Thursday, February 3, 2011

Tiger Mother or Paper Tiger

Amy Chua’s WSJ article “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” and forthcoming book Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother generated an uproar last month over her parenting style. She practices the ‘Chinese’ or immigrant model which she contrasts with the ‘Western’ model. The Chinese model denies children playdates and sleepovers in favor of hours of homework and practicing w/ musical instruments through. The Western Model encourages freedo/ self-expression and positive reinforcement in order to boost self-esteem (note all ‘self’ in there).

You would think Westerners would be in interested in the Chinese model since Asian kids are taking the top academic spots and Chinese and Indians are routinely outperforming Americans on international math and science tests. Instead, they criticized Chua and called her a terrible mother who is ruing her children’s lives.

Even more surprising is Chua’s reaction: she has backed down from her initial claim. She says the WSJ article was an excerpt and doesn’t adequately reflect her views. What she “really” thinks is there is no “better” or “worse” when it comes to parenting. This is just her personal journey.

This fallback to relativism seems convenient since it alleviates her of the responsibility of defending her arguments. Yet you can tell it is a fallback since she says her way is also the way of many of her students at Yale Law School. It is doubtful she thinks all parenting styles are equal when it comes to getting your kids into the Ivy Leagues.

Why back down? Maybe it is the way she was brought up. The Chinese model is based on a shame culture in which praise and blame are used to motivate children. This emphasis on human respect (“don’t embarrass your parents”) does not cultivate real character in a person. Chua’s retreat seems to be the result that she is afraid of the criticism she has incurred. But if she really believes that Western parenting is a problem, which I think she really does , she should defend that claim despite the public backlash it engenders.

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