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Old 01-14-2011, 12:18 PM   #1
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Chinese Mothers Are Superior to Western Moms

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Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

By AMY CHUA

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.



I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.
Ideas Market

All the same, even when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.

Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting. In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that "stressing academic success is not good for children" or that "parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun." By contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers felt the same way. Instead, the vast majority of the Chinese mothers said that they believe their children can be "the best" students, that "academic achievement reflects successful parenting," and that if children did not excel at school then there was "a problem" and parents "were not doing their job." Other studies indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

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.

Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young—maybe more than once—when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that. I knew exactly how highly he thought of me. I didn't actually think I was worthless or feel like a piece of garbage.

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.

The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. (I also once heard a Western father toast his adult daughter by calling her "beautiful and incredibly competent." She later told me that made her feel like garbage.)

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, "You're lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you." By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they're not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

I've thought long and hard about how Chinese parents can get away with what they do. I think there are three big differences between the Chinese and Western parental mind-sets.

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

Second, Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything. The reason for this is a little unclear, but it's probably a combination of Confucian filial piety and the fact that the parents have sacrificed and done so much for their children. (And it's true that Chinese mothers get in the trenches, putting in long grueling hours personally tutoring, training, interrogating and spying on their kids.) Anyway, the understanding is that Chinese children must spend their lives repaying their parents by obeying them and making them proud.

By contrast, I don't think most Westerners have the same view of children being permanently indebted to their parents. My husband, Jed, actually has the opposite view. "Children don't choose their parents," he once said to me. "They don't even choose to be born. It's parents who foist life on their kids, so it's the parents' responsibility to provide for them. Kids don't owe their parents anything. Their duty will be to their own kids." This strikes me as a terrible deal for the Western parent.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

Don't get me wrong: It's not that Chinese parents don't care about their children. Just the opposite. They would give up anything for their children. It's just an entirely different parenting model.

Here's a story in favor of coercion, Chinese-style. Lulu was about 7, still playing two instruments, and working on a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by the French composer Jacques Ibert. The piece is really cute—you can just imagine a little donkey ambling along a country road with its master—but it's also incredibly difficult for young players because the two hands have to keep schizophrenically different rhythms.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.

"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.

"You can't make me."

"Oh yes, I can."

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn't do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

"You just don't believe in her," I accused.

"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."

"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."

"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.

Then, out of the blue, Lulu did it. Her hands suddenly came together—her right and left hands each doing their own imperturbable thing—just like that.

Lulu realized it the same time I did. I held my breath. She tried it tentatively again. Then she played it more confidently and faster, and still the rhythm held. A moment later, she was beaming.

"Mommy, look—it's easy!" After that, she wanted to play the piece over and over and wouldn't leave the piano. That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up. When she performed "The Little White Donkey" at a recital a few weeks later, parents came up to me and said, "What a perfect piece for Lulu—it's so spunky and so her."

Even Jed gave me credit for that one. Western parents worry a lot about their children's self-esteem. But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't.

There are all these new books out there portraying Asian mothers as scheming, callous, overdriven people indifferent to their kids' true interests. For their part, many Chinese secretly believe that they care more about their children and are willing to sacrifice much more for them than Westerners, who seem perfectly content to let their children turn out badly. I think it's a misunderstanding on both sides. All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. The Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that.

Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions, supporting their choices, and providing positive reinforcement and a nurturing environment. By contrast, the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future, letting them see what they're capable of, and arming them with skills, work habits and inner confidence that no one can ever take away.


i dunno ... i find it hard to take her seriously. it all seems designed to shock "western" parents and cause instant hang-wringing and even more worries about what's best for Junior.

the piece seems a bit smug, and there's pictures of her daughters playing piano at Carnegie Hall.

thoughts?
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Old 01-14-2011, 01:23 PM   #2
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While I do think she might have some points (and yes, she sounds smug), this article shows another side:

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One evening in 1990, Eliza Noh hung up the phone with her sister. Disturbed about the conversation, Noh immediately started writing a letter to her sister, a college student who was often depressed. "I told her I supported her, and I encouraged her," Noh says.But her sister never read the letter. By the time it arrived, she'd killed herself.
Moved by that tragedy, Noh has spent much of her professional life studying depression and suicide among Asian-American women. An assistant professor of Asian-American studies at California State University at Fullerton, Noh has read the sobering statistics from the Department of Health and Human Services: Asian-American women ages 15-24 have the highest suicide rate of women in any race or ethnic group in that age group. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Asian-American women in that age range.
Depression starts even younger than age 15. Noh says one study has shown that as young as the fifth grade, Asian-American girls have the highest rate of depression so severe they've contemplated suicide.
As Noh and others have searched for the reasons, a complex answer has emerged.
First and foremost, they say "model minority" pressure -- the pressure some Asian-American families put on children to be high achievers at school and professionally -- helps explain the problem.
Push to achieve tied to suicide in Asian-American women - CNN.com
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Old 01-14-2011, 01:27 PM   #3
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I am glad that she is not my mother. I am also glad that she is not the mother of my SO.

