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Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
January 9, 2011 7:40 AM   Subscribe

"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."

The writer Amy Chua continues in the article:
"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."
posted by typewriter (407 comments total) 81 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, it seems like she wrote that excerpt to be insulting to everyone.

I understand refusing to allow your child to give up on things you are confident that they can do and how this can lead to benefits later in life. But c'mon, you're kidding yourself if you think that calling your children pathetic is only motivating them and not insulting or detrimental to them in any way.
posted by cyphill at 7:55 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by rxrfrx at 7:55 AM on January 9, 2011 [72 favorites]


I think she wrote a book about this or something? I think just the other day I was reading about it in Entertainment Weekly.

Anyway, it's definitely interesting. It's so unlike my experiences growing up that I can't even imagine.
posted by kbanas at 7:56 AM on January 9, 2011


Jesus. The story near the end where she forces her daughter Lulu to learn the difficult piano piece is kind of heartbreaking. No, it's not heartbreaking in the sense that I feel bad for the child whose parent is essentially abusing her into being able to play the piece, it's heartbreaking because the mother cares that much.

Seriously, it's a fucking piano recital. Chill out and get some perspective. There is no reason to go completely apeshit on your kid because she can't/won't/doesn't feel like playing a particular piano piece. It is heartbreaking to me that you need that kind of validation (for lack of a better word) through your children.

The kid can play the piece at the end, and the mother beams with pride because other mothers compliment her choice of the piece for Lulu. You're proud of what you've done? You've taken a small human who trusts you with everything she has and forced and coerced her into doing something she didn't really want to do, then when she could do it on her own, she was happy about it. You're proud of that? Good work, I guess.
posted by King Bee at 7:56 AM on January 9, 2011 [44 favorites]


I need to call my parents and thank them for letting me be a child.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:58 AM on January 9, 2011 [69 favorites]


Whatever happened to "everything in moderation"? Sheesh.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 8:00 AM on January 9, 2011


I think she wrote a book about this or something?

Yes. Chua is author of "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," which just came out. This blog post is a trolling promo piece for her book.
posted by honest knave at 8:01 AM on January 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


Being in school plays is what kept me from dropping out of high school, like my brother. So school plays were essential to my acceptance into graduate school.

Also, drama-trained academics are much better at reading papers at conferences, in those fields were paper-reading is expected. You approach it like a staged reading of a play.
posted by jb at 8:03 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


This article is Grade A Pure Premium trolling writ large, but it's not exactly a surprise that involved parenting stressing long-term success over short-term fun, within the context of a culture that values such achievement, usually produces kids who do well in those arenas.

I also imagine that having at least one parent who's a law professor at one of the nation's top law schools helped, but she probably wouldn't deny that.

Fun fact: Asian-Americans are much more likely to commit suicide than other groups. She probably wouldn't find it funny if you rewrote her article to be "How To Raise A Suicidal Child," though, because she'd probably only want to take credit for good things and good stereotypes.

...

Her checklist is surprisingly similar to my own childhood, which is actually sort of astonishing to me as I'd never really perceived it as having been like that. I've turned out both poorly and well as a result.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:04 AM on January 9, 2011 [59 favorites]


Sure it goes goes swimmingly until your daughter gets picked to play the swan queen.
posted by The Whelk at 8:04 AM on January 9, 2011 [79 favorites]


This blog post is a trolling promo piece for her book.

I can't find that flag, so I chose 'other.'
posted by fixedgear at 8:05 AM on January 9, 2011


I wonder if she's read the various AskMes from people who are all "I grew up in a very close but controlling family, and now I'm 25 and scared to tell my parents I'm gay/have a boyfriend/want to get a job 5000 miles away/what kind of flowers I want at my wedding/don't want to go to law school etc."
posted by rtha at 8:06 AM on January 9, 2011 [40 favorites]


At five years old, my parents tricked me into doing math problems by paying me 5 cents per page. At that age, I really thought that I was the one fleecing them as I worked furiously to take fifty cents to a dollar each day.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 8:06 AM on January 9, 2011 [38 favorites]


I don't know what the burn out rate is, but amongst the Asian-Australian adults I've known since they were raised like this as kids, this style of parenting seems to have worked. They're happy, well adjusted, socially competent, successful adults.

Granted, they were very intelligent and bright kids anyway, and they missed much of the fun that the rest of us had as children, but they really do not seem to be suffering for it now.
posted by Ahab at 8:07 AM on January 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh golly!
*joins empath*
posted by From Bklyn at 8:07 AM on January 9, 2011


The article is skewed since it was written by a superior Chinese mother.

My wife is Chinese and we have children, now teenagers. Our story is different.
posted by rmmcclay at 8:08 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm glad I didn't have to address my mama as mother superior.
posted by joost de vries at 8:08 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What happens when 20 of these Chinese-mothered kids all end up in the same class? An arms-race? They can't all earn As. They can't all be the best.
posted by explosion at 8:08 AM on January 9, 2011 [37 favorites]


explosion, I teach those classes. It's not pretty.
posted by madcaptenor at 8:10 AM on January 9, 2011 [48 favorites]


Yeah, in my experience, this style of parenting backfires just as often as it succeeds, from subtle resistance to outright violence. Ms. Chua just better make sure there are no sharp objects lying around the next time she has a screaming match with her daughter over her "failure" to perfect a piano recital piece.
posted by banishedimmortal at 8:10 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know what the burn out rate is, but amongst the Asian-Australian adults I've known since they were raised like this as kids, this style of parenting seems to have worked. They're happy, well adjusted, socially competent, successful adults.

Granted, they were very intelligent and bright kids anyway, and they missed much of the fun that the rest of us had as children, but they really do not seem to be suffering for it now.


Yeah, as smug and irritating as this article was, I'd be lying if I said that everyone I knew who grew up in a high-pressure household was unhappy as a result. There are many different ways to raise adults who are more or less satisfied with their lives.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:11 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I almost taught English to children in South Korea. Thankfully a wise friend of mine, who had worked with me as a camp counselor, told me not to go there. She had taught in Korea and remembered all the times I complained about the children not having enough time in the woods and she said my hippie-dippy Waldorfy childhood philosophy would be crushed there. I didn't even go to school until I was 15 myself, so I'm not really suited for teaching.

So I work as a software developer. And a great many of my colleagues are from China or South Korea. They are much better at coding than I am, but while I don't want to stereotype, there is a reason that it seems managers in my sector stock half highly technical formally educated mostly-Asians and half a motley assortment of self-taught hackers from the US and Eastern Europe. I rely on the former a lot, but there are things they just don't do well, particularly in adoption of new techniques or in innovation during the information architecture stage. Since we started using open source code, it's been hard to get that side of the team to really get into the open source spirit of collaboration. That's just my own experience though.
posted by melissam at 8:12 AM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Is it time for someone to announce that they welcome our Chinese Overlords yet?
posted by Xoebe at 8:12 AM on January 9, 2011


The Chinese language is known to produce an astonishingly high number of people with "perfect pitch", especially when compared to a non-tonal language like English. Take from that what you will.
posted by readyfreddy at 8:13 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


What's described in the article is sounds basically like a more intense or extreme version of how I was raised. (I don't remember ever having been threatened with my toys being thrown out for not working, though some of my school things did end up in the garden once. I don't remember what led to that, probably not tidying when asked.) It turns out that my brother and I are fairly able students and my mother has admitted she'd have had no idea what to do if it had turned out we were idiots, but I would raise my hypothetical children the same way. I guess I'd rather not have been told I didn't work hard enough in Latin when I got frustrated, despite consistently being the top student, but she was right. Maybe don't tell the kid they're not working hard enough, but offer to help or quiz them (which my mother did--mostly by asking for me to explain it (since she'd forgotten most math and Latin from school) and asking dumb questions until I figured it out on my own). At the end of high school, after seven years of lackadaisical Latin, I got found out by the AP exam and I knew I would be--it took the sort of hard work I never did to get a 5.

I guess the point of all this is that I don't think assuming your kid is capable if they work hard enough or assuming that they're frustrated, not unable or unwilling, isn't a terrible approach in my mind.
posted by hoyland at 8:15 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


A young Chinese boy told me once that he got a "Chinese F" in school. I asked what he meant.
He got a "B" grade.

My son's best friend in high school, a great kid, with parents from Taiwan, told me he was going to go to either Harvard or Yale. He was kidding me and was not even allowed in the state university but did go to another university and has graduated. He was poking fun at a stereotype, knowing he did not fit it.
I had read an article some time ago suggesting that skills with math, seemingly associated with Chinese students, somehow is connected to the way they process their language, that it related to the language system. Beyond that I am not sure what that means or how that might work.
posted by Postroad at 8:16 AM on January 9, 2011


I just don't have it in me to call my daughter "fatty", so I guess we will have to muddle on in mediocrity.
posted by shothotbot at 8:23 AM on January 9, 2011 [44 favorites]


Something else I find funny about this topic - I was raised in the very academic but much more passive-aggressive universe of Having A Jewish Mother. She never threatened to burn my stuffed animals, but there would be seething and subtle put-downs if I was anything less than the best. It didn't make me "the best", but I managed to do quite fine academically, and it encouraged me to aim high and recognize my potential and blabbity-blah.

I think the biggest issue with the Tiger Mother approach is that many of the same skills that allow you to succeed in school are not the same skills that allow you to succeed in life. There are many min-maxers and grinders out there in the work force, people who are diligent and wildly intelligent, who can't network or "play the game" for crap.

This is especially bad news in the legal field, where I ostensibly am, because there are hundreds of people with swell GPAs at comparable law schools, but in today's frigid hiring clime, the jobs are going to those with sparkling personalities, who are thinking outside of the box, and who have extra skills. My arts degree has come into strangely practical use. My buddy is in the bottom quartile, grades-wise, but he has an excellent job lined up because of the extra skills he has acquired from his "permanent student, pursuing seemingly random interests" life thus far.
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:23 AM on January 9, 2011 [20 favorites]


A friend and mentor wrote her take on success and the pressures of Chinese American parenting culture. She makes an excellent rebuttal to Amy Chua, while also addressing issues of context.
posted by SaharaRose at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


In some ways, this is awful, but in a weird, small way, I am kind of envious of her children. I had the loosest parenting imaginable, and I was never forced to do anything I didn't want to do. What this meant is I did things that were easy for me and I almost immediately quit anything that required a modicum of effort. My parents signed me up for everything, and let me quit things I decided I hated. This resulted in the quitting of: Tap dancing, gymnastics, soccer, piano, acting three times (I kept coming back to that one), Hebrew school, the advanced math group in third grade, and my piece de resistance, law school at age 22. I kept art and ballet because they came to me more easily, and as a teenager I halfheartedly took up guitar and never got very good. As an adult, I halfheartedly take things up all the time. I don't know how to fully involve myself with anything. I don't know how to go deep. I'm a dilettante because I never learned how not to be.

I wasn't naturally good at any of the things I quit. They were all difficult for me and required effort and practice. I never learned how to put forth effort and practice, because most things were easy for me, and as soon as something wasn't, I got frustrated and quit. My mom and I had a conversation about this once and she lamented. She also said she never forced me to do things because I did the things that mattered without having to be forced: Her friends had to force their kids to sit down and do their homework, and she never had to do that with me. But I think she would have if homework had been difficult for me the way piano was or Hebrew school was.

To this day, I have a hard time making myself do things that don't come easily to me by nature. I wish I were a perfectionist and I am not. I know I could have straight As instead of a smattering of A minuses and B pluses in my graduate program if I knew how to try harder, but I just don't. Then again, I'm not sure it's worth the time investment anyway. It would be great if I were a world-class concert pianist or something though, and I'm kind of wistful about all the things I quit as a child because they were too hard and I didn't understand the concept of trying.
posted by millipede at 8:27 AM on January 9, 2011 [119 favorites]


OK, yeah, sure, if you push your kids hard enough, they will achieve whatever you make them achieve. Using a cane on them accelerates the process even further (see Jackie Chan). That doesn't mean it's the choice I would make. Regardless of being successful as adults, you've made them failures as children. That's a significant part of their life that was miserable, even if they become happy as adults.

Besides, though the "crush their independent will and then mold them in your image" philosophy is great at producing highly-tuned robots, it's terrible at producing clever, original human beings. Maybe that's why most new technologies and new styles of music are stereotypically invented in the West (even if they're perfected in the East -- I hear Asia's got that 1950s crooner thing really nailed now).

With all that said, being the robot-type personality I am, I sometimes wish I had been pushed harder as a kid, just so I would at least be a better robot.
posted by Xezlec at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Anyone else getting flashbacks to Amy Tan novels? Joy Luck Club dealt a lot with the damage that these mother-daughter relationships do, if I recall correctly.
posted by LucretiusJones at 8:30 AM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


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.

Assuming strength, not fragility -- that's important (and unusual). But it does not lead directly to the parenting style described here. There are a lot of other potential outcomes to respecting the humanity, resiliency, and ability of a child.
posted by fake at 8:31 AM on January 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's not particularly surprising (or at all indicative of a cultural trait) that a group of immigrants who landed one of very few visas allocated for several million people interested in emigrating would go on to teach their children that relentless hard work is required to succeed.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 8:31 AM on January 9, 2011 [27 favorites]


Yeah, we did this one already. Didn't go well then either.
posted by scalefree at 8:33 AM on January 9, 2011


Yeah, we did this one already. Didn't go well then either.

SO WE'LL DO IT AGAIN UNTIL IT'S PERFECT
posted by Sticherbeast at 8:34 AM on January 9, 2011 [272 favorites]


I had korean parents. This article describes them exactly.
posted by mnemonic at 8:35 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm glad this article was re-posted, because it's really worth a discussion. I will concede one point to this insane woman, who sounds like the product of a seriously fucked-up culture inflicting the same trauma on her children: she's right that western parenting has gone way too far into the model of letting children "discover" subjects and away from actually teaching and drilling them in such a way that children learn basic math and language skills. Having said that, her approach to parenting strikes me as just the sort of thing designed to make someone look back on their childhood with the kind of bitterness that they then want to inflict on their children.

I also think she's rather a brave woman to write something like this and think it makes her look resolute:

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."

You know, sometimes, you're not being contrarian, you're just being awful. If this woman can't see that insulting her daughter's personal appearance isn't setting her up for body image issues later in life, and that this has nothing to do with whether or not she is culturally superior to everyone around her, I'm not sure that there's a lot of room to reason with her about any of this. She seems to believe that western parenting creates academically wussy, incompetent kids, and therefore that anything that is connected to it is wrong.

Her extended story about her bullying, threatening, generally fucking insane approach to forcing her daughter to master a piano piece is one of the most remarkable pieces of unapologetic confession I've read. Like, holy shit, she only beat her daughter into submission by being more a petulant child herself. By threatening to get rid of her toys, by upping the ante of denying her Christmas (and Hanukah? What?) presents for the rest of her childhood! Can you imagine someone actually carrying out that threat?

