Tiger Mom is All-American
I’ve debated whether or not to blog about Amy Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.” After seeing several interviews with her, reading about her, seeing several interviews ABOUT her and scanning through her book, I have a few things to say. I hate to break the news to her, as much as she wants us to believe she’s different from us, I don’t think she’s much of a Chinese mom. She’s much more the uber-AMERICAN mom. China has much more of a group-think culture than us Westerners. We’re capitalists. We’re all about competition, and that includes our kids. Amy Chua just takes good old American competition to the extreme.
Be honest. How many of you know Tiger moms as depicted by Ms. Chua? How many of you have been Tiger moms at one time or another? I know I have. I once told my crying daughter that an essay she had written was bad and if she expected to get a good grade, she needed to revise it. While I didn’t MAKE her re-write it (something Amy Chua would have done), she did revise it on her own. We’re Americans. We’re all about being the best for the sake of being the best. That seems to be Chua’s goal. Fortunately, her daughters must have some pretty great genetic intelligence so that they can live up to her narrow definition of success. I hope they’ll be able to navigate their social lives both in and out of the workplace because they apparently aren’t getting any unsupervised practice dealing with their peers right now.
But superficial success for the sake of being the best can have its drawbacks. I just read an article in this morning’s NYTs about how there are more college freshmen than ever before saying they feel too much pressure. They’re coming to college on anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs.
Part of this pressure might be the result of students feeling pushed to be the best without thinking about why they need to be the best. Heather Wilson wrote an interesting editorial in the Sunday Washington Post. She has served on the Rhodes Scholarship selection committee for 20 years, is an Air Force Academy graduate and a Rhodes Scholar herself. She says that she has seen a growing trend toward top colleges and universities turning out students who have difficulty thinking across disciplines. They are not widely read, nor are they driven to make a difference in the world around them.
She writes, “Our great universities seem to have redefined what it means to be an exceptional student. They are producing top students who have given very little thought to matters beyond their impressive grasp of an intense area of study. This narrowing has resulted in a curiously unprepared and superficial pre-professionalism.”
Wilson goes on to say that the students “believe they are exceptionally well-educated. They have jumped through every hoop put in front of them to be the top of their classes in our country’s best universities, and they have been lavishly praised for doing so. They seem so surprised when asked simple direct questions that they have never considered.”
I think this narrow approach to education is also in high schools, and often parents like Amy Chua are pushing kids into this pressure cooker, which takes the critical thinking and joy out of education.
My friend who has been a teacher for 30 years and is currently a very dedicated International Baccalaureate coordinator in a high school in Kansas wrote this in an email to me: “I am not seeing the altruistic “fire in the belly” IB kids as I have in the past few years. I think that it definitely has to do w/ the drill and kill nature of preparation for assessments in the test driven craze. They are used to being spoon fed and told rather than really thinking for themselves. With my non IB, so-called honors sophomore class that I have this year, I have really gotten a huge dose of reality. They are SO darn passive, and they will do NOTHING outside of class that requires any individual assertion of will. It’s frightening. They will NOT read ANYTHING outside class, and it’s a designated honors class, for heaven sake. I find myself having to read TO them because they can’t get it—just read “The Devil and Tom Walker “ aloud to them. These poor kids have never experienced the joy of “reading hour” on carpet squares, in celebration of the joy of reading!!! And it shows!!! I am cooking up an individual project for them — starting Monday, they will become Transcendentalists for a week and must take a nature walk, write journals etc. It is an experiment, the results of which quite frankly scare me because I don’t know if they have it within them to embrace any aspect of Thoreau or Emerson. We will see. . ."
These students sound like what Tiger Mom is churning out. I’m not sure she even knows why she’s parenting the way she is. It was humorous to hear her backtracking and contradicting herself in interviews. She seemed genuinely surprised that parents reacted to her book. Come on. In one interview, she said the parenting was supposed to be sort of “tongue in cheek.” In another, she was firmly advocating her parenting style and calling “Western” parents wishy-washy (even though she’s a Western parent). So, are we supposed to take it seriously, or not? In another interview, she was whining, “It’s just a memoir.” Excuse me. Memoir? At the risk of being an armchair psychologist, maybe she wrote it because her husband is a published author and she needed to be one, too. The competition must be fierce at their house!
Ultimately, I hope both of her daughters stack up enough A’s and super-high test scores to get into an Ivy League college. But Chua shouldn’t blame her parenting style on the Chinese because she has plenty of company in her Western counterparts. She’s all-American.