That's pretty much the main thing that popped into my head.
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Old 01-14-2011, 01:58 PM   #4
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Interesting, Irvine, thanks for posting.

For anyone interested in looking at this from an academic perspective, this controversial article was featured in Canada's Macleans magazine's November issue: The enrollment controversy* - Canada - Macleans.ca (note - the article was first titled "Too Asian" but the title has since been changed.) Here's the first bit of it:

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When Alexandra and her friend Rachel, both graduates of Toronto’s Havergal College, an all-girls private school, were deciding which university to go to, they didn’t even bother considering the University of Toronto. “The only people from our school who went to U of T were Asian,” explains Alexandra, a second-year student who looks like a girl from an Aritzia billboard. “All the white kids,” she says, “go to Queen’s, Western and McGill.”

Alexandra eventually chose the University of Western Ontario. Her younger brother, now a high school senior deciding where he’d like to go, will head “either east, west or to McGill”—unusual academic options, but in keeping with what he wants from his university experience. “East would suit him because it’s chill, out west he could be a ski bum,” says Alexandra, who explains her little brother wants to study hard, but is also looking for a good time—which rules out U of T, a school with an academic reputation that can be a bit of a killjoy.

Or, as Alexandra puts it—she asked that her real name not be used in this article, and broached the topic of race at universities hesitantly—a “reputation of being Asian.”

Discussing the role that race plays in the self-selecting communities that more and more characterize university campuses makes many people uncomfortable. Still, an “Asian” school has come to mean one that is so academically focused that some students feel they can no longer compete or have fun. Indeed, Rachel, Alexandra and her brother belong to a growing cohort of student that’s eschewing some big-name schools over perceptions that they’re “too Asian.” It’s a term being used in some U.S. academic circles to describe a phenomenon that’s become such a cause for concern to university admissions officers and high school guidance counsellors that several elite universities to the south have faced scandals in recent years over limiting Asian applicants and keeping the numbers of white students artificially high.

Although university administrators here are loath to discuss the issue, students talk about it all the time. “Too Asian” is not about racism, say students like Alexandra: many white students simply believe that competing with Asians—both Asian Canadians and international students—requires a sacrifice of time and freedom they’re not willing to make. They complain that they can’t compete for spots in the best schools and can’t party as much as they’d like (too bad for them, most will say). Asian kids, meanwhile, say they are resented for taking the spots of white kids. “At graduation a Canadian—i.e. ‘white’—mother told me that I’m the reason her son didn’t get a space in university and that all the immigrants in the country are taking up university spots,” says Frankie Mao, a 22-year-old arts student at the University of British Columbia. “I knew it was wrong, being generalized in this category,” says Mao, “but f–k, I worked hard for it.”

That Asian students work harder is a fact born out by hard data. They tend to be strivers, high achievers and single-minded in their approach to university. Stephen Hsu, a physics prof at the University of Oregon who has written about the often subtle forms of discrimination faced by Asian-American university applicants, describes them as doing “disproportionately well—they tend to have high SAT scores, good grades in high school, and a lot of them really want to go to top universities.” In Canada, say Canadian high school guidance counsellors, that means the top-tier post-secondary institutions with international profiles specializing in math, science and business: U of T, UBC and the University of Waterloo. White students, by contrast, are more likely to choose universities and build their school lives around social interaction, athletics and self-actualization—and, yes, alcohol. When the two styles collide, the result is separation rather than integration.

...

One of the schools referred to is my school, the one I attended in the '00s, and the one that my daughter currently attends. There is *some* truth to it, but as with any generalization, it's not accurate for everyone. Some white students are overachievers. Some Asian students are slackers. Some social groups are made up of a mix of ethnicities, some people keep to their own ethnic group.

From my experience, and my daughter's, the notion that it's all work and no play is ridiculous - she has marks that would rival any high achieving Asian student (and I didn't even have to shame her! ), but still has plenty of time for a social life. Granted, we're both in the faculty of arts. The professional programs are much more pressure-packed, but even those students find time to let loose and blow off steam (she has friends, both Asian and white, in the engineering and business programs).