Also, as others have pointed out, it's actually simply not possible for every child to get an A. So a child in a class full of Chinese children does, what, endure regular beatings because they can't possibly be at the top of every bell curve and there are only so many hours in the day?

I wonder if this woman would applaud an adult who did nothing but work all his life. Who got to the end without ever taking time to develop relationships, have a family, enjoy hobbies, or spend time with friends. But who, as a result, was always at the top of his field. Would she say that was a life well-lived? That the tradeoffs were worth it? That that's what life is about? Because that's the childhood she's giving her her children, and the one she thinks we should all give to ours.
posted by Dasein at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2011 [19 favorites]


My parents were irish catholic. All they managed to inculcate in me was alcoholism and shame.
posted by empath at 8:41 AM on January 9, 2011 [32 favorites]


I was raised this way. I remember my mom would make me memorize my history textbooks and then quiz me on passages and it would be around 2am and if I got an answer wrong, I had to go back and study more and then wake her up to be re-quizzed. Only when I had satisfied her, was I allowed to go to sleep. But I got A+'s on my tests. And it felt indescribably good when I got the tests back. Like a rush.

I remember kneeling in the basement where the flooring was not smooth concrete with my arms straight out to the side holding heavy textbooks while my mom was sitting on the steps to the kitchen quizzing me on multiplication tables. When we had Family Feud style games in class, I would rock the shit out of my classmates. I got the same intense rush of superiority and pride.

And at the time, I hated her, but I recognize what a sacrifice she made for me. She worked 12 hour days, 6 days of the week - she was exhausted but she spent most of her time at home working on helping me succeed.
posted by spec80 at 8:41 AM on January 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


*but I recognize NOW what a sacrifice she made for me

At the time, I thought she hated me intensely and did this to punish my existence.
posted by spec80 at 8:42 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


You do need to push kids, because they natually want to take the path of least effort, unless it's something they initiated (my husband was meticulous about his boat modelling). My niece is developmentally disabled. She will never get A's in a regular class or play piano in Carnegie Hall. But when forced to, she will do better in her reading and writing, clearing the table, cleaning her room.

But as someone said up thread, there is a balance, and things to be learned from the "fun" things. She plays video games -- her wii has improved some of her coordination and muscular control. She shares her remotes with her cousins without fighting. As I said, I was in school plays -- and I got very serious about drama. Theatre required me to memorise, to learn to work efficiently and professionally in groups, to pay attentions to deadlines -- because there are no extensions on an opening night. Yeah, I dropped piano, having never practiced. I'e since learned, from association with musicians, that I also had little aptitude for music. it really wasnt a loss.
posted by jb at 8:43 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


“[N]o one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half-deserved.”
“All this she must possess,” added Darcy, “and to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.”

posted by pwnguin at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Dear Prof. Chua:

You've ignored a few corollaries to your theory.

1. They will hate you as adults. They will despise you for denying them their own calling. They will resent you for having unrealistic, ignorant expectations. Most of all, they will have zero respect for you for not teaching them proper decision-making skills, which is key to surviving, let alone succeeding, in real life. Just wait and see.

2. Spending so much time alone as kids, they will be unable to properly socialize with the rest of the Western world. Hence the glass ceiling, etc--becomes entirely your doing as a parent.

The literature documents depression and suicide amongst second/third generation Asian-Americans, due to cultural conflicts centering around specifically this, traditional Asian parenting. Never heard about these kinds of stories in your community? Oh wait, it's because mental health, let alone suicide, is a taboo in your culture.

So, is your parenting method worth it? I've seen it, and it is risky and self-serving.

Sincerely,
Polymodus
posted by polymodus at 8:44 AM on January 9, 2011 [17 favorites]


I have sat on a top-tier college's admission committee. After the hundred or so piano and violin players who applied, the two saxophone players were a huge breath of fresh air and the tuba player appeared a downright rebel.
posted by procrastination at 8:45 AM on January 9, 2011 [116 favorites]


In all seriousness, I destroyed my classmates in spelling bees, geography bees, and math competitions for most of my childhood, and my parents didn't have to push me in the slightest. They only let me indulge my natural curiousity and bought me lots of books.

Kids actually like learning stuff. You really don't have to force them to do it.
posted by empath at 8:46 AM on January 9, 2011 [33 favorites]


> Yeah, in my experience, this style of parenting backfires just as often as it succeeds

Yes, and that statement is probably true about every style of parenting. It's sad more parents don't get that there are many ways to successfully raise a kid and their method isn't The One True Way. Cultural context, peer group norms, and the personalities of the kids as well as the parents all play a part. If you're trying to the be strict parent and you're really a softie, it may not work out well. If your kid has major behavioural problems, you may need to adapt your style to do what is best for them and works with other siblings.
posted by stp123 at 8:47 AM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


She trumpets it as cruelty, almost, but... these are generally reasonable things. The story with the piano? My parents, love them as I do, would have given up by hour 2... and did. I don't know how to play the piano though I took lessons for a bit and there is a piano in my house.
Regardless of the merits of being cruel, etc, this is the parents using their own time and effort to teach children at a young age to be resilient and use time well by POURING their own time and effort into their kids, and that's something worth emulating.
posted by EtzHadaat at 8:48 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


What happens when 20 of these Chinese-mothered kids all end up in the same class? An arms-race? They can't all earn As. They can't all be the best.

This happened somewhat when I was in junior high in the early 90s. The English teacher couldn't hand back assignments in class. She had to hand them out on the way out the door or else it was too emotionally distressing for the three high achieving Chinese girls in the class :S
posted by Calzephyr at 8:48 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Reading a biography of Charles Ives last year, I was struck by this quote from him, about his father:

Father never disturbed our mental processes while we were at play. He always entered into it seriously. ... How thankful we feel now, that father dreamed with us, how circumspect our lives would be now if he hadn't.

We're about to have a kid, and this is the kind of father that I want to be - to hell with "stereotypical" success.
posted by ryanshepard at 8:49 AM on January 9, 2011 [46 favorites]


I have sat on a top-tier college's admission committee. After the hundred or so piano and violin players who applied, the two saxophone players were a huge breath of fresh air and the tuba player appeared a downright rebel.
I think that's a really big problem for these parents and their kids. Elite colleges don't really reward that kind of parenting or the kids it produces. You're not going to get into Harvard on the basis of having straight A+s, perfect SATs, and being really good at the piano or violin, because they could fill an entire class with kids who are just like you, and it wouldn't be a very interesting class. So in a weird way, their kind of perfection is not rewarded (or not given the very highest rewards) in American culture. I don't exactly know how they deal with that.
posted by craichead at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.

What people who aren't shrill, egotistical monomaniacs understand, is that this is, of course, complete and utter specious bullshit.

I'm not good at lots of things, and I have fun at many of them. I doubt that genuine fun and joy play much part in this person's life.
posted by reynir at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2011 [24 favorites]


Can I also say how fucking bizzare it is that she explicitly will not let her children play anything other than the violin or the piano? It's almost like a parenting style whose success is predicated on their being a majority of sane, non-Chinese parents around so that they can raise the kids who will grow up to play every other instrument in the orchestra. I mean, seriously, what if everyone adopted this parenting style? What's the point of a world in which people only play violin and piano? What is so inherently wrong with every other instrument that it's not even conceivable that their kid could play it. The more I think about it, the more it perfectly encapsulates the insanity of this type of parenting: a world full of people playing the only two instruments that are deemed worthwhile, thereby destroying the sustainability of the musical tradition on which the popularity of these instruments rely. It is literally absurd.
posted by Dasein at 8:58 AM on January 9, 2011 [43 favorites]


King Bee : Seriously, it's a fucking piano recital. Chill out and get some perspective. There is no reason to go completely apeshit on your kid because she can't/won't/doesn't feel like playing a particular piano piece. It is heartbreaking to me that you need that kind of validation (for lack of a better word) through your children.

I think many of you have missed the point here - How to raise successful kids, not (necessarily) happy ones.

The real world doesn't care what you "want". It doesn't validate your "feelings". It doesn't let you grow up as a princess ballerina rockstar astronaut who marries a smart and funny supermodel.

I say this very much as a counterexample, as a proponent of the individual over societal expectations, but if you want to do well in life, the earlier you learn to shut up and do what "they" tell you, the better your future will look. Professors don't care that you find Joyce unbearably pretentious; Your boss doesn't care that you'd rather work on market forecasting than yet another report of what we sold last month; Your spouse doesn't care that you'd rather play video games than take out the garbage. You either pick the obvious "right" choice in each situation, or you suffer as a result.

It might help to think of this in terms of delayed gratification, rather than meanly stomping on a child's dreams. You want to learn the guitar? Do it during your midlife crisis after you've "made it" and can afford to take six months off to "find yourself".


Then again, I don't really consider our modern concept of "success" all that great; I have made quite a few choices in my own life that favored happiness over material wealth, so take the above more as a rationalization than a defense.
posted by pla at 8:59 AM on January 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


I'm not good at lots of things, and I have fun at many of them

Also, it's worth noting the rest of her logic:

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.

So learning is fun because of the satisfaction one gets from receiving praise, not because of any inherent qualities of the activity itself.
posted by Adam_S at 9:00 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


From the article: "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."

Well, that's just not true, until you pound the joy out of them. Children will work at things forEVER if it's interesting to them and have a great time doing it. The problem is really in the way we adults, parents and teachers and coaches, manage to make SO MANY interesting things (science, literature, music) really excruciatingly dull.

Not that kids don't need an adult helping them override their immaturity (my father always said maturity was "the ability to delay gratification," which is basically kids' big problem in a lot of ways) and helping them make good choices. But, damn, lady, you gotta let them learn to make good choices on their own or they panic when faced with novel situations.

My parents expected As or bust, but they also expected me to figure out how to get there on my own, and only stepped in when I was floundering. I'm a lot more self-disciplined than people I know whose parents did all their figuring-out for them and basically sat on them the entire time to ensure they achieved. I also thought school was more fun as a result.

Also, I grew up in a community that was around 30% Asian (mostly Korean), virtually all the adults born abroad, virtually all the kids born here, and a) most of my classmates' parents weren't nearly this crazy, despite my classmates' high achievement and b) they were SO SUPER SPOILED, just in different ways than I was. :) So, yeah, troll-y.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:03 AM on January 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


Chua's book is getting surprisingly nuanced reviews. In a time when it's considered a given that "overscheduled" American children have "no time to play," a mother who writes proudly about her children's strict schedules enforced by belittling and threats and her bans on playdates is being given a more than generous hearing. I think that's because her story lacks the things that cultural commentators are really complaining about with the "overscheduled generation" narrative: working mothers, an "entitled" younger generation raised to value self-esteem, and middle-class families that don't know their place.

Yes, Chua is a Yale law professor. But the "ultratraditionalist Chinese mother" archetype showcased in this article de-emphasizes that fact in most people's minds. As for the self-esteem part, well, calling your children "garbage" probably gives you a pass on that. And since Chua sells her approach to parenting as a cultural phenomenon passed down through generations, it's considered authentic, a kind of inheritance. But middle-class "Western parents" (to use her terminology) who send their kids to guitar lessons and aspire to Harvard are interlopers on the territory of the upper class, trying to give their children advantages to which they have no legitimate claim.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 9:04 AM on January 9, 2011 [23 favorites]


Ugh, didn't think my comment all the way through. I'm sure it was still emotionally distressing for the girls after they left the class if they had a poor mark. Two were born in China, one was born in Canada, yet they always seemed to be in their own little world. I was too young to think much about how they were raised or lived and it never crossed my mind until now that they might have had a lot of inner turmoil or conducted a lot of balancing acts. I don't care for Chua's parenting style, but at the same time, it is an eye-opener.
posted by Calzephyr at 9:04 AM on January 9, 2011


I keep telling my brain the article is not a spoof, but it won't let me believe that.
posted by Ms. Next at 9:05 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


She's got some points, but she takes it way too far. Plus, she's an incredibly unpleasant person.
posted by Edgewise at 9:05 AM on January 9, 2011


And meanwhile, Harvard professors are advocating the value of unstructured play for children in creating better Harvard students.

I guess we'll have to settle this professorial parenting debate at the annual football scrum.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:06 AM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


The same could be said about the Russian and Ukrainian parents of some of my students in level one German.
posted by vkxmai at 9:07 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am really torn on this. Like millipede, I too am a bit envious of her kids' being made to succeed come hell or high water. I have rarely been able to make myself get past the hard, frustrating part of anything and so I have a string of abandoned hobbies, a not even half-completed college degree (earned over ten years) and two divorces to show for it. The things I'm good at today are the things that came easily, and unfortunately none of those things seem to be helping me in the job market at the moment.

My father was authoritarian. My mother was permissive. Dad might have won out if he were home more and involved to the degree Amy Chua was, but as he always worked two jobs my mother had ample time to undo all the good he might have done... unfortunately without being able to shield us from the self-esteem-destroying effects of a father who also believed we were strong enough to take the ugly criticism and turn it into motivation.

My father did call us fatties... we were barely chubby then... because he thought it would make us "get mad and do something about it." Today my brother and I both have significant weight problems. My brother weighs probably over 500 pounds, in fact. Reading this article made me wonder whether if Dad had been around to be more controlling we'd have at least have the pride of achievement to soothe the emotional scars, but who knows. I felt like shit most of the time growing up because our friends and neighbors were not raised the same way. (Maybe that is why she does not allow her children play dates...)

Her children appear to be of mixed race, and from what she says of her husband he sounds Western. I can't imagine what it must be like to be the father and husband in that scenario and not agree with his wife's draconian style of parenting. Yet she gets away with having it her way anyway, apparently. He must be terrified of her.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:10 AM on January 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I guess we'll have to settle this professorial parenting debate at the annual football scrum.
Dude, gym is the only class in which her kids don't have to be number one! Harvard has an unfair advantage. Maybe they should have a piano-off or something!

(Actually, downplaying athletics is another thing that puts kids raised like this as a huge disadvantage in elite college admissions.)
posted by craichead at 9:10 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Fun fact: Asian-Americans are much more likely to commit suicide than other groups. She probably wouldn't find it funny if you rewrote her article to be "How To Raise A Suicidal Child," though, because she'd probably only want to take credit for good things and good stereotypes.

I don't intend to have children, but if I were, I would absolutely take the risk of increasing my child's tendency to commit suicide to dramatically increase their odds of being successful in life. I take this sort of risk every day (driving to a job instead of staying in an apartment, etc.). I don't think its even a remotely close question, given how few suicides there are compared to the number of successful Asian Americans as a percentage of the demographic compared to other groups.

One harder part of this is that there's a reinforcing cycle with this sort of behavior. By pure merit alone, virtually every top school, public or private, would be filled largely by Asian Americans. To avoid this result, there's been a non-trivial effort in United States universities to limit the admission of Asian Americans.

