that were true, no one would ever learn to walk or talk. Sure, people have to learn to work and do the stuff they're reluctant to and all that. But the greatest disservice you can do a kid, seems to me, is to make them think that everything worth doing means nothing but slog for ages before it's any fun at all. Way to kill their spirit entirely and make them not want to try anything new, for fear it would add to the list of Sisyphean tasks.

I don't think anyone would disagree that it takes a lot of dedicated work to get to black-belt level in a martial art, for instance -- but that doesn't mean it can't be fun to do, starting with the very first class.

My mother once wrote a story for us about the difference between work and labor -- "labor" being all the stuff you do because it has to be done, like brushing your teeth or getting your kids off to school, and "work" being the kind of thing that you could get totally absorbed in and truly love. She hadn't read Csikszentmihalyi's Flow (neither have I, actually, but I hear about it all the time), but I think that was the sort of thing she was talking about.

Helen Schinske

hschinske said...

I hope that we can all agree, whether we agree with Tiger moms approach or style that she did not abuse or neglect her daughter.

If she didn't abuse her daughters at the time, she's sure willing to make it sound as though she did now -- so one way or another, whether she really said those horrible things then, or she's only saying she said them now, because (a) funny, (b) money, it's still a pretty nasty thing to do.

(The money's real. Not so sure about the funny.)

Helen Schinske

Billy said...

"We get a president who says, hey, I got Cs and I'm still President."

We had a president that said, hey, I can have my intern perform sexual favors for me under my desk, lie to the American people, get impeached, and still not think I did anything wrong.

GreyWatch said...

I think she is trying in a humorous self-mocking way to share her experience of navigating the challenges of raising her kids given her cultural background and the one in which she is raising her children. In doing so, she highlights some good and not so good things parents in both cultures do when trying to to do the best thing for their kids.

The title alone is a dead give away that this is tongue in cheek. This will sound stereotypical, and I'll probably get hit with racist too, but my personal experience with my Chinese (or Japanese or Korean) friends, relatives and co-workers is that they would never ever call attention to their superiority.

Kind of interesting to hear people get so bent out of shape about all this. As has been my practice with advice from parenting books and the solicited and unsolicited opinions from friends, relatives and teachers, I take what I think might work for my kids and leave the rest w/o comment. It may well work for someone else.

KSG said...

Ms Chua's book is about a voyage... a journey. Imagine if you wrote a book about your journey from racist to enlightened and everyone just talked about the first 100 pages of the book when you were a racist.

You can appreciate the snippets of a memoir without reading the book, or at least knowing what the arc is.

Note the last line from the cover over her book, "... and how I was humbled by a 13 year old".

She ends the memoir more humbled than confident.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think every one who is a parent ends up feeling humbled (and sometimes you think "if I had one more kid, I'd do this differently").

Maybe I should start a thread on your best parenting tips. I could write my own book.

MathTeacher42 said...

Ms. Schinske at 8:25

We're reading the excerpt very differently. I'm reading the clauses with the modifier "in general" implied - and what I consider to be "in general" to mean is NOT all the time for all conditions -

I believe you're reading the excerpt and attaching the equivalent of "for all" to the various clauses.

Also - what are "children"?

2 and 3 year olds are very different from 6 and 7 year olds. In the high schools, we have to suffer through all kinds of dumb policies which are good for 6 and 7 year olds and ridiculous for 16 and 17 years olds. (too many k-8 teachers turn into high school admins / downtown desk jockeys?) About the only thing a 5 and a 15 year old have in common is immaturity.

work vs. labor ... in Brave New World there were 5 classes of people, and the top 20%, the alphas, got to paint their toes and discuss their belly button - and everyone else kept everything necessary working. Much about our current education system seems to be set up to reinforce that necessary work is bad and only a few will be allowed to play rodin's statue and get a paycheck. We should all be doing something necessary for the community, and we should all get a chance at toenail painting.

BM

(ugh with dinky keyboard...)

hschinske said...

MathTeacher42 wrote: I believe you're reading the excerpt and attaching the equivalent of "for all" to the various clauses.