As for social separation of groups, I had several Asian friends (as a mature student and single parent who commuted daily, I wasn't that able to take part in campus life), and so does she, but they are Canadian born Asians. The separation seems to occur with either recent immigrants or international students. I don't think it's intentional - part of it could be the language barrier, and part of it could simply be that there's greater comfort hanging out with those you are culturally familiar with. I've heard more disparaging comments made about international students by Canadian born Asians, who refer to them as FOBs (fresh off the boat). I'm really not sure what can be done on an institutional level to combat this, and to integrate them into campus life. I've certainly never had the sense that they were unwelcome, though.

Kind of different from Irvine's original post, but this is what it reminded me of.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:10 PM   #5
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one point that i've come across in reading on this stuff is that, for all the outstanding achievement of Chinese (and Korean and Japanese and Taiwanese) students on international tests compared to their "western" counterparts, there's a lack of Nobel prize winners in math and science from China, especially compared to the US. likewise, while there are floods of engineers coming out of China and India, there aren't too many Googles and Apples.

but then i wonder if we're not wading too much into cultural stereotypes, and also ignoring much broader cultural contexts. which Chua seems to certainly be doing.

and the WSJ also knows that a good dose of China Panic is a great way to get some readers flocking to the site.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:27 PM   #6
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There are a few specific issues I take with her methodology, for lack of a better word.

First, as much as she can claim that EVERY Chinese child will get an A in anything (except gym, drama and art class seemingly) if you just drill it inside them, she's blowing smoke out of her ass. It isn't possible and does a real disservice to right-brainers who cannot excel at Math and Science, but on the other hand could be wonderful artists, musicians, etc. Skills which she doesn't seem to value at all. A professional classical musician friend of mine said to me "as much as I saw some real Asian prodigies growing up playing piano and violin with me, not a single one of their parents allowed them to actually study Music at the university-level since that was seen as a total waste of time." Not a positive outcome, IMO.

The second one relates to various social inadequacies which I think this encourages. For example, the real lack of a community feeling when you forbid your children to participate in a school play where they would get to know lots of other kids and teachers and the ban on playdates, organized sports, etc. But what mostly bothers me is her completely overblown responses to relatively small problems in life. She treats an A- as a complete calamity, refers to her daughter as "garbage" in public when she misbehaves, etc. There is something to be said for both learning and maintaining perspective in life - the ability to recognize what is and is not important, what is and is not worth a fight, and so on. I think that is a hugely important trait to have as a functional adult. This is a woman who is clearly part of the upper middle or upper class and it makes me very much wonder how she would have dealt with real stress in her life - instead she got two brilliant daughters, albeit one who rebelled to an extent.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:29 PM   #7
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and what's interesting, perusing the comments in the WSJ article, is that this is an excerpt from a book and the book is actually about how she has modified her parenting style and become less "chinese" when her youngest daughter rebelled when she was 13.

so way to go WSJ -- work that China Panic!
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:40 PM   #8
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Typical.

I do think that it's unfortunate that she is such an obviously extreme case. In subsequent interviews she has herself stated that she's a workaholic and has not learned how to enjoy life (how sad). She brings up some very interesting and valid points but I think her totally over-the-top style will kill positive discussion because she'll be written off and kind of nutso.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:44 PM   #9
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That sort of authoritarian Chinese parenting described will certainly produce highly efficient and obedient drones if that's what your particular society needs and values.

To add to Irvine's observation, highly efficient, obedient drones aren't equipped to be particularly inventive or innovative.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:48 PM   #10
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She's way over the top. Her whole theory falls apart to me where I basically was like those kids (straight As, played violin and piano, bla bla bla) and my mom didn't raise me in a bubble or restrict me from playing with friends, being in the school play, etc. She has some good/interesting points but I don't think it's all mutually exclusive, that in order to be a top student you HAVE to socially quarantine yourself, in order to be an accomplished violinist you can't be in the school play ever, etc.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:48 PM   #11
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i guess on a personal level, if i were to one day have a child, i would like to encourage excellence -- particularly as they become teenagers, i think it's important to pick an activity (sports, music, drama, art, whatever ...) and really put in the time and dare to become really, really good at something. that probably will involve endless repetition, and that probably will involve some "pushing" and not letting a child quit when they are bored or frustrated and reminding them of the commitment they've made, and it will probably mean endless carpooling on the parent's end. but, gosh, i can't imagine myself having done well with a mother like this. it probably would have been fine until i was about 12 or 13 and then, having come to realize that i was interested in things beyond my mother's approval, the backlash would have started and probably not have been pretty and all that work might have been torn down.