So now Asian American students aren't competing with the population at large; they're competing only with Asian American students for a tighter range of spots. This means what was good enough in 1990 (high SAT math score, straight A's, an instrument and top medal winner in Academic Decathalon) isn't anywhere good enough for 2010 (2400 on the SATs, 1st Chair violinist for youth orchestra, district champion in speech and debate, starter on the varsity tennis, starting two service organizations at the high school, editor in chief of newspaper and salutatorian of his high school class wasn't enough to get my friend's nephew from southern California into any Ivy League school in 2009, he "settled" for UC Berkeley). It's an arms race, where failure is measured in US News college rankings and gossip in extraordinarily tight circles where every parent knows every other child's achievements. Even as late as 14 years after I graduated high school, I went back to my old dentist and he told me he STILL talked about me and my brother to his Asian American patients and their parents. Hell, I didn't even remember stuff about my brother's achievements like he did. So the culture perpetuates itself ten-fold, because the parents believe their children are capable, and failure (of the Asian American type, most Western parents would be please as punch if their kid made UC Irvine) is not an option.
posted by shen1138 at 9:10 AM on January 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I've actually known a few Asian-Americans who weren't overachieving study-grinds. Wotta revelation, I know. A few of them were even burnout hoodlums like me and my friends.
posted by jonmc at 9:12 AM on January 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


One harder part of this is that there's a reinforcing cycle with this sort of behavior. By pure merit alone, virtually every top school, public or private, would be filled largely by Asian Americans. To avoid this result, there's been a non-trivial effort in United States universities to limit the admission of Asian Americans.

Depends what you mean by "merit", of course. If SAT scores are no longer weighted as highly, or at all, as "merit" for admissions, then the game changes yet again.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:13 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I stumbled across this the other day before it got deleted and it interested me.

As much as I feel like my parents didn't push me enough in the right way (really? I have to play base-ball?) and as much as I regret the stuff they didn't have time/money/knowledge to teach me...

It is interesting when you get grown people who have been raised this way into a class as adults.
I teach sewing and clothing design in a large city and was initially surprised at the number of accountants, actuaries, lawyers, and doctors in my sewing classes. But the thing I noticed is that so many of these students, most of whom are in their 30s or 40s feel... empty. I have to deal with all kinds of super-one-ups-manship initially and then when they realize that it isn't just some stupid art thing that would make an easy-breezy distraction, they seem to turn into a mess.

On one hand, they are full of process and can follow instructions to the T.
On the other, they seem to have no way to improvise and once they realize that is what they are going to need to do they freak out about "the right way" or the "rules!!!" for this or that.

Sometimes, I get really sad students. Students who feel like they have been tricked and that the accounting, actuarial, or surgical jobs they are doing aren't worth the scads of money they are making. This comes out more and more when we are alone and just working and talking. Sometimes there are tears and I don't quite know what to do about it because to comfort them in the wrong way would be insulting their parents, but not comforting them at all would be insensitive.

So it seems like a mixed bag. I have dealt with enough people who really feel creatively broken that it does not seem like a full-on great idea, but as an adult looking back I really wish that my parents would have pushed a number of things that they didn't or couldn't.

These adult students I have dealt with have a kind of blank sadness with their successes; my reaction always runs the gamut from pity to envy.
posted by Tchad at 9:14 AM on January 9, 2011 [27 favorites]


Give this one more generation and it will be a new group of immigrants telling this same story (which sounds a lot like the Jewish immigrants and their children, but nothing like their children's children). You get one generation of exceptionally successful people, then people who behave mostly like the rest of the culture does.
posted by jeather at 9:15 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up.

Yes, I imagine your child was quite relieved to see she had worked hard enough to re-earn your love.
posted by chrillsicka at 9:17 AM on January 9, 2011 [34 favorites]


I think many of you have missed the point here - How to raise successful kids, not (necessarily) happy ones. ... if you want to do well in life, the earlier you learn to shut up and do what "they" tell you, the better your future will look.

Until your disclaimer at the end (which I'm not sure how to gell with the rest of your post), you're defining "success" and "doing well" and "having a better future" as "making money."

You realize those are arbitrary definitions, right? Sure, in a capitalistic society, many people cling to those definitions, but I don't see how that matters to any individual person. I don't care how you or my parents define success. I care how I define it.

And, personally, if I wind up as rich as Bill Gates, I won't in any way consider myself successful. Of course, lots of other people will consider me successful, but how does that help me?

So I'd rewrite your sentence, above, to say, "I think many of you have missed the point here -- How to raise kids to be what you want them to be, not (necessarily) what they want to be."
posted by grumblebee at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I was raised more or less with these values by Korean immigrant parents in the US. I am socialized perfectly well, don't hate my family or think they hate me, and have a career about subjectivity, not numbers or code.

Consider that different cultural approaches to parenting aren't monolithic at the personal level. This woman sounds like a bitch, but it's perfectly possible to emphasize high achievement with love and humanity at the same time. and I feel like a lot of comments in this thread are just taking tge chance to air stupid stereotypes about y'alls peers of Asian descent, and maynenot so much their parents
posted by peachfuzz at 9:21 AM on January 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


I would have loved to go to UC Irvine -- Kenneth Pomeranz teaches there.
posted by jb at 9:25 AM on January 9, 2011


What happens when 20 of these Chinese-mothered kids all end up in the same class? An arms-race?

Oh man, the stories I could tell. I went to a (series) of schools like this. I say "series" because it's never just one school. There are places in this country where the entire community drives their children like this, from pre-school through elementary school to high school. A couple of my friends attended Juliard in addition to regular high school. Advanced Placement classes were ludicrous. Students would beg for extra credit. Cry if they got a B. Find any and every reason to complain about test questions and their ambiguity if they got the answer wrong. If you wanted to play the game, you were in for an absolutely hellacious childhood.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:27 AM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think this response posted in the comments to that piece says more than I can.

millipede, I get what you are saying, but in the long run, it really is up to you, not your folks. The only thing I can think they might have done is make starting/quitting various things less easy for you, or made you pay for part of it, or something along those lines so you would try harder because it cost you more.
posted by emjaybee at 9:28 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


have you ever heard of the myth of the GOOD IMMIGRANT?

Amy Chua represents the kind of people within ethnic and racial groups in the United States, who exploit the "good minority" stereotype as both a fetish performance and a privilege card. this is not just among east asian groups. within Latin American groups we have this as well.

as a member of the GOOD IMMIGRANT CLUB you get to wave your card in the noses of your own people (and other minorities) while walking past them on your way to the "pass as white" VIP lounge. once in there you get to play up and laugh at all the great awfulness you will not only submit to, but your children as well, for the chance to get past those social, economic and political velvet ropes.

never mind that on your way to the VIP lounge, you may be stomping on the backs of other people of your own racial and ethnic group. never mind that most likely your Yale or Harvard education is being paid for with the blood, sweat and tears of the vast majority members of your immigrant community who will never make it out of the ghetto (am looking at you Chinese entrepreneurs from Chinatowns all around the US). the issue here is that YOU ARE WILLING TO DO WHATEVER IT TAKES to show the world how far superior you are in the handling of the exploitation, degradation and oppression rituals necessary to become "whiter than thou".

because, let's make this clear: WHITENESS isn't about race. it is a coda, a shorthand for economic, political and social superiority. whiteness today doesn't mean what it meant 100 or even 50 years ago here in the United States. but the moment it was expanded to include non-European "good immigrant" fetish performers, you better believe there were Chinese, Indians or Cubans who were more than eager to put on an act.

so this isn't just a piece of concern trolling. looked from the prism of PRIVILEGE, it's a petty piece based on the United States' fetish for the MYTH OF THE GOOD IMMIGRANT.
posted by liza at 9:30 AM on January 9, 2011 [48 favorites]


Besides, though the "crush their independent will and then mold them in your image" philosophy is great at producing highly-tuned robots, it's terrible at producing clever, original human beings.

Or human beings capable of problem solving or inspired thinking. People who have rigidly adhered to rules-based frameworks all their lives fall apart when they have to make their own rules.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:32 AM on January 9, 2011


I wonder why she didn't marry someone who'd fill the role of distant, rule-setting asian father. Her kids are only getting half the experience.
posted by mnemonic at 9:34 AM on January 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


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.

I've noticed this in some Chinese adults who are not too concerned with empathizing and come across cold and all-business (to me as a Westerner). Not that they are psychopaths incapable of empathy, but it seems like a weakness to them, whereas in the West empathy for others, including the weak, is often seen as a strength (at least among those who consciously strive for a compassionate life). These are important distinctions because they create the world we live in, from environmental protection, human and animal rights, etc.. the sort of stuff that will determine if the human race survives or destroys itself. There are a lot of people talking about empathy as the leading trait of the 21st century, for example "Only Empathy Can Save Us: Why Jeremy Rifkin's The Empathic Civilization Is This Month's HuffPost Book Club Pick" or... "Empathy: An Overlooked 21st Century Skill". Actually I should make this a fpp.
posted by stbalbach at 9:40 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm sure this was covered earlier but... what if the child isn't good at the things that the parent thinks they should be good at?

I semi-agree that you can best enjoy something that you're good at. However, if you don't have the capacity to be that person, a parent is just setting the child up to see life as a cycle of failure.

That's what happenned to me. My father is an old school authoritarian (and narcisist) from India. As a child, I didn't have the faculties to excel in my academics. Now, as an adult, I'm ok financially and professionally but I wake up everymorning horrified at the myriad of different ways I will fail that day.

My sister, on the other hand, did have the faculties to be successful. Now, with a PhD from Stamford and a hyper successful career in higher education and she is as misserable as a human can be.

In some ways I have this drive inside me to be as successfu as my father and sister. I don't see why I wouldn't have it. It was driven into my skull every day of my childhood. But when you've been labeled a failure for the first 18 years of your life, success becomes something you know you'll never achieve. It's for other people. Not me.
posted by En0rm0 at 9:40 AM on January 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


There's a book on the virtues of asian parenting written by two Korean-Americans. On its Amazon page, virtually all of the reviews by asian persons are negative, and really, quite depressing. What this article lacks is anything about how her kids actually feel, not the payoff tales cherrypicked by the author.
posted by mnemonic at 9:42 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I went to high school with a lot of these kids. They took only Advanced Placement courses and enrolled in the Kaplan SAT prep course because a 1600 and a slew of APs was the brass ring at age 17. They went to Harvard, Princeton, Georgetown, Cornell, and McGill because those schools were the brass ring at age 18. They graduated summa cum laude because that was the brass ring at 22. At 23, the brass ring was a High Salary at a Prestigious Firm, and they got jobs at Goldman Sachs, PwC, KBR, and any other place that would offer six figures and benefits.

Not one of them went into family medicine or public health. None to public service. None to the nonprofits. None to the Peace Corps, City Year, or Teach for America. Not one to education or social work. There are no brass rings for those professions; there is no prestige in making $30k and counseling addicts and driving a '93 Toyota.

So my city hemorrhages brain power as my old classmates, now at Goldman and PwC, pressure firms to move jobs elsewhere. The brightest minds I had the pleasure of knowing hold tight to their collection of brass rings and shop online for the next status symbol. They do not read because they do not have any more essays to write. They do not vote because they have not thought about Civics since 10th grade. They do not volunteer because they do not have any more boxes to fill with their volunteer experiences.

They are Successes, for sure.
posted by The White Hat at 9:45 AM on January 9, 2011 [162 favorites]


As far as the musical pedagogy here is concerned, I can speak to that, having been a student at various music colleges and now as faculty at yet another music college. As students, we used to call these kids "robots" as that's how they seemed to us, automatons that were programmed to play these instruments. Robots however, whilst being stellar technically, don't make the best musicians, there isn't much else.

I have taught several students from Asia who have grown up with a similar mind-set. When I tell them that I want to know the real "them", the person inside, the first reaction I'm met with is shock. Then suspicion, as maybe this is some kind of a test. And then relief. Then they start producing some really good work, and they tell me what bastards their teachers back home are and how much they resent them. When they're done, I like to think that I send them back home with a little ticking attitude bomb inside their heads -the realisation that it's OK to be an individual. Just my little way of getting the best out of my students whilst sending a big "fuck you" to those that think that good teaching/instruction is mind-control.
posted by ob at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


I think it's actually way, way more complicated than that, liza. Because there's an entire racist discourse aimed at Asian-Americans which punishes and pathologizes these aspects of (some) Asian cultures. Sure, they're good at school, but they're like robots. They mindless freaks. They're not creative and well-rounded and emotionally well-adjusted, the way upper-middle-class white people are. They might make good engineers, but they'll never do anything really important or ground-breaking. One of my professors pointed out that the "model minority" myth is basically just a spin on really ugly stereotypes that have existed about Chinese-Americans since the nineteenth century. Back then, the idea was that Chinese people drove down wages because they didn't need the same standard of living as white people and were willing to work harder for less. Now, the idea is that Chinese-American kids do better in school because they don't need any of the fun or joy that white kids demand. Either way, there's an idea that Chinese people are barely human, devoid of the intangible things that make normal people's lives worth living. And it's really problematic.
posted by craichead at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2011 [74 favorites]


so this isn't just a piece of concern trolling. looked from the prism of PRIVILEGE, it's a petty piece based on the United States' fetish for the MYTH OF THE GOOD IMMIGRANT.

Bullshit. I have had Chinese immigrant classmates who talked about the education system in China and the expectations of parents there. Chinese immigrants aren't coming here and goading their children into overachieving because of white people, they do it because they think it is important, period.

The idea that intelligence and educational achievement is only for white people is such a load of racist crap I can't believe you seriously wrote that. There are overachievers and strivers and very smart people among all skin colors. That doesn't make them "white". You're just perpetuating ugly stereotypes with that rhetoric. How many kids have been dissuaded from doing what they want because stupid people told them they were "acting white" or a "traitor to their race"? Do you want the underclass exclusively filled with people of color? Is the entire country of Mexico empty of universities and college graduates? Are people from Kenya expected to do menial jobs all their lives, lest they be accused of being "good immigrants" kowtowing to the man by going to night school or putting their kids through college? Jesus, I would have loved to see you walk into my public speaking class and tell a room full of Asian immigrants and black men and women from East and West Oakland that they were "acting white" by deciding to go to college.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:49 AM on January 9, 2011 [32 favorites]


I have no regrets about spending 50 hours exploring a new hobby and the other 9,950 hours learning about 200 other things. There's a lot of cool stuff in the world and none of us have that much time to explore it.
posted by nev at 9:50 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


The myth of the good immigrant ties in with a number of pretty profound class issues as well. What is success? How does one succeed?
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:51 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would absolutely take the risk of increasing my child's tendency to commit suicide to dramatically increase their odds of being successful in life

For every completed suicide, there is a factor of 10 more individuals who are clinically depressed, and many more who encounter depression-related issues at some point in their lives. Your risk assessment is quite naive if it does not account for this.