No, I'm not. (And Chua herself did use the absolute "never want to work," though she probably meant that as hyperbole.) I don't think it's true in general, either. I think there are really very few things that "aren't fun until you're good at them." That doesn't mean there aren't many other reasons to pursue competence (the pursuit of competence is certainly often fun in itself, but it seems to me to have many rewards along the way, not save them all up for months or years down the line).

Also - what are "children"?

People. I see much the same things going on at all ages, though of course one's preoccupations are different, and one necessarily learns something highly specialized in a less holistic fashion than one learns to walk or talk.

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

So what has all that educational excellence and sameness gotten for the Chinese? All forged by parents forcing kids to learn the "valuable" skills to mastery. It seems like they are literally, at least a century behind. Sure, now they are making inroads, and perhaps catching up, but only history will tell for sure. It has only come after centuries of misery. If we have 1 billion excellent violinists, all because your culture somehow has decided violining is good, what good is being the another excellent violinist? The point is, in our culture, and really for any progress, you need to stand out, do something different than others, evolve. And that means developing your own talents, not those of the ancient past. (Old values are important too, they're just not the only thing.) That type of intensive "education to mastery" is always going to be educating the child to the parent's generation and values, possibly at expense of child's.

PS. One other thing. If you always expect your child to get an "A", or be top of the class, doesn't it really just mean you haven't tried a real challenge? At some point, everybody learns they "aren't the best", and it isn't really the sole point of education. It seems very limiting actually.

-parent

none1111 said...

I haven't read her book, nor do I plan to. She may very well have come to "see the light", or not. Doesn't matter to me.

But if I could summarize my take on the whole thing briefly (ha) it would be this: she takes good fundamental ideas (high expectations, unpleasant rote practice as a required aspect of some learning and skill acquisition, TV sucks, parents need to be strong leaders and make the tough decisions as well as provide scaffolding for their kids, etc., etc.), but she takes them to wild extremes instead of reasonable levels.

i.e. it's great to push for As, and it's great to try to be the best in your class (although not at everything!). But it's not the end of the world if it doesn't happen! In fact it's statistically unlikely to happen very often, especially if there are other high achievers in your classrooms. Part of life is learning how to deal with failures as well as successes.

Having the TV on all the time, especially as "background noise", is probably the biggest disservice we, as a society, do to our children. Every hour the TV is on is another hour they are not reading, playing games, doing homework or chores, conversing, or somehow engaging in something meaningful. But again, taken to the absolute limit of no TV whatsoever goes beyond productive. There are some outstanding educational shows that can be nice in moderation. Heck, there's nothing wrong with the occasional cartoon or whatever for fun now and then...

There's nothing wrong with criticizing your kids when they're not putting in a good effort or did a particularly bad job on something. Criticism, just like failure, is a part of life. But there's a balance; too much criticism is exhausting and kills self-esteem. And something that I'm personally very careful about is name-calling. Saying "this is garbage", referring to some particular piece of work your kid did, might be acceptable if it was particularly bad. But saying "You are garbage" is unacceptable to me, under any circumstances. Ever.

Not all of her ideas are terrible in concept, they're just taken to extreme so far as to be damaging.

Bird said...

"My job isn't to teach my graddaughter arithmetic, math, English...I see the gap in the school district. I see where there's faults. I understand that I need to pick up and help out,but it shouldn't be my responsibility, not as a parent, not as a grandparent, not as a custodial parent, nothing. It's not my job"

This is a quote from one LEV's new podcasts

This is the voice of the achievement gap, the anti-tiger mom.

hschinske said...

There's a lot of stuff that poor woman got landed with that isn't strictly speaking her job (*seven* grandchildren in elementary school, including three second-graders? that's like adopting triplets *and* four other kids). I don't think I can blame her for having excessive homework be the straw that broke the camel's back. It really DOESN'T make sense to send a little girl home with homework she can't read or understand how to do.

I would think being a single guardian of seven kids (plus being a nurse, plus going back to school herself) would mean working as hard as Amy Chua going backward in high heels, myself.

Helen Schinske