western kids grow up expecting a degree of autonomy, and part of the challenge is likely watching them (and even allowing them) to fail. Chua seems (or seemed) to be afraid not for her daughter to fail, but for her to have been a mother to a daughter who failed at something. that's a critical distinction, in my mind.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:51 PM   #12
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Well, Chua's already said the WSJ's headline (the editor's choice, not hers) upset her, and that their "excerpt" in fact strings together decontextualized (albeit provocative) passages from a book that's in fact overall about how her approach to motherhood evolved over time--including adopting some of those "Western approaches" she initially considered anathema. And there's definitely some self-deprecating satirical humor in there, too (as readers of some of Chua's previous writings will be unsurprised to see). Nonetheless, on the whole she's quite serious; I'm just pointing these things out because Chua herself has made clear that she feels her book's been significantly misrepresented by this "excerpt."

But, I think what's more interesting is probably the range of responses "mainstream American" parents and children have had to the piece. Chua's not wrong, of course, to suggest that immigrant parents in general really do tend towards (what the rest of us might call) a "traditional," "authoritarian," "slave-driver" approach to inculcating not only filial respect, but also great drive for achievement and for wide-ranging competencies, in their children. Nor is she wrong to suggest that Americans, period, tend towards the impression that Chinese-American immigrant- and first-generation parents, in particular, are renowned for setting extremely high standards for their children, from kindergarten through to the commencement of career. And that the rest of us often react to that with an ambivalent mix of, on the one hand, perhaps smugly reassuring ourselves that we (or our kids) are "cooler," and "better socially adjusted," and "braver" about choosing the paths in life we really wanted than they (or their kids) are--yet on the other hand, sometimes looking enviously (wistfully?) at all that inarguable achievement, at the genuine pleasure in making one's parents proud, and thinking, Wait, I (or my kid) could've done that--that kid's not really smarter or more gifted, after all--and what does it say about me that I didn't? So, part of the widely outraged response to this piece is simply because Chua directly called that unspoken dialogue out, in a way that's slyly (or sincerely, depending on your perspective) ambiguous about where exactly the truth, the holy grail of "perfect parenting," really lies.

FWIW, one thing that has drawn her a lot of blogosphere criticism from other Asian-Americans is her seemingly untroubled relaying of the supposed commonness of openly derogating one's children when they don't meet the standard. Quite a few objected that no, that kind of talk is neither normative nor admired as a parenting tactic, plus it undercuts the case that ultimately this is all about truly believing in your children's potential, about wanting only the best for them and being determined to equip them as well as you can to achieve just that.

Perhaps partly as a child of immigrants myself (and, how could she fail to mention Jewish mothers! What's up with that? ), I did rather like this passage:
Quote:
"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."
"What's this 'everybody wins a ribbon' crap?" I remember my own mother snorting once, as I recall, in reponse to the way my little brother's school handled Science Fair "judging." In her case, not so much because she was the kind of parent who'd only accept blue ribbons from her children, as because she was indignant that any child should ever be given a "token" reward when s/he hadn't actually earned any; that that teaches them the wrong lesson about what reward and distinction really means. I agree with her, and tend to see this kind of misguided "confidence-boosting" as going hand-in-hand with the equally misguided tendency to want to be your kids' best buddy, rather than guide and mentor charged with producing an upstanding and productive member of society, a far weightier and more important responsibility than being their pal and confidante (the latter state won't last, anyway).

Chua's faith in "rote repetition" (an ironic redundancy) is, at least as a matter of degree, something I expect I'd disagree with her on, though. Particularly having just come from a year teaching mainland and HK Cantonese students in Hong Kong, where they're wisely revising their higher education system and its pedagogical philosophy to make more room for approaches which cultivate original, critical thinking and innovation through teamwork among peers--skills the business community there has long warned them are in damagingly short supply among Chinese students, even though they know how to ace standardized tests like no one's business. That's absolutely not to say there isn't a place for repetition in education--but it's far from the whole of learning, and the sense of its ultimate use must be kept in perspective.