The method of parenting proposed in the excerpt of Amy Chua uses the fact that most families don't raise their children in that way. There would be no advantage, if every family followed that method, and would be destructive to society as a whole. Instead, a sustainable society requires nonexcludable models of parenting: ones based on leadership, scholarship, effective communication, constructive attitudes, playing positive role models, public service, etc. In fact these are exactly the markers of success that American universities seek to instill in their students, in the first place.
posted by polymodus at 9:53 AM on January 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


oneirodynia, you don't have to entirely agree with liza's read on the situation, but her use of the term "whiteness" comes from a specific arena. There's more going on than simply a straw man like "smart people who want to succeed are 'acting white.'"
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:55 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


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.

It's like you can't even perpetuate the cycle of emotional abuse in peace anymore these days.

I hope the kids have some dippy, creative aunts and uncles for lifelines in their family, that's all I can say. My mother once told me I needed to be the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, but she never called me names.
posted by Countess Elena at 9:56 AM on January 9, 2011 [18 favorites]


Her husband must be an incredible wimp to have permitted her to treat her daughter that way over the learning of that one piano piece. A man with any cojones at all would have put a stop to that crap.

My son was incredibly successful in school to include graduating from a service academy, and I NEVER EVER had to stand over him to do anything. I am way more proud of that than I would be of raising a robot.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:58 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Not that they are psychopaths incapable of empathy, but it seems like a weakness to them, whereas in the West empathy for others, including the weak, is often seen as a strength (at least among those who consciously strive for a compassionate life).

OK, that's going too far for me. I don't think Asian cultures look down on empathy or see it as weakness. All human cultures value caring about one another. My biggest real window into any Asian culture is probably anime (OK, so Fareed Zakaria I ain't). In anime, the good guys and bad guys are both strong. What distinguishes them is that the good guys do everything out of compassion for other people, while the bad guys see compassion as a weakness. Just like in American stories.
posted by Xezlec at 9:59 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not surprised this method of "tough love" parenting is getting more attention these days. As time goes on, we as a society have made money more important than it's been in decades. Costs go up while wages stay flat, healthcare is so expensive that a single injury can destroy your future, and jobs are terminated as entire companies hire new staff overseas.

The instinctual parental drive in such cash-dependent times is to focus on the essentials- if your kid gets the money but cries about his empty shell of a life, it's better than being fully actualized and eating out of a dumpster. Beat him into shape, even if he might crack.

If we're going to wag our finger at this style of parenting, we need to prove that the world won't be a rich-eat-poor hell for the next 50 years. It's not looking too good at the moment.
posted by Maxson at 10:02 AM on January 9, 2011 [23 favorites]


Besides, though the "crush their independent will and then mold them in your image" philosophy is great at producing highly-tuned robots, it's terrible at producing clever, original human beings.

Note: modern asian child pressuring is not different than, say, US Christian households pressuring their children. I think both are generally bad, but let's not do the "asian people = robots" game, ok?

Most asian countries have crazy work expectations; people immigrate, and they bring over those expectations as well, in fact, they expect more because they know they're at a disadvantage being an immigrant- so they push their kids harder. Here's a chance to get some class mobility, so everyone pushes for upper class markers in their kids.

Yes, it's often abusive and fucked up. It's not really different than conservative religious families who put different, but equally restrictive markers of success upon their kids.
posted by yeloson at 10:03 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


The White Hat, strong words, but you can't be sure those kids who got high-status jobs never joined Peace Corps or Teach For America, or that they never volunteer, unless you actually do follow their lives closely. Employees of Goldman Sachs and other large corporations DO in fact volunteer, often on large scales. And one of the more notable education reformers in the US was an overachieving asian who participated in TFA.
posted by mnemonic at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


My kid is four. I'd love her to have all A's in school, and by all indications she's certainly smart enough (reading very well, simple math already). But my her personality, I'm certain she'll spend most of her time wanting desperately to be out of the history and math classes and practicing drama or volunteering to help others. I'm not going to feel bad about that (but she damned well better get A's and B's in drama if she's using that as an interest over other things).

I think to Canadian government leadership at the highest ranks...all people who have volunteered, traveled, did things that were far outside the daily grind. Those are the people I'd like my kid to be like...hard workers, but gaining a wealth of wide experiences.
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 10:04 AM on January 9, 2011


Because there's an entire racist discourse aimed at Asian-Americans which punishes and pathologizes these aspects of (some) Asian cultures. Sure, they're good at school, but they're like robots. They mindless freaks.

OK, since that's clearly aimed at me...

I don't intend to "punish" or "pathologize" anyone. Like I said, I'm kind of the robot type myself. I was almost a straight-A student and am today a very good engineer. I wasn't calling anyone a mindless freak. I was trying to get across that there's a tradeoff here: those of us who either were raised or (like me) pushed ourselves to be more perfectionistic tend to be less good at creative things, and taking that to the extreme that the author does sounds too immoderate to me. Japan is very successful. So is the US. Robot and human are just two different strategies, both of which can work is done well and neither of which can be taken to an extreme without consequences.
posted by Xezlec at 10:07 AM on January 9, 2011


Yeah, how's that going to work out for you when the child is grown? Still think they are going to thank you for teaching them the value of "practice, practice, practice" to earn your stingy praise? Or, are they going to stop calling, marry out of the community and hate music for the rest of their lives because you have made it a hateful thing? I'd say it could go either way.

This is simply a system for manufacturing more "Chinese" parents, not for creating a population of excellence. The fact is, we simply cannot draw any conclusions from global standardized testing because we can't draw any conclusions about standardized testing. So your country does well at standardized tests in maths. Great! You've created a class of people who excel at tests! Good for you!

As the child of a parent who was systematically abused by a Chinese "Russian" mother who used many of these same techniques for creating perfect children, I can say with some knowledge that the results may not always be as rosy as this person is suggesting.

Yes, there is value in hard work. There is also value in creativity, ludic pursuits and pure, unadulterated play. Like all things in life, child-rearing is about balance, guidance and patience.

There is no "Chinese" system of parenthood that magically pumps out prodigies. Anyone who believes this is setting themselves up for heartbreak eventually.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:07 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


gaokao suicides (Google Images)
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 10:08 AM on January 9, 2011


if done well
posted by Xezlec at 10:08 AM on January 9, 2011


Second time's a charm?
posted by blue_beetle at 10:09 AM on January 9, 2011


OK, since that's clearly aimed at me...
It wasn't, actually. The word "robot" comes up all the time in these discussions.

And I don't buy it. I wasn't raised like this, and I'm glad I wasn't. But I know a lot of people who were raised like this, and they're not robots. They're capable of creativity and empathy. I think that "robot" is a dehumanizing term, and I also don't think it's really correct.
posted by craichead at 10:11 AM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


In college I knew a guy (of Indian descent, if you care) who was working on his engineering degree for his parents. He absolutely and utterly despised engineering. His dream in life was to be a doctor. When pressed about why he didn't just quit, he kept saying it was OK because he could just go to med school later in life and fulfill his dream after completing his parents' goal of having an engineering career.
posted by Xezlec at 10:13 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I felt bad for laughing at Ken Jeong's joke (from his appearance on Marc Maron's podcast) about his grades in high school: "I was salutatorian -- that's Korean for 'loser'."
posted by escabeche at 10:14 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


My (korean) friend who was raised that way is now a vascular surgeon while I am a disgruntled HS teacher. She says she would repeat the same with her kids more or less...and I would definitely be tempted to follow her lead as she is one of the most well-rounded people I know. /survey sample of 1 of course. (Many comments seem to feel that successful and creative can't co-exist or that harsh parenting (in terms of expectations) can't coincide with love. I think some people may see it differently- that the high expectations and sacrifice involved are expressions of love while encouraging kids 'to do as they please' can be construed later (perhaps in therapy!) as a lack of care and/or direction given.). I wouldn't mind a do-over in which piano lessons and medical school were mandated and any other route was a fall-back position- because the assumption underneath that is that you have the potential for excellence and it needs to be directed rather than just 'let's hope to god you can find something you are half-decent at/and like!' Oh, and as a lazy not-so-directed person, I just read the title and comments, hope I didn't miss the point entirely!! And having said all that, I would still be a softie with my kids, if I ever have them. I wouldn't be able to bear being otherwise.
posted by bquarters at 10:15 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


And, in agreement with liza, whiteness, as in, literally, marrying white, having circles of white friends, and engaging in only "white culture markers" is also considered a sign of success.

I remember my family inviting me to bring some friends to Thanksgiving dinner. They proceeded to obviously ignore them both, who happened to black and Thai, and only bothered talking to them near the end of the dinner after finding out that they were a successful software engineer at Microsoft and a regional director at Sephora.

Meanwhile, one of my cousin's white friends, who married a movie theater manager, with 2 kids out of wedlock, got full attention... for being white. (Mind you, I don't give a damn what people do, but these are the means by which Chinese American Baptists usually gauge people, so it's telling that whiteness mattered more than actual class...)

That extended family? None of them came out robots, but they're not well adjusted either. One crashed and burned in college, but she's marrying a rich white guy so it's all ok, while another cousin is well on his route to hardcore alcoholism.

It's not that working hard is "whiteness", it's that working hard + buying into internalized racism gives you a doorway to white social circles and marrying in... and that is more important than whatever person you come out being. This is usually a problem more for second generation and beyond, as the first generation folks usually haven't fully internalized whiteness as a route to success.
posted by yeloson at 10:18 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


. . . When pressed about why he didn't just quit, he kept saying it was OK because he could just go to med school later in life and fulfill his dream after completing his parents' goal of having an engineering career.

I wish I could throw myself bodily across your friend in a dramatic slow-motion "noooo" fashion. I am trying to be a novelist this way (except with law instead of engineering) and it sucks. Parents are happy, though, so I got that going for me, which is nice.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:18 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


But I know a lot of people who were raised like this, and they're not robots. They're capable of creativity and empathy.

I am too, but I'm not as good at it as some of my friends. It's a matter of degree. Also, I may be venting my frustration as I spent a good 14 hours yesterday struggling to come up with some inspiration for a few parts of a film score I've been composing for a director who is probably expecting more than I can deliver. This is probably not a good hobby for me after all.

I think that "robot" is a dehumanizing term, and I also don't think it's really correct.

Darn it... is this all because I used a trigger word without realizing it? I swear to God I will never learn the delicate art of Metafilter communication. Coming here is another bad hobby for me. "Robot vs. human" were the only words my uninspired mind could come up with to describe what I was getting at. All my metaphors are related to technology somehow. Computer versus neural network? Digital versus analog? Are those any better?
posted by Xezlec at 10:20 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.

This is the saddest thing in the article. Children do not exist to serve your ego.
posted by 26.2 at 10:22 AM on January 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.

I'm a terrible golfer. But I still have fun whacking a small white ball with an overpriced stick. So, fuck you.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:22 AM on January 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


As a student at Juilliard for 6 years, I had a direct and intimate education in this phenomenon every Saturday during "pre-college" hours, when hundreds of young performers came for lessons and orchestra rehearsal. Trust me, there are more than enough musicians who would describe their parents (especially their mothers) as abusive and/or insane, and readily confirm/promote the stereotypes which this article describes. However, I've never met anyone who had a positive take on it. Stereotypes and generalizations of course only describe a PART of something and there are exceptions to every rule; all I'm trying to say is, reading this article, I felt I knew EXACTLY who this woman is. I've seen her. And these "musical stage moms" are scary!
posted by ReeMonster at 10:26 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Also, I like robots. I grew up watching movies like Short Circuit. So, not wanting to be described as a robot is weird to me. It's not something I would naturally realize might sound insulting to someone.
posted by Xezlec at 10:26 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm not surprised this method of "tough love" parenting is getting more attention these days. As time goes on, we as a society have made money more important than it's been in decades. Costs go up while wages stay flat, healthcare is so expensive that a single injury can destroy your future, and jobs are terminated as entire companies hire new staff overseas.

This reminds me of a piece on the blue last year (link, anyone?) about spending money on setting your kid up in business instead of on college tuition. If you want your kid to be a success, however you define it (and I tend towards the "lots of cash" definition myself), minmaxing to get them into a good college is one approach, but finding a more creative solution seems a lot smarter to me.
posted by Leon at 10:27 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.

What I don't understand is how someone who can produce such an unintellectual statement is actually a professor at Yale.
posted by polymodus at 10:28 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I had read an article some time ago suggesting thatskills with math, seemingly associated with Chinese students, somehow is connected to the way they process their language, that it related to the language system.Beyond that I am not sure what that means or how that might work.

Malcolm Gladwell addressed this in Outliers, I think. I recall him saying that the Chinese language makes higher numbers easier for children to learn because the numbers literally read like "two tens " instead of "twenty ", allowing very young children to learn about 100 times the amount of numbers a year sooner. Gladwell did NOT address a cultural difference in parenting styles, IIRC. That seems much more significant to me than linguistic differences.
posted by girih knot at 10:29 AM on January 9, 2011


What I don't understand is how someone who can produce such an unintellectual statement is actually a professor at Yale.

Is that a joke? You think professors at Yale are especially smart, gifted or empathic? There are lots of morons and assholes at Yale. I know a former Yale professor who left the school in disgust and refers to his time there as "Jail at Yale."
posted by grumblebee at 10:34 AM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Bleh, this conversation is moving too quickly for me, so my apologies if I miss out of some of the more nuanced arguments later on. But overall, I'm kind of disappointed by the conflation of Asian to whiteness/success. I'd argue that what drives people like Amy Chua is a particularly immigrant mentality, not anything particularly Asian (or East Asian as it seems to be stereotypically), and her casting it as specifically Chinese or Asian is disingenuous solely to make this more of a troll-like cultural warfare type book. It's not just Asian-Americans who raise children to chase success as it's defined in the U.S. (good colleges and grades, good-paying jobs, etc), but also any group that is still looking to strive upwards--be it White Americans who have lived in this country for centuries or other immigrant groups. Sure, she's a driven parent, but so are the parents of lots of non-immigrant friends I have. Which proves little.

Oh, and this whole generalizing based on personal anecdotes is pretty lame.

Oh, final note and spoiler alert in case you were planning on reading the book, which problematic as it may be on so many levels as already laid out above, is rip-roaringly entertaining in a voyeuristic way. As a kid who grew up in that kind of culture (though not to her extent; I'm sure she's exaggerating some of her stories for dramatic effect), I identified with so many of her pronouncements. But the whole East vs West dichotomy she's laid out is blown up by the end. The kids break down, and she comes to a cop-out conclusion: There must be balance! Let us take the best of both worlds! The East and West ways can be reconciled! And then her kids jump up and down and have a party for her ad nominate her for Best Mom of the Year award, which she wins in a landslide. The end.
posted by jng at 10:40 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


I review the comments. Most seem to be defensive and explain away achievement of Chinese kids as being a bit odd, tough parents who lack this or that emotional skill. But there are and will be cultural differences among all sort of peoples, from various countries, ethnic backgrounds etc.

