Tiger-Mom: Rearing Kids The Asian Or American Way

            Amy Chua wrote a controversial article for the Wall Street Journal regarding the differences in how Asians and Americans rear their children.(1) She has kept a journal of parenting she refers to as the ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’.  She graduated from Harvard Law School and now teaches law at Yale.  Amy’s husband is also a professor of law at Yale and she has two daughters, Sophia and Louisa.  Sophia was recently accepted at both Harvard and Yale and must make the difficult decision which school to attend.

            Chua’s article depicts Chinese (Asian) mothers as being more strict than American mothers. She insinuates in the article that Asian parenting methods are superior to American parenting methods.  She points to the higher achievement levels of Asian students to prove her premise.  Few would argue that Asian students generally perform at higher levels when compared to other ethnic groups but one must question what are the ultimate goals Asian and American mothers have for there children and in what ways do these goals differ?

            Amy Chua promotes a type of ‘drill sergeant’ approach to enforcing discipline on her daughters.  The long list of ‘no’s’ include:  no sleepovers, no play dates, no bailing out of the school plays, no TV or computer games, nothing less than an ‘A’ and nothing less than ‘number one’ in every subject except gym and drama.  Her children had no alternative but to become proficient performers in piano and violin.

            She is honest about the stress that built up in her children.  She relates an incident that took place while the family vacationed in Moscow.  After a heated confrontation with one of her daughters, that daughter “hacked off her hair with a pair of scissors and…smashed a glass in a cafe, screaming, “I’m not what you want – I’m not Chinese! I don’t want to be Chinese. Why can’t you get that through your head? I hate the violin. I hate my life. I hate you, and I hate this family!”(2)

            As I read Chua’s article I thought of the philosophy my own father had toward education.  My father didn’t have a college degree, in fact, he didn’t even have a high school diploma but he was a very gifted man with bucket loads of common sense.  “Kevin, I would love for you to get straight A’s but if that means you have to give up playing baseball, and building tree houses and those hunting trips in the woods, well, I’m okay if you bring home a few B’s.”  My father was more interested that I be a well-rounded individual rather than a piano prodigy.

            It would be inexcusable to dismiss Chua’s article or too be overly critical.  I am certainly in favor of limiting television and video games for children.  Their entertainment value is questionable and young minds are too precious to waste on the frivolous and meaningless.  Who wouldn’t agree with Chua that “practice, practice, practice” makes perfect.  But what is the opportunity cost of investing 10,000 hours of piano practice in order to reach the concerto level?  It would be tragic if junior turned 40 and never had any children or grandchildren because he was married to the piano and never developed the social skills necessary to win a wife.

            Chua’s take on the Western society’s unabashed habit of bestowing self-esteem on unworthy candidates is spot-on.  Our culture seems over-loaded with pop-stars and talented athletes that think they are somehow responsible for the rotations of the earth.  When you successfully convince a child he is the world’s best by age seven he will waste a lot of time during his developmental years passing on opportunities to learn skills to survive and excel because he has been convinced he has already arrived.  This attitude of pseudo-self esteem is a motivational killer.  Lying is always harmful.  To tell a child that he/she is good or exceptional when they are not will not help them, it will destroy them.  Many youth in our culture have embraced the deception that they are at the top of the ladder and there are no more steps to climb.  Unfortunately, this belief imprisons and condemns them to the lower rungs.

            Because my brother is a missionary to Japan I have had the privilege of knowing many Asian friends and visiting some high schools in the Tokyo area.  I was most impressed by the respect these students had for their teachers and elders.  But it was troubling to see how uniform they were in all that they did.  It was like watching a school of fish in the ocean.  They all swim in the same direction in perfect synchrony.  I felt like the pressure toward group uniformity hampered the development of creativity.  They were great at rote memorization and repetition but seemed to be lacking in creative thinking.  I don’t want to throw this wet blanket over the entire student population of Asia.  There are some wonderful and outstanding exceptions to the rule.

            John Barnett wrote an excellent article for American Thinker comparing American and Asian techniques for educating and parenting.(3)  Barnett has many years experience teaching Asian children.  He illustrates this lack of creativity by telling a story of a class of Korean students who were given an assignment to draw a picture of a dog.  When they were given a picture of a dog they reproduced it almost perfectly and effortlessly.  But, when no picture was provided they struggled greatly to draw a dog from memory.

            Such methods of rote memory and repetition can lead to a mindlessness that is rejected by most Americans.  Barnett also points out that accomplished pianists among Asian peoples are a dime a dozen but famous composers are hard to find.  In the west, you never know when the next Thomas Edison or Henry Ford, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg is going to emerge.  Because we emphasize individuality and creativity we seem to come up with a much greater number of new ideas.  The economies of many Asian countries depend on their ability to improve on what we have already created.

            Perhaps the Tiger Mother method works well for some but to promote it as a catch all system for the masses is a little over the top.  As for rearing and educating my five-year old son, we’ll stick with the American way of learning rugged individualism, fostering creativity and respect for others based on traditional Judeo-Christian values.

  1.  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html

     2.   http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/15/amy-chua-tiger-mother-interview

     3.  http://www.americanthinker.com/2011/05/tiger_mother_burning_bright.html

     4.  www.kpprobst.blogspot.com

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