Perhaps because of her faith in repetition, I think Chua also does "traditional," "demanding" parenting a disservice by portraying academic achievement as a reward one may only enjoy after years of tedious, joyless, nose-to-grindstone work. Again, I'm absolutely not saying that cultivating a hefty appreciation for delayed gratification in kids isn't important. But there can be so much more to studying and learning together than that! I remember a friend of mine in high school disapprovingly and grumblingly deeming my father a "slave driver" because my brothers and I had to spend all afternoon every Saturday studying Talmud with him (which required considerable self-prep on our parts during the week, as well). He didn't get that we truly loved to do it--that we had a big family and a busy father, and for us, this was among other things a cherished dose of quality time where we knew we'd enjoy his full and undivided attention...not just his hugs or his efficiently dispensed advice on schoolwork or personal problems, but several hours' worth of real conversation, wrestling with ideas--logic, philosophy, narrative--and invariably, some stories drawn from history or literature or his own life experiences too, ones we'd never have heard otherwise. Same for our weekly Greek lesson with that other "slave driver," our mother--we didn't just do dry grammar and vocabulary drills (though there was plenty of that), she also got us reading and discussing actual texts the very moment we were able. That's the kind of attitude towards learning I most want to pass onto my kids--yes it's about hard work, yes it's about performance pressures and regular moments of self-disappointment and knowing you've missed the mark, but it's also about sharing and coming to appreciate one another's unique insights, and the excitement of knowing there are always more discoveries waiting around the corner.
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Old 01-14-2011, 02:59 PM   #13
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i would like to encourage excellence -- particularly as they become teenagers, i think it's important to pick an activity (sports, music, drama, art, whatever ...) and really put in the time and dare to become really, really good at something. that probably will involve endless repetition, and that probably will involve some "pushing" and not letting a child quit when they are bored or frustrated and reminding them of the commitment they've made, and it will probably mean endless carpooling on the parent's end.
Agreed, as long as it's the child who has chosen the activity. And as long as it's not to the exclusion of other beneficial and enjoyable activities that would help them be well-rounded.
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Old 01-14-2011, 03:10 PM   #14
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But, I think what's more interesting is probably the range of responses "mainstream American" parents and children have had to the piece. Chua's not wrong, of course, to suggest that immigrant parents in general really do tend towards (what the rest of us might call) a "traditional," "authoritarian," "slave-driver" approach to inculcating not only filial respect, but also great drive for achievement and for wide-ranging competencies, in their children. Nor is she wrong to suggest that Americans, period, tend towards the impression that Chinese-American immigrant- and first-generation parents, in particular, are renowned for setting extremely high standards for their children, from kindergarten through to the commencement of career. And that the rest of us often react to that with an ambivalent mix of, on the one hand, perhaps smugly reassuring ourselves that we (or our kids) are "cooler," and "better socially adjusted," and "braver" about choosing the paths in life we really wanted than they (or their kids) are--yet on the other hand, sometimes looking enviously (wistfully?) at all that inarguable achievement, at the genuine pleasure in making one's parents proud, and thinking, Wait, I (or my kid) could've done that--that kid's not really smarter or more gifted, after all--and what does it say about me that I didn't? So, part of the widely outraged response to this piece is simply because Chua directly called that unspoken dialogue out, in a way that's slyly (or sincerely, depending on your perspective) ambiguous about where exactly the truth, the holy grail of "perfect parenting," really lies.

i found this really interesting, and for me, perhaps not being a parent, i find these parental concerns, while understandable, fairly self-absorbed. does it really matter how *you* (the collective "you," not "you, Yolland") feel about how you feel your child reflects your parenting skills? assuming a base level of good citizenship and basic kindness, is it not better that you have a child who is happy, whether or not that child derives their happiness from making the parent happy or from whatever else? or is a child's happiness even the point here? i remember the admiration my mother would express towards some of the stereotypically violin-and-math Asian kids i knew growing up, but i never, ever wanted to trade places with them. in fact, one was one of the more unhappy people i knew growing up. i can also think of another who was even more math-and-violin, who was happy, but that seemed more a natural reflection of who she was rather than something imposed upon her.

but i dunno. i felt like i was pushed, possibly too much at certain points, but the pushing was only unpleasant when it felt like it was to gratify my mother rather than achieve my own goals.
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Old 01-14-2011, 03:15 PM   #15
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she also got us reading and discussing actual texts the very moment we were able. That's the kind of attitude towards learning I most want to pass onto my kids--yes it's about hard work, yes it's about performance pressures and regular moments of self-disappointment and knowing you've missed the mark, but it's also about sharing and coming to appreciate one another's unique insights, and the excitement of knowing there are always more discoveries waiting around the corner.


I'm also a big believer in driving excellence in areas that build on one's natural strengths and abilities.
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