Turn then to what we have in our mainstream education and you find we are in major decline in many areas, yet we put down the Chinese parent and her methods, while our own white western kids drop out or are unable to compete.
Years ago, there was the word "dicty," used by Black Americans to put down Blacks who acted as though they were white middle class--they were dicty. Here too an example of defend what you are, have and stop emulating others. The word has gone out of fashion but someone like Bill Cosby got into a heap of trouble by attacking those who wanted to retain "values" that he felt were not working for them in our country.
ps: Plymodus--even professors make mistakes. What field has the prof specialized, written in?
Joseph Goebels, a top Nazi, had a PhD. in literature and was not a good person.
posted by Postroad at 10:41 AM on January 9, 2011


If you're taking her article 100% seriously, then you're nuts.

It's also revealing to me how fiercely Westerners cling to the idea that their method of parenting is best and how kids from all other cultures parented differently will end up screwed up and psychologically shattered. I don't believe it. Often on Metafilter, I see some Mefite parents arguing vehemently that they are implementing an excellent parenting method and their kids are somehow the best because of it, implying that they are parenting "the right way" and there are "wrong ways" of parenting. If I were a parent, I hope I wouldn't have such blind confidence that I'm so great and would recognize that I were biased about my kid and how he/she seems to be.

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.

I find this so true. Ira Glass said as much when asked by a college student how you figure out what you should do with your life. Cal Newport of Study Hacks (which is where Ira Glass's interview is excerpted) says it all the time now as he tries to better understand how to offer solid career advice. It's really true.
posted by anniecat at 10:42 AM on January 9, 2011 [12 favorites]


I grew up with kids like this. My home town was relatively affluent and attracted not only a wide diversity of cultures but also all of the Type-A lawyers, doctors, and so on. These kids were all my friends (or at least I knew most of them), since they were all in the AP and other advanced classes, Math League, stuff like that.

I knew a girl whose mother had planned out her life through her mid-20s. You WILL graduate top of your class, you WILL go to Columbia, you WILL become a doctor. After that, you can make your own decisions. She almost got disowned from her family when she got rejected from Columbia and went to Rutgers.

Another girl I knew was in a similar situation, but seemed to be able to make her own way. Her life was similarly planned out; graduate top of the class (natch), then Wharton, then investment banker. I remember a day in chemistry class that she was arguing with our teacher over a test grade - she had gotten a 96 but was positive she deserved a 98 due to one disputed question. She got really ill in junior or senior year, and that's when her parents decided to tell her she'd had Hepatitis C since birth.

There are other stories, but they're all pretty similar. I drifted away from everyone I knew in high school, but I do know that Wharton girl ended up going there and getting a high-paying job at Goldman Sachs. The funny thing was, though, that was as far as she had ever planned. Once she got the job, she had no idea what to do with her life. So she had a nice apartment in Manhattan, but no friends, no furniture, no life. She filled her spare time with expensive shopping trips.

None of these people were happy. I heard talk about suicide quite a lot. There was a lot of social and cultural ignorance because literally all they knew was what came out of their textbooks.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:43 AM on January 9, 2011


as already laid out above

Meant to say as already laid out above by others. So many astute observations here, including Ralston's.
posted by jng at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2011


I think this approach probably turns out people who do well in careers where the upward path is rather clearly defined. But in fields when being able to think creatively on your feet or improvise (vamp til ready), like entertainment or show biz, you're SOL. My own experience with Asian-American assistants or entry-level types has been very mixed. Great at organization, follow-through, data, tech expertise, but not really up to the mark in terms of sheer inspiration or out of the blue wild ideas that turn out to be brilliant. I know anecdotes aren't data, but I saw more people from this kind of background go into production management or account services than writing, directing, etc. But show biz is weird.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:44 AM on January 9, 2011


btw, SaharaRose suggested we read Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy. i am putting it in the REQUIRED READING category.

it is brilliant, particularly for the juxtaposition she makes with Tony Hsieh. I've met Tony and he's one of those people that *radiates* inspiration and who truly loves what he does and truly, honestly, wants other to love and be happy working in a place like Zappos. that's so far away from what Chua describes that really, everybody, please go really Betty Ming Liu's critique NOW!
posted by liza at 10:46 AM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]



Oh, and this whole generalizing based on personal anecdotes is pretty lame.


Agreed. I think this will go better if the white folks in the thread stop talking about the people of color they've known as though they can comment on those people's subjective experiences with any authority.
posted by liketitanic at 10:47 AM on January 9, 2011 [18 favorites]


There are other stories, but they're all pretty similar.

Sigh, can we stop doing these? I can give dozens of other stores of well-adjusted, high-achieving Asian kids who are doing social work and in Peace Corps etc etc etc. I have stories of Asian kids who were not valedictorians and went to mid-level colleges and are living awesome lives. And I can give dozens of stories of white kids who do the same grade-gubbing. I don't think these don't add anything to the conversation.
posted by jng at 10:49 AM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Even the piece's author admits that her style of parenting isn't really exclusively Chinese. Pouncing only on the ethnic aspect is missing the point.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:51 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The most frustrating part of my job as a high school math teacher is the shocking number of students I have taught who simply will not try. If they get stuck on a problem, or aren't immediately sure of how to start it, they just leave the whole thing blank. Anything that they can't solve with minimal effort doesn't get solved at all. It drives me completely bonkers. They're full of excuses, the most common being "I'm not good at math", "This question is too hard", or "You never taught us this". The truly aggravating thing is that their parents often use the same excuses, and sometimes seem blithely unconcerned when I point out that their child never does their homework (and hence will most probably fail the course).

Succeeding in math (like many things) depends on hard work and repetition. You can't just do one problem and figure you've got the concept. It doesn't matter how brilliantly illuminating my lessons might be; if you don't do lots of practise questions on your own you will never fully grasp the concepts. Most students, however, simply do not understand the value of hard work and perseverance and hence fail to see why they should put some effort into completing their homework. They give up far, far too easily and their parents often enable them in this behaviour. Maybe Amy Chua is a little harsh but I applaud her for teaching her children the value of working hard, and the importance of being held accountable for your achievements (or lack thereof). I think many of us "Western" parents should consider this before we condemn her too severely.
posted by Go Banana at 10:53 AM on January 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


Sticherbeast: Agreed. For all her hyperbole, she does have moments where she says her parts of her parenting style are specific to her. And I vaguely remember parts of the book where the author's own family was like, "You might want to chill out..."

All this is is a conscious marketing effort on the part of the publisher to position the book as CHINA vs US: The Battle for Your Child's Future. Which based on this thread, will stir up more conversation than What One Mother Thinks About Raising Kids...
posted by jng at 10:57 AM on January 9, 2011


"own family" being Chua's Chinese parents and siblings.
posted by jng at 10:58 AM on January 9, 2011


Sigh, can we stop doing these? I can give dozens of other stores of well-adjusted, high-achieving Asian kids who are doing social work and in Peace Corps etc etc etc. I have stories of Asian kids who were not valedictorians and went to mid-level colleges and are living awesome lives. And I can give dozens of stories of white kids who do the same grade-gubbing. I don't think these don't add anything to the conversation.

I agree with this statement. Furthermore, my respect for a lot of Mefites fades when they start saying things like, "This is why Asian kids commit suicide more than others" and that kind of ignorant crap. I thought you people were supposed to be intelligent. My trust in you people falls quite a lot when I see all the dumbass things written in this thread.
posted by anniecat at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Look at their ability to write structurally in English.
posted by parmanparman at 10:59 AM on January 9, 2011


"There are other stories, but they're all pretty similar. I drifted away from everyone I knew in high school, but I do know that Wharton girl ended up going there and getting a high-paying job at Goldman Sachs. The funny thing was, though, that was as far as she had ever planned. Once she got the job, she had no idea what to do with her life. So she had a nice apartment in Manhattan, but no friends, no furniture, no life. She filled her spare time with expensive shopping trips.

None of these people were happy. I heard talk about suicide quite a lot. There was a lot of social and cultural ignorance because literally all they knew was what came out of their textbooks."


Seriously, this comment and the numerous others like it are really asshole moves. You don't seem particularly close to this person (since you drifted away as you said) so you don't really know this person.

I grew up in a community packed to the gills with these sorts of mothers. The kids of these parents are my close friends from high school, undergrad, and law school. So when you shit on these people with your sneers of "robots" and empty lives and no creativity and lack of empathy and" I'm so glad I would never raise my kids this way because they'll turn out to kill themselves," you are shitting on my friends. Friends that I know intimately, that laugh, cry, create, destroy, and live substantial, full, interesting, complicated and incredibly normal human lives. So fuck your relentless effort to marginalize and dehumanize my friends in an effort to satisfy your own sense of self, because my friends don't sound a thing like the crap you're spewing.
posted by shen1138 at 11:00 AM on January 9, 2011 [20 favorites]


>That night, she came to sleep in my bed, and we snuggled and hugged, cracking each other up.

Yes, I imagine your child was quite relieved to see she had worked hard enough to re-earn your love.


I don't think Chua's children ever question their mother's love for them. The one thing that the author does not address in her article is different (and healthy) emotional intimacy can be in an "Asian" family.

For example, in a traditional North American style family, there is a clear distinction between adults and children. Children are given their own room and their own crib or bed from day one, and things like "co-sleeping" are frowned upon in North American society. However, with Chua's family, I have no doubt that her kids are allowed in her bed anytime they want to come in, and this is a practice that actually helps kids become well-adjusted, emotionally resilient adults.

I would argue that there is probably a lot more frank, no-bullshit communication between parent and child in Chua's household.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:09 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think I manager to raise reasonably succesful kids. One is an ecom major and the other has risen through the ranks at her job.
The main thing is they aren't starving and we don't all hate each other. My grown kids had to do their homework without supervision because of my work schedule. They had some chores in the house but they had social lives, they had sleep-overs and on weekends curfew was negotiable. I never had to really push them. They did not want to be poor. They wanted some of the nice things in life and they understood doing well at school helps.
I in turn understood that fun is important. I played with them a bit, took them cool places, like the Exploartorium, I also sent them to camp and they had friends and sleepovers. I think kids need to have a life, but some rules and a little duscipline too.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 11:10 AM on January 9, 2011


I would argue that there is probably a lot more frank, no-bullshit communication between parent and child in Chua's household.

Hmm... my parents weren't as crazy strict as Chua, but there was still lots of bullshit and lying between us.

But then, I was always the lazy underachieving Chinese kid, so I had a lot to lie about.
posted by kmz at 11:11 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Didn't the WSJ also argue that waterboarding works too?
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:11 AM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, and this whole generalizing based on personal anecdotes is pretty lame.

Agreed. I think this will go better if the white folks in the thread stop talking about the people of color they've known as though they can comment on those people's subjective experiences with any authority.


My apologies-- I didn't mean for my comment to be interpreted as anything other than a few pointed words toward Success-driven families of *any* race. That this article was specifically about a Chinese mother, and that the conversation had taken a turn towards a debate about "whiteness" by the time I hit the post button put my words in a context I did not intend. The achievement-mongers in my class were just as WASPish as they were Chinese, and I'd wager that the biggest predictor of that kind of behavior is socio-economic status and not race.

But I stand by my original sentiment: the kind of Success-driven parenting that this article espouses makes for bad citizens.
posted by The White Hat at 11:15 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


This relates to my (American, white) niece in more ways than I can count. She went to a high school with a lot of Asian students who were much as described in the article. Her parents, both Ph.D. scientists, agreed that they would not insist on a full-go approach to academics and extra-curriculars.

My niece is wicked smart, got to travel a lot while growing up, but her not taking the complete-zeal attitude toward school, etc., meant that she didn't have the top grades and SATs, although--and I don't think this is a coincidence--she was and is personable, has great social skills, a ton of confidence, has never come across as having a "max success or life's a disaster" attitude. Her parents darn sure didn't take that approach.

She was chagrined to not get into Berkeley (her parents met there and she loves the Bay Area), didn't pursue getting into a top law school, but she got the job she wanted... and a ton of hyper-achiever, full-go students with dizzying grades and degrees applied/interviewed for it.

(And it is a public-service job, though it could be parlayed into big bucks, if people choose that route a few years down the road.)
posted by ambient2 at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2011


I've never had a Chinese mother, so I can't really speak to that. But I do think her approach to musical education is interesting.

Throughout the years, I've known many who were forced to learn an instrument in that fashion. Lots of structured lessons, lots of practice, usually some kind of classical music. Thing is this -- years later, once they've graduated college and gone on to their high-paying jobs or whatever, how many of them still play? Basically none of them. You talk to them at parties, and maybe it comes up, "So, you play an instrument?" And they're all like, "Not really. Well, I played piano/violin/cello/whatever in highschool, but it's been a long time since I've picked it up...."

Now, I'm a musician -- not by trade or anything, but I still play. Completely self-taught. I don't even know how to read music. Instead, I just developed a really good ear; I can play along with anything, even weird time signatures and stuff. Anyway, I talk to these people, and hear about their years spent playing oboe or whatever, and I'm like, "Don't you ever get together with friends and just jam?" And here's the thing : they CAN'T jam. Can't do it. And that's something that I don't completely understand. How can you go through all those years of playing, and never once just play whatever comes into your mind just to hear what comes out?

But I guess if you approach music as an accomplishment and not a hobby, that's what you get. People who are technically gifted, but abandon their instrument once there's no longer someone threatening to burn their stuffed animals.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:20 AM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


So when you shit on these people with your sneers of "robots" and empty lives and no creativity and lack of empathy and" I'm so glad I would never raise my kids this way because they'll turn out to kill themselves," you are shitting on my friends.

Maybe you didn't notice, but the linked article was nothing but Amy Chua sneering about indulgent Western parents and their spoiled, lazy children. She is shitting on my friends. I don't think the people in this thread who are trying to argue that Western parenting also has its own advantages are necessarily out of line.
posted by Xezlec at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Also, as Maxson and others point out, we are an increasingly winner-take-all society, which I think may also explain why there's less of a backlash against Chua and her fellow Chinese mothers (as she defines "Chinese mothers") than against those pushy overscheduling Western-style parents. This generation is graduating from college into an economy with a severe shortage of jobs for college graduates. Chua's brand of scheduling is likely to produce an adult who blames himself for being a failure when he can't find a job in his field. The coddled, overindulged products of the self-esteem-emphasizing kind of scheduling may actually start to question if something's wrong with the system, and even demand some kind of work-life balance if they do find jobs.
posted by Ralston McTodd at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


For anecdotal evidence of what happens to a bright Asian-Canadian girl who wants to be a writer, rather than a doctor, and how she ended up despising her mother (and spending most of her teenage years on the street), see the career of Evelyn Lau.
posted by jokeefe at 11:23 AM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


And here's the thing : they CAN'T jam. Can't do it. And that's something that I don't completely understand. How can you go through all those years of playing, and never once just play whatever comes into your mind just to hear what comes out?

Well, that's what classical training will do for you. And I say this as a classically trained musician. Also, I'm not sure that oboe players should just jam. Ever.
posted by ob at 11:24 AM on January 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


In my own experience, we have pretty high expectations for our son (Grade 3) at school. We expect him to get 15/15 on the weekly spelling quiz. A 14 is acceptable. A 13 is not, and the same goes for math. If he does not meet our expectations, we either help him, or we talk to the teacher to find out how we can help. They are not tea..ching rocket science, and my son does not possess a learning disability, so he should be able to knock it out of the park.

This means studying 20 minutes each schoolnight (I'm not a "homework" fan, and hate it when the teacher assigns homework on the weekend).

He also attends Japanese school on Fridays for 3 hours (1.5 of lesson followed by 1.5 hours of music/choir club). We expect him to master the kanji that's taught, and we expect him to have excellent handwriting.

This means studying an additional 20 minutes of study each night. However, it doesn't feel like studying. I'm a translator, and my father-in-law earned his living writing "charms", which involved complete mastery of Chinese characters. My wife's grandfather was renowned for his penmanship, and, as a city hall employee, was chosen to be the town's official correspondent with the Emperor (in reality, the Imperial Household Agency).

However, besides Japanese language school, we don't push our son to do anything outside of school unless he wants to. But we have basic expectations, and are willing to help him achieve success.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:25 AM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, I'm not sure that oboe players should just jam. Ever.

Actually, I disagree. I used to jam with an oboe player back in college. Doumbek + oboe actually sounded really really good. Had kind of a neat "snake charmer" vibe to it.

I've also been in a band with a french horn player. But I digress.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:26 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The most frustrating part of my job as a high school math teacher is the shocking number of students I have taught who simply will not try. If they get stuck on a problem, or aren't immediately sure of how to start it, they just leave the whole thing blank.

Yes. This is the best point that the author makes. White kids (to generalize) are too willing to give up, and white parents place far too little emphasis on drilling the basic of math. The teaching profession is entirely guilty of buying into the bullshit approach of letting children discover these subjects, which in practice means that children are not pushed to work when they're growing up, so they make it into high school having never learned to buckle down and work at a math problem. This is all true. And if only she had rephrased her remark about something only being fun if you're good at it, it might have made sense. She could have said, for instance:

“So much of [non-Chinese parenting and teaching] is about making it fun... But the fun is when you've gone from not knowing something to grasping it. That's when you feel good inside.”

Then I think she would have had a point, especially about academics. I think a lot of people are sort of missing her point by talking about hobbies they enjoy without being good at, while she was talking about academic fulfillment.

Thomas Freidman has made similar points, I think, about how Asian students generally keep working at math problems long after the white kid has given up. So there can be good things to a culture that gets kids to work hard and persevere. It's just that this woman takes things to an insane, boderline-abusive extreme in a deeply messed-up attempt to validate herself through her kid's academic success.
posted by Dasein at 11:29 AM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would argue that there is probably a lot more frank, no-bullshit communication between parent and child in Chua's household.

I don't think the amount of frank communication is in question here. She offers up lots of mandates to her kids and her kids sometimes openly reject it or secretly harbor resentments if they don't. Sounds like a typical family to me. And the bed incident seems to be an exception. If anything, North-American families seem like they're more likely to offer physical encouragement (hugs, pats, cuddling, etc) with their kids than Asian families. But that's just based on observation.

An aside: I don't think I've ever said 'I love you' to my parents nor did I begin hugging them until maybe during college (neither of which, I hope, has affected me negatively). Why? Because it seems unnecessary. Why bother literalizing what is already a given? Go do things which are expression of your love. But that may just be a personal thing (though I've had some friends confirm the same).
posted by jng at 11:33 AM on January 9, 2011


The first girl I ever had a serious relationship with (a decade and a half ago, in college) was Chinese American girl; the first member of her family to be born in the United States. She had some stories that echo some of what’s been discussed here. I remember one in which her mother grabbed a pair of scissors during a screaming-and-tears match with her, and began violently cutting out chunks of her own hair while screaming “This is what you’re doing to me!” If that isn’t crazy, I don’t know what is.

The result of that kind of upbringing upon my long-distant ex was a perpetually stressed out overachiever who was perennially dissatisfied with life, and herself. She sort of resented and looked down upon the American culture she’d been born into, yet simultaneously envied for its permissiveness and lack of uptight Asian stricture. I loved the fuck out of her at the time, but looking back now, I realize that she had an odd air of smug arrogance about herself (and her family) which in retrospect is just as off-putting as any sense of lazy entitlement that an upper-class Caucasoid frat boy might have.
posted by slumberfiend at 11:34 AM on January 9, 2011


Is there a chapter in her book about how to travel back in time to a point when the Harvard and Yale admission boards valued the type of applicant she's raising? Otherwise this is just abuse for the sake of abuse.
posted by 445supermag at 11:34 AM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


In my own experience, we have pretty high expectations for our son (Grade 3) at school.

While this is not how I'd raise kids, I don't intend this to be critical:

why?

I'm just trying to understand. Why do you have high expectations for your son at school? It this a "we just do" situation? I mean, have you thought it out or are you simply doing what you've been brought up to do?

What is it about getting-good-grades that is important to you? Is it about success later in life, which you define as becoming-high-a-high-status-person in some company or occupation? Or is it something intrinsic to the grades themselves?

I realize he's only in 3rd grade, but what if your son grows up to be someone who doesn't care about financial, academic or business success? What if he wants to be a "starving artist" or whatever. Would you be okay with that?
posted by grumblebee at 11:38 AM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe you didn't notice, but the linked article was nothing but Amy Chua sneering about indulgent Western parents and their spoiled, lazy children. She is shitting on my friends. I don't think the people in this thread who are trying to argue that Western parenting also has its own advantages are necessarily out of line.
posted by Xezlec at 11:23 AM on January 9 [+] [!]


So why aren't you writing things like "White people aren't all alike, lots of Westerners aren't lazy, this article is garbage" instead of turning to racist stereotypes?

btw, SaharaRose suggested we read Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy. i am putting it in the REQUIRED READING category.


Now Western Mefites can cite another anecdote of proving that ALL ASIAN AMERICANS NEED THERAPY BECAUSE ALL ASIAN PARENTS DRIVE THEIR KIDS INSANE and all Asians are deeply unhappy unlike all their lovely artistic white children who get the jobs we Asian robots don't get because they're "well-rounded" and we are just robots.

We both goddamn know it's more complicated than that and unless you want to become another stereotype for them to use "the Asian American who was driven to therapy because of her crazy Asian parents and their insane Asian parenting methods" eventually against you, at the expense of your self-esteem, I would think carefully before writing if you don't want to be pigeonholed.

You realize these are all the same people, the ones who like to tell me about how "exotic" India is and then ask me if my husband and I had been married as children. Don't rely on them to understand anything, even if their liberal arts training introduced other cultures to them in sensitive ways.
posted by anniecat at 11:42 AM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


Ah, White Hat, no need to apologize. We're not writing nuanced essays here, so we should all have amnesty for not considering fully how a quick comment might look like from the outside. And I hear you about smart people (of any ethnicity) using their skills in ways that some might consider less than productive for society. But your statement is still very easy to take as an attack against an ethnic group, even with the appropriate context, especially since your original comment didn't address the issues of success-driven parenting. You merely jump to the outcomes that you've witnessed and discuss them in a rhetorically overblown way ('not one'... 'they do not') with a dash of demagoguery. So while I recognize and appreciate your follow-up clarification, just note that I still am not cool with your original comment.

Sorry to pick on you! Really, I could have said this about any number of the comments here, but you were gracious and nice enough to respond. Much hugs!
posted by jng at 11:56 AM on January 9, 2011


The "no playdates" thing seems a little harsh. When I was small, I was shy, socially anxious and practically mute around strangers. If my parents had completely cut me off from social contact, I'd be a huge failure.
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 12:00 PM on January 9, 2011


I'm just trying to understand. Why do you have high expectations for your son at school?

I'm trying to figure out if this is a serious question. Maybe it says something about the dichotomy the author is talking about. Do you really not understand why parents would push their children? Because if you don't have high expectations early, then the kid doesn't have a base on knowledge and work habits on which to build future academic success. And if you're not academically sucessful, then opportunities become unavailable to you which you - the opportunity to be a doctor, or to study philosophy at the highest level, or to become a researcher and develop a better battery to power our cars, whatever.

Is it about success later in life, which you define as becoming-high-a-high-status-person in some company or occupation?

That's a really odd way to word an allegedly non-confrontational question. It also seems to completely fail to appreciate that many other forms of success - not just the high-paying ones - require people to have excelled at school and be at the top of their field, and have a work ethic to match. All that starts early, and if you wait until high school to try to instill that, it's usually too late.

what if your son grows up to be someone who doesn't care about financial, academic or business success? What if he wants to be a "starving artist" or whatever. Would you be okay with that?

I imagine that a lot of parents would be fine with that, as long as it wasn't the result of their kid having no other options because he always got Cs. Also, in my experience, good artists did quite well in school, and people who were smart but just too lazy to work didn't have the drive required to learn to create great art.

Pushing kids to do well is fundamentally about wanting to have them make the most of their lives. They may choose not to make millions even if they can, but not developing their natural talents by letting them be lazy (far different than the extremes this author advocates) betrays them and the world that needs their talents to make it a better place.
posted by Dasein at 12:05 PM on January 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


In my own experience, we have pretty high expectations for our son (Grade 3) at school.

>why?


We want our kids to make the most of their time at school - the spelling tests etc (our son is in French Immersion) are really an assessment of basic education benchmarks - stuff he ought to know, and needs to know in order to keep learning.

Also, unless you have a learning disability, school is pretty easy. In fact, I have pretty low expectations of the benefits of formal schooling. Stick 30 kids in a class, have them sit in rows, the bell rings, they do one thing, the bell rings, they do another thing, the teacher assesses them according to a non-standardized method of assessment. It's an insane system, for the most part.

But if my kid can achieve basic literacy and numeracy that gives him the basic skills and knowledge to build on later, I'll be happy with that.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:08 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Although I can't endorse or condemn this style of parenting, this article touches on something I do appreciate about Chinese culture : valuing skill and knowledge. Growing up in America, there aren't a lot of social rewards to be gained from being smart or good at something that isn't a sport. Youth culture in American public schools rewards natural politicians : kids who have that "effortless cool" which is naturally attractive to other people. Of course, it also helps if they're good-looking and their parents have lots of money.

Maybe it's better now that we have the archetype of the "dotcom millionaire" floating around, but when I was in school, there was nothing cool about being a nerd. I got picked on and dropped out, even though I was teaching myself C++ at age 15.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:10 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm trying to figure out if this is a serious question. Maybe it says something about the dichotomy the author is talking about.

This is an excellent point.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:11 PM on January 9, 2011


i'm having trouble reading Chau's article as anything other than a passive-aggressive push in a deeply troubled marriage. She's revealed only tense moments between them in just a 2,000 word article. Jed Rubenfeld, her husband, in addition to his law accomplishments, published a novel and once studied theater at Julliard. That seems to put her "no school plays" comment into context
posted by pinafore at 12:14 PM on January 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


oneirodynia, you don't have to entirely agree with liza's read on the situation, but her use of the term "whiteness" comes from a specific arena. There's more going on than simply a straw man like "smart people who want to succeed are 'acting white.'"

1) I know that, and I disagree that that is a straw man. When you sort achieving a particular social status or aspiration into white/nonwhite, you have people berating other people for participating in "white" institutions. This is not an academic abstraction; it is an earth-bound reality that people struggle with, and because of that "whiteness" has been used to paint people as sellouts or traitors. How else would you characterize this statement:

Amy Chua represents the kind of people within ethnic and racial groups in the United States, who exploit the "good minority" stereotype as both a fetish performance and a privilege card.

We can deduce this because... she went to Harvard and pushes her kids to be high academic achievers. This person has bought into the idea of whiteness and is performing an act in order to enjoy the privilige of whiteness. She is "acting white" for all intents and purposes, according to the above statement.

No doubt there are people who see education as a means to break into "white" society/class/privilege. However I'm not going to assume that about anybody based on wanting to attend university, nor am I going to assume that all people of a particular phenotype conceive of whiteness or privilege in the same way. From Ta-Nehisi Coates:

"Reading this got me thinking on those lessons, which originate in poverty, that ultimately served me quite well. People talk about reading books as being written off as "acting-white." I guess. Here's what I know about that: When I was eighteen, binge-drinking and snorting coke was "acting white." I was at Howard then, where a large swath of the student population hailed from high schools where most people didn't go to college. Most of us had watched the crack era unfold firsthand. The notion of coming to college and essentially tempting suicide was seen as the province of "The Culture Of Affluence," of the rich and the foolish, of the white."


2) Casually applying an American racial construct to immigrant populations is ethnocentric. There are actually other places in the world that value education as a means to improve one's status. The assumption that: people who feel that pushing their children to aspire to positions associated with white privilege in this country is about "whiteness", without even understanding the society from which they came is highly problematic.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:16 PM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.

I find this so true. Ira Glass said as much when asked by a college student how you figure out what you should do with your life. Cal Newport of Study Hacks (which is where Ira Glass's interview is excerpted) says it all the time now as he tries to better understand how to offer solid career advice. It's really true.


By that definition, you can take no fun or joy in practice, even as a rank beginner. Do you really think that's true, anniecat? If it is for you, then please don't generalise your experience because it's certainly not true for me, and not true for most people that I know.

I've done many things that I am not good at, and enjoyed lots of them. If I had taken more time to become good at one of them - and it takes hours and hours of practice over weeks and months and even years to be properly good at something - I wouldn't have had time to do the others, and nor would I have got pleasure from them. I'm not sure my net joy in life would be any less for have pursued one thing to the exclusion of some of the others.
posted by reynir at 12:21 PM on January 9, 2011


Who the hell wants to raise steretypically successful children?
posted by unSane at 12:23 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, that's what classical training will do for you. And I say this as a classically trained musician. Also, I'm not sure that oboe players should just jam. Ever.

I actually recorded a live show of a metal band that featured the oboe. (Insert brass/woodwind jokes here).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:24 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


By the way, you know how a lot of white people were upset with Stuff White People Like? Can you even get how hurt this thread might make some Mefites feel when you talk as though you know anything at all about cultures you aren't a part of and will never understand?

It's bad when you say "women are like this, men are like that," so please use your brains and think about what you're saying. I know you all have heaps of anecdotes about those of us who belong to the Model Minority of America club and will use your confirmation bias accordingly, but just spend some time thinking about why it's not okay and how it's not okay.

And try to remember: Like people of all races who are trying to sell books, not everything they write is true of everybody they claim to represent. This is not a study done on 100,000 Chinese households. They're selling something. Yes, the way Donald Trump sells books about the secret to his success. Yes, I realize this woman is Chinese, but it honestly isn't any different. I know that might be hard for you to believe, because race can be so distracting when dealing with basic human ambitions.
posted by anniecat at 12:30 PM on January 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


That first photo in the article. That's a shit-eating grin if I ever saw one.
posted by Xere at 12:30 PM on January 9, 2011


By that definition, you can take no fun or joy in practice, even as a rank beginner. Do you really think that's true, anniecat? If it is for you, then please don't generalise your experience because it's certainly not true for me, and not true for most people that I know.

Did you miss where I wrote, "I [not you, not everyone else] find this so true"?
posted by anniecat at 12:31 PM on January 9, 2011


The Chinese / Western distinction gets in the way of some worthy philosophical and pedagogical issues. It may be that cultivating skill is worthwhile; and that the language of "self-esteem" is confusing, unhelpful and over-reaching; that there are many ways to encourage tenacity. I especially appreciated that the assumption that children can be strong rather than fragile.

But her taxonomy of what is valuable seems, in itself, truncated. Is the clarinet or oboe really off limits? Is there nothing valuable to athletic activity? Isn't play one way we become empathetic and understanding toward others? Is there any merit to being involved with peers? There may not be, but those are some questions I would ask.

I'm with the author on her inculcation of skills and her take-down of "western" presumptions regarding esteem and individuality. What irks me is the insinuation of her own moral superiority. I may be misreading her judgment, but to me the carefree child, the perpetual amateur, the whimsical and dramatic, all have their own worthiness.
posted by john wilkins at 12:39 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


From my experiences, the main weakness to this parenting style is that there is no room for anything to go wrong. Anything bad that happens in my life is because of something bad that I did or some personal flaw. If I get sick, I'm "weak" or "dirty" or not doing x y or z. If I get a bad grade, I'm lazy or stupid. I'm sure some people take this and learn to overcome their obstacles on their own and become stronger for it. I just learned not to trust my parents. My childhood became infinitely easier once I got comfortable lying to them.

I just listened to the WTF interview with Bobby Lee - where he also talks a bit about the negative sides to this parenting style.
posted by prex at 12:40 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]




My (caucasian) son who is working on his B.M. in cello performance often teases me that I should have been more like the Chinese parents.
posted by Edward L at 12:41 PM on January 9, 2011


and by the way, flute is also an acceptable instrument.
posted by Edward L at 12:43 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Metafilter's own adrianhon wrote about something similar.

Choice quote:

Overwhelming and unyielding pressure to excel – that’s the answer. It’s not easy to do, but it does work, and it’s not isolated to Asians either – it just seems to be more common among them. And believe me, it’s often not pretty. I’ve seen kids get nervous breakdowns from this pressure; I’ve seen kids who had heartfelt ambitions to become artists or musicians, only to be forced to abandon them so that they can become the doctors and lawyers their parents so desperately crave.
posted by seanyboy at 12:44 PM on January 9, 2011


By the way, you know how a lot of white people were upset with Stuff White People Like? Can you even get how hurt this thread might make some Mefites feel when you talk as though you know anything at all about cultures you aren't a part of and will never understand?

Well, since I had no sympathy for the joyless prigs who didn't appreciate the finely-written, tightly-edited and spot-on social skwering of Stuff White People Like, am I allowed to be impatient with people who try to restrict people from talking about cultures not their own? You think people here don't understand Asian culture. Fine, explain it; don't tell people who aren't Asian to shut up. I await the day that a non-white Mefite recuses herself from a discussion about middle class white American because she wasn't raised in that culture. Also, I don't see anyone saying that all Asian parents are this way or that way. Trying to prevent people from making generalizations is a ridiculous way to shut down conversation on pretty well any topic. Generalizations are necessary and valid, including when discussing cultures, as long as people realize that they are just that - generalizations - and that there are always nuances and exceptions. I don't think anyone here thinks any differently.
posted by Dasein at 12:45 PM on January 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


School of Dreams about Whitney High School in Cerritos, CA is an interesting take on this phenomenon as well.
posted by Edward L at 12:45 PM on January 9, 2011


My parents are white trash hillbilly Southerners who broke out of the mold, only to break into another which was all too much like Chua's. So my father was the first person in our entire extended family who ever went to college, and goddammit I was going to be the second (and I was). They weren't quite as bad as Chua's parents but they took many pages from her book. The occasional B was permitted, but too many or a single C was unthinkable. Friends were discouraged. My life was mapped out by the time I was 16, and it was going to end up with me working as an engineer and living in a cottage behind their house in my 20's. Really.

So how did that work out? Well, I was good at all the stuff that they wanted me to do so that helped. But my childhood was very lonely, and I'm pretty sure I can credit them with my sexual fetish. (If you do not want a sadomasochistic child, try to avoid subjecting them to intense power dynamics before they're three or four years old, or they might imprint on something unexpected, 'k?)

And of course the day came that I met a girl. And I knew that in a circle of friends and acquaintances as small as mine meeting a girl whose tendencies complemented mine was about as likely as hitting the lottery, so this time when P and M pushed on me I didn't budge. I had never really balked them, and when I finally did there seemed no limit to the viciousness and cruelty of which they were capable in order to get their way. I left home, quit college so I could get a job, and one day after they stole my car and had a lawyer call me on their behalf I icily informed lawyer boy that I was an orphan, because parents don't need lawyers to communicate with their kids. I later learned that they were snooping around my friends trying to gather evidence to have me involuntarily committed, and I had probably avoided a nasty attempt at that by emancipating myself with that statement.

After that I didn't speak with them, or any of my grandparents or other family members, for 17 years. I finally reconnected when I ran into them at my grandmother's funeral about 8 years ago, and we have the occasional cautious visit. They've softened a lot, perhaps realizing that going batshit has consequences. But they're still nuts. Their home security system alarm code is the date that I drove off to move in with Y. Not my birthday, or their own anniversary. Every time they enter their own home they have set it up to remind them of the day they "lost" me.

My wife won't talk to them to this day, and considering some of the things they did to try and get her out of my life, I can't blame her.

So yes, child abuse can "work" (but don't kid yourself about it not being child abuse, it is) and no, it's not about race. White Southern Baptists can play that game just as well as immigrants from the Far East. And they will all reap what they sow in one way or another.
posted by localroger at 12:45 PM on January 9, 2011 [20 favorites]


What I don't understand is how someone who can produce such an unintellectual statement is actually a professor at Yale.

If Amy Chua was trying to get an article published in the Journal of Parenting Approaches, I doubt she would have phrased it that way. But she is a Ivy League Troll trying to sell books by getting as much press as possible.

She has thrown as many racist and cultural generalizations as possible into her interviews. She probably made a list of hot button press-friendly issues and made sure to include every single one in her statements. See: Palin, Coulter, etc.

Hell, her parents are probably pissed at her for becoming a law professor and not a corporate lawyer. Maybe this her way of getting rich and giving them the finger.
posted by benzenedream at 12:46 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


> Yeah, in my experience, this style of parenting backfires just as often as it succeeds

In my personal, completely anecdotal experience, what I have noticed, is that many "young-adult" asians (early/mid 20's) seem to revel in their newfound freedom and essentially have their teenage years a decade later than most. This style of parenting basically appears to be simply delaying overall social responsibility and true adulthood.

(And to be fair, personally I only reached "true" adulthood in my late 20's myself)
posted by jkaczor at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2011


I was ready to shit on this, but I realized that I wish my parents had pushed me harder at all that stuff I didn't try hard enough at as a kid. Music lessons, schoolwork, career planning... sometimes I look back and see that I had a ton of awesome opportunities and pooched it because it wasn't easy the first time I tried it.
posted by monkeymike at 12:49 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What happens when 20 of these Chinese-mothered kids all end up in the same class? An arms-race? They can't all earn As. They can't all be the best.

You get Lowell High School in San Francisco. Since I went to UC Davis, there were plenty of alumni. The interesting part was watch some of them completely implode once they were out from under their parents thumbs. I knew too many valedictorians of Asian descent (not neccessarily from Lowell) who had to drop out after their first semester because they were free, and succeeded in going out and partying, flunking out, and getting pregnant/getting someone pregnant. Admittedly this isn't neccessarily an Asian thing, but they did seem to have the most spectacular flameouts.
posted by Badgermann at 12:51 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm a early 20s sorta-first generation immigrant from China - I was born there but came here when I was two; both my parents behaved very much like the article stereotypes when I was raised, though they've been much laxer with my little brother (who is 6 years younger than me).

Amusingly, they both sent me this piece, independently from each other, within about thirty minutes of when it was posted.

I was raised in a childhood where I was expected to get As and I was not expected to have sleepovers, play games, or watch TV. I read a lot when I was young - that was my escape, and since it helped my test scores, I suppose my parents allowed it and saw that it was a good hobby. I skipped a grade - third - and was pretty miserable from fourth to seventh grade, even though I don't think too many people knew - mainly because I didn't have that many friends, and so never told anyone of how crappy it was to always be expected to get As.

And then I made friends with a group of high achieving but american friends, got a look at their households, and pretty much everything changed. And here, I have to give credit to my parents, because they saw, perhaps, the change in me, and let it happen. Maybe they realized that we were going to be okay no matter what, or maybe they saw that we were happier, and eased up a lot on the restrictions.

I ended up graduating 13th in my high school class of 280, going to a state school, doing pretty well in everything but class itself, and barely graduating after slacking off for three years. Possibly, if my parents stayed with the 'asian' style of parenting, I would've gone to Harvard. Honestly, I'm not sure if I would've been happier. I don't know. I don't feel challenged sometimes, but I've made friends, done extracurricular activities, and are involved in a lot of interesting projects; I'm happy and pretty fulfilled, and it looks like it's only going to get better. But I'm not going to MIT or a Top14 law school, so *shrugs*

It's a trade off, honestly; happiness is different things to different people.

The thing I hate the most about the article is that it portrays her way as the only successful one.
posted by Han Tzu at 12:54 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Generalizations are necessary and valid, including when discussing cultures, as long as people realize that they are just that - generalizations - and that there are always nuances and exceptions. I don't think anyone here thinks any differently.

Okay, since we all have an understanding, then it must be okay for me to say Western Mefites, even the ones who have a diverse group of friends, are racist. They'll tell you they aren't, they'll argue they're calling a spade a spade, they'll say they can't help it, but in the end, you're just a bunch of unapologetic racists who can't be trusted.
posted by anniecat at 1:04 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some thoughts from around the bloggosphere I've read that speak better to my reaction than I could currently:

Resist Racism: P.S. You suck
wtfhellokitty
Asians not studying (post from tumblr created in response to that Maclean's article a few weeks back.)

And finally, not directly related but definitely relevant: a newish blog with few posts but promises to be very interesting: Not That Kind of Asian Doctor
posted by dustyasymptotes at 1:08 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Feh. Trying to interpret whether one mode of parenting is successful versus another is like doing an experiment with no controls and saying you have a meaningful result anyway. It's all associative (mostly anecdotal) evidence at best, and meaningful generalizations are damn hard to derive given there are too many variables, many of which get conveniently ignored (such as the luxury of sufficient income and time to drill your child heavily).

Western parenting produced Mark Zuckerberg, Kary Mullis, and David Baltimore, and China is clearly not populated by a homogenous race of mathematician/violinists. People still have to drive the trucks, farm the food, and do lots of other things.

Let's just say n=1, and have a nice day.
posted by DrSawtooth at 1:09 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Even the piece's author admits that her style of parenting isn't really exclusively Chinese. Pouncing only on the ethnic aspect is missing the point.

Yeah, she acknowledges that other moms in other cultures are similar in a brief paragraph near the beginning, and several posters in this thread echo that sentiment but then she really harps on the Chinese/Western split for the rest of the piece. So I wouldn't go as far as to accuse folks of pouncing on that aspect since she makes it such a major "selling" point of the article.

That said, I wish I could buy a banner ad for a plane that says, "YOUR CULTURE/ETHNICITY IS NOT A SPECIAL SNOWFLAKE" and have it fly all around the world (with language appropriate to the region of course). Seriously, every ethnicity and culture says things along the lines of, "Boy, [X] moms sure are tough" and "You really don't want to make [X] women angry, I'll tell you what" and "[X] sure are fierce traders, you can never take advantage of us in a deal" and even "You can only get real [X] food when it's made by my grandmother and the people from the tiny village she hails from and none of their recipes are written down." Every culture thinks it invented sunlight and playing cards (not my phrase, can't remember where I saw it on Metafilter).

But...I have to admit that I couldn't help but wish there were more parents like the author and her mom in the African-American community. Obviously there's a middle ground between "The Chinese" and "The Western" approach, but it shames me to admit that if I were allowed to choose between the two on behalf of "my people," I'd pick "The Chinese" style in less than a heartbeat. Now I have to do some soul-searching to figure out why I feel that way. Because of that, I think this is article is ultimately a good thing, even though I initially rolled my eyes hard when reading it.
posted by lord_wolf at 1:10 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm glad someone was able to FPP this successfully. When I read the article on WSJ yesterday (directed there by the Huffington Post of all places), it made me sick to my stomach. It's one thing to raise successful children but to brag about your abusive ways of doing so it's not something I can admire. It's extra sad that her assertions had to be couched in such blatant racial and cultural stereotypes.

The thing I hate the most about the article is that it portrays her way as the only successful one.

Yeah, one hopes she isn't setting herself up to be on the receiving end of a massive wave of schadenfreude if either of her daughters ever falls off their lofty perch. Not everything in the world is within their or their mother's control.
posted by fuse theorem at 1:11 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's terrible at producing clever, original human beings. Maybe that's why most new technologies and new styles of music are stereotypically invented in the West (even if they're perfected in the East -- I hear Asia's got that 1950s crooner thing really nailed now).

If only there were a List of Chinese inventions. Like, you know, paper, or gunpowder, or the compass. Or the stirrup. "Asian people are awful innovators, Europeans invent everything" is so incredibly racist I can't believe it's here at Metafilter and not over at one of those white power sites.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:14 PM on January 9, 2011 [31 favorites]


you're just a bunch of unapologetic racists who can't be trusted.

I can't understand why someone who thinks this about their fellow MeFites would even bother staying here. Honestly, I do not understand.
posted by palomar at 1:14 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Clearly it make sense. Work harder and therefore get more rewards.
The question that makes us pause is then, "what is the meaning of life?" Because generally people say that money isn't it.

Life is divided into two halves really... being in education, and then being an adult. Adulthood is associated with the need to sustain yourself, whereas the student and child, through various means, is supported by others (parents, loans, the state).

The argument here is if you invest in yourself earlier (as a child), you get the 10,000 hours required in brain development and skill learning to make an extremely perfect human being.

As resources run out on this little planet, the more perfect you are, the more certainty there is in your future. But is this perfection what we want? If everybody could become perfect, is that utopia?

But this isn't about utopia is it? And that's where the warning flags go up for me. I have heard many a "prodigy" play a million notes a second on a piano, but only a few are actually making music. If we could all make music together, it might just be more fun.
posted by niccolo at 1:19 PM on January 9, 2011


I think other people here have already pointed out how, just as Chinese mothers are pushing their kids to play the piano, get straight A's and ignore drama, schools like Harvard and other schools at the very top are looking for a diverse class. This means the Asian kid who was an orphan and writes poetry often gets the nod over the kid with the CV that looks like ... every other kid.

Here we go, the Harvard class of 2014:
A total of 18.2 percent of the admitted students indicated they were Asian-American (17.5 percent last year), 11.3 percent African-American (10.4 percent last year), 10.3 percent Latino (10.6 percent last year), 2.7 percent Native American (1.1 percent last year) and 0.4 percent Native Hawaiian (0.2 percent last year).

If you only judge by test scores and academic achievements, you get Berkeley, aka:
Little Asia on the Hill
This fall and last, the number of Asian freshmen at Berkeley has been at a record high, about 46 percent.
posted by vacapinta at 1:20 PM on January 9, 2011


can't understand why someone who thinks this about their fellow MeFites would even bother staying here. Honestly, I do not understand.

Because in the past I thought maybe it was just a few of you, but this thread has opened my eyes that there's a level of racism among Westerners that appears to be absolutely acceptable. I seriously never realized it until now, when all of you are sharing your stories about Chinese people you knew and how you'll now say, "The Chinese are like this and Americans are like this."

What you're saying sounds eerily like "Why don't minorities just come back where they came from? Why do they stay?" If I stay, it's to get my goddamn five dollars worth (that's fucking Rs 228) and I have a lot of goddamn questions about cooking soup and making cake from yogurt, and I'm mad about Gabrielle Giffords, and I just started watching Buffy. I may want to buy a shirt!
posted by anniecat at 1:23 PM on January 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


I had the typical Chinese-American upbringing. In addition to being obsessed with my success, my parents were also overprotective and thrifty, so instead of encouraging me to apply to top schools, they just pushed me into studying engineering at my local state university on full scholarship so I could live at home and not spend a dime of their money on tuition. Of course, I had no interest in engineering whatsoever, but growing up my parents led me to believe that was the only way to a decent middle-class lifestyle and I'd be flipping burgers and living on the streets if I studied anything else.

After undergrad I quit the path they'd planned (getting a PhD), moved far away, and became successful in finance, a different (though still highly numerate) field. I make a lot of money at a young age (income being my parents main metric of success). Yet I think to some extent it's really still because I want to prove to my parents I can be successful. I often wonder if I would have pursued if my parents hadn't pressured me at all - maybe historical linguistics or literature.

It interests me that some people in this thread wished their parents would have been more like mine. I was often jealous of my white classmates whose parents had saved up money for them to go to college, encouraged them to explore different colleges, and even took them to visit different ones to get the right "fit." They ended up going to all sorts of cool liberal arts colleges, studying things like art history or classics, and seemed to have an awesome time in undergrad. Now most of them are underemployed hipsters, but I sometimes wish my parents would have let me do that. I never got to have a "gap year" or spend some time being an early 20s slacker. I've been sitting at the office from the moment I graduated.

A lot of my things my parents pushed for, like getting a PhD, just flat out didn't make any sense. It didn't help that they didn't have a PhD either - it was almost like some kind of trophy they wanted me to win for the family, and after wasting 4+ years of potential income and career building, the salary of an assistant professor would somehow make up for that. I now make more than that with only a master's, and have interviewed PhDs for positions junior to mine, but that logic seems to be lost on my parents.
posted by pravit at 1:28 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


What you're saying sounds eerily like "Why don't minorities just come back where they came from? Why do they stay?"

No, I was genuinely asking why you, the person who posted that sentiment, would stay in a place talking to people they obviously hate. But hey, thanks for calling me a racist! I really appreciate it. Like it hasn't been a shitty enough weekend, right? Thanks, anniecat. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.
posted by palomar at 1:28 PM on January 9, 2011


palomar: I think you were supposed to read anniecat's comment with sarcasm tags around it.

Group hug everyone!
posted by jng at 1:33 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What happens when 20 of these Chinese-mothered kids all end up in the same class? An arms-race? They can't all earn As. They can't all be the best.

Astonishing GDP growth
posted by vorpal bunny at 1:36 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


"everything in moderation" Western attitude leads to mediocrity in many things.

That is why Chinese will be the next superpower, and we will slowly become Britain and France.
posted by Witold at 1:40 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Because in the past I thought maybe it was just a few of you, but this thread has opened my eyes that there's a level of racism among Westerners that appears to be absolutely acceptable.

Okay, seriously, could you point me to where you see racism in this thread? Like, links with explanations of why a comment is racist.
posted by Dasein at 1:42 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Or maybe you should just step out of this thread or take it to MeTa if this is seriously the way you feel.
posted by Dasein at 1:43 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


What you're saying sounds eerily like "Why don't minorities just come back where they came from? Why do they stay?"

Just saw this. I seriously think that your reading of this thread says more about you than about anyone else here. It's an insulting thing to allege, and I think you should at least point to a particular statement that could in any way be read as saying this.
posted by Dasein at 1:46 PM on January 9, 2011


Now most of them are underemployed hipsters, but I sometimes wish my parents would have let me do that. I never got to have a "gap year" or spend some time being an early 20s slacker. I've been sitting at the office from the moment I graduated.

I think this is normal. I grew up in India (married an ABCD), came to college in the US, went to grad school in the UK. I had friends whose parents catered to all their whims: vacations all over Europe during my master's degree program, helping to pay for down payments on expensive condos (or outright buying them condos!) even though they were not married, sending them money. I had a small job on campus in college and thought I wanted to study IR, which my father thought was a waste of opportunity (I agree now, but at that point it seemed unfair since there were all these people majoring in things that didn't seem useful). (In the end, I'm glad I didn't study IR, because I sat in on a class once and found out I was generally bored by it. It wasn't what I thought it would be.)

So this is normal for, I think, everyone who does not have wealthy parents. It would be fun to never be restricted by money. And my father, who sends me a mix of sentimental ramblings in ALL CAPS via free yahoo and hotmail emails, still thinks I should get a PhD (in the emails where he's demanding to know why my husband can't move to India ("HE IS IN THE COMPUTERS DEEPAKBHAI CAN FIND HIM JOB WITH BILLGATES MAKING NICE SALARY YOU ARE GONE TOO LONG BETA") What can we do? They're old school. They're from a different time, when PhDs came to America and made good money. (My dad also doesn't understand why just announcing to your boss that you're leaving for India because your parents want you to come isn't going to met with the kind of understanding he is expecting.)

The older I get, the more I realize that they're just people, like us, with imperfect sources of information, mixed with love and anxiety, and fear who want us to be happy, and are somewhat paralyzed by their own worry and love. I imagine this is why they do so many pujas for me constantly.
posted by anniecat at 1:49 PM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


this thread has opened my eyes that there's a level of racism among Westerners that appears to be absolutely acceptable

Lighten up, Francis.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:52 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


So why aren't you writing things like "White people aren't all alike, lots of Westerners aren't lazy, this article is garbage" instead of turning to racist stereotypes?

Because I'm not as obsessed with the race issue as you clearly are. I'm not upset with her because she said "White people parent like this, and Chinese people parent like this," I'm upset with her because of the implication that she seems to regard people raised using the latter approach as terminal screwups, and since most of my friends were raised that way, she can kindly go to hell. The correlation between parenting technique and race provides only a convenient (but obviously imperfect) demographic basis for classification and comparison, nothing more.

If only there were a List of Chinese inventions. Like, you know, paper, or gunpowder, or the compass. Or the stirrup. "Asian people are awful innovators, Europeans invent everything" is so incredibly racist I can't believe it's here at Metafilter and not over at one of those white power sites.

I am definitely an atypical Mefite, but the idea that the above observation means I should be a white supremacist is pretty ridiculous. A lot of notable people on both sides of the ocean have made the same observation. Besides, I never said "Europeans invent everything," I just said that most new technologies and music styles come from the West. That's a true statement, and none of the things you listed are new technologies. Name the 10 (or even 100) biggest inventions of the last century, and go look up where each one was invented and then where the biggest producers of that thing are located today. Then you'll see the origin of the stereotype.
posted by Xezlec at 1:53 PM on January 9, 2011


anniecat, you wrote:

Did you miss where I wrote, "I [not you, not everyone else] find this so true"?

You were responding to this:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.

That sounds like a pretty blanket belief system without room for individual opinion. I mean, either nothing is fun until you're good at it or not. Maybe that's true for some people, but if it isn't true for all people why would you raise your kid as if it were true for all people? Why not figure out if its true for your kid first and then decide what to do with that knowledge instead of just assuming?


liza wrote:

SaharaRose suggested we read Parents like Amy Chua are the reason why Asian-Americans like me are in therapy

anniecate you responded:

Now Western Mefites can cite another anecdote of proving that ALL ASIAN AMERICANS NEED THERAPY BECAUSE ALL ASIAN PARENTS DRIVE THEIR KIDS INSANE

Only those Western Mefites with poor reading comprehension. Mefites that read "Parents like Amy Chua" and think "ALL ASIAN PARENTS" and "Asian-Americans like me" as "ALL ASIAN-AMERICANS". Some maybe, but not all or probably even most.


Anyway, my point is I don't even really get what you're arguing about. You seem more upset that people in this thread are responding with anecdotes of their own than you ever were with Amy Chua's similar anecdotes. What did you say about her article? if you're taking her article 100% seriously, then you're nuts.

If we can't take her article seriously why are going to take any of our comments seriously?
posted by Green With You at 2:00 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because in the past I thought maybe it was just a few of you, but this thread has opened my eyes that there's a level of racism among Westerners that appears to be absolutely acceptable. I seriously never realized it until now, when all of you are sharing your stories about Chinese people you knew and how you'll now say, "The Chinese are like this and Americans are like this."

The article in the FPP is framed in a way that talks about a "Chinese" style of parenting, even though she mentions towards the beginning that it's not exclusively Chinese and not all Chinese-American parents are like this. However, this framing opens up the conversation for people to think back and share anecdotes about people they've known who have grown up like this.

Maybe I missed it, but I haven't seen anyone saying "all Chinese people are like this." A charitable read of the thread would assume that we all know that generalizations and anecdotes aren't proof of anything, and that people are simply sharing stories to better understand the experiences related in the FPP.

Also, there are generalized differences between different cultures and different cultural backgrounds. Yes, these differences shouldn't become stereotypes, but by discussing and exploring them we can all learn to better understand the experiences that other people face in the world.
posted by girih knot at 2:01 PM on January 9, 2011


The part I keep coming back to is: why violin and piano? Why no other instruments? What does that have to do with anything?
posted by grimmelm at 2:07 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


As for agressive parenting techniques I didn't really get it growing up except as general terror of being poor my whole life. I think my parents were just pretty happy I wasn't a juvinile delinquint.

Like others here I was able to get good grades without really applying myself so as an adult I have a difficult time doing more than showing up to work and doing what they tell me to. Trying to practice guitar, excersize regularly, learn new technology stuff, or finish any personal project seems to be beyond my grasp. There is a lot to be said for learning how to work hard.

Someday when I have kids I'd like to find a sweet spot in parenting to allow me to instill hard work without creating the potential for my children to lash out in unhealthy ways. I'm sure it exists but I might not be a good enough parent to figure it out. I doubt there will ever be a book written that will give me a simple checklist to follow. And if I came up with my own simple checklist and I sure as hell wouldn't try to push it as the ultimate in parenting techniques while going on the circuit promoting my style and lambasting others. Good parenting techniques shouldn't be sold they should be given away freely. It will improve us all.
posted by Green With You at 2:09 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Please allow Michael Haneke to explain it all for you.
posted by outlandishmarxist at 2:12 PM on January 9, 2011


why violin and piano?

I think the point is that she doesn't let them explore, try something new, get bored with it, try something else, get bored, etc. I don't think what instrument she chooses matters that much, just the fact that it's only one and they can't waste their precious time practicing another one.
posted by Xezlec at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2011


Did you miss where I wrote, "I [not you, not everyone else] find this so true"?

No, I didn't miss that. Nor did I miss the last sentence of the same post, where you wrote, "It's really true".
posted by reynir at 2:16 PM on January 9, 2011


What a horrible person. It's one thing to work your kids hard but not even an hour of video games or TV a week? Not even one sleep over every two weeks?

Also ridiculous is the association of her style with "Chinese" A better term would be "the parenting style of Upper-middle class urban Chinese strives who immigrate to the U.S".

(I also love how she claims that Chinese people who don't raise their kids this way are all "Western Born")

The reality is, lots of Chinese people are actually illiterate, or barely literate. The schools outside of the major cities are not that good, there are lots of Chinese "rednecks" poor, not well educated rural people - Just like in the U.S. and other countries.

This article is Grade A Pure Premium trolling writ large

Pretty much. She makes her article as offensive as possible and reaps the hits. Sadly, though, I suspects she believes her own moronic hype.
posted by delmoi at 2:16 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Okay, seriously, could you point me to where you see racism in this thread? Like, links with explanations of why a comment is racist.

The way you insist that this whole thread doesn't have any racism in it suggests you're too defensive to understand and too set in your ways to even give an honest try. It would actually be a huge waste of my time to do what you're asking me to, now that I think about it.
posted by anniecat at 2:18 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


A lot of technological innovation comes from lazy people, the type who are willing to work harder at avoiding work than the actual work itself. No matter how much you rote memorize addition problems, in a race to add up all the number from 1 to 100, Gauss will always beat you.
posted by 445supermag at 2:19 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


why violin and piano? Why no other instruments?

Because the author has preconceptions about music; she is clueless about the subject. The entire ordeal about achieving polyrhythm in the Donkey piece is a perfect illustration. Rather than wait for the daughter's piano teacher to help with her musical problems and lead her to the correct technique, she takes the matter into her own hands by brute forcing it through repetition. Even Chopin and other pedagogues back in the day wrote that long, repetitive sessions are inefficient and detrimental in the long run. That the story takes center place in her essay is just laughable.

Clearly, she has no interest in music.
posted by polymodus at 2:20 PM on January 9, 2011 [16 favorites]


That is why Chinese will be the next superpower, and we will slowly become Britain and France.
I'm not really sure what you mean by "Britain and France" but if you mean free healthcare sign me up. The more developed countries in Europe have already surpassed the United States in quality of life and in some cases per-capita income.

In fact it's not China that's surpassing us, but the European Union. Except no one worries about this because, duh, there's nothing to worry about.
posted by delmoi at 2:23 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


A chilling portrait of an obedience junkie whose desiccated heart is only stimulated through acts of force and compulsion. A terrifying glimpse into the authoritarian mindset. A cautionary tale of the inhumanity of rampant Reaganite capitalism -- and a tragicomic soliloquy on the folly of financial metrics as applied to human-ness. Truly the sci-fi novella of the moment, can't wait to hear more about the spaceship tech involved.
posted by milquetoast at 2:29 PM on January 9, 2011 [14 favorites]


That is why Chinese will be the next superpower, and we will slowly become Britain and France.

One can only hope.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:32 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't imagine what it must be like to be the father and husband in that scenario and not agree with his wife's draconian style of parenting.

I don't have to imagine it. It is an ongoing struggle, which I think I am winning. I have written and deleted several other comments on this article, but it's really too close to my life, and I can't say more.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:37 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I made this comment the other day in the "test scores" thread, but it's weird how we celebrate America as the land of freedom, but then as soon as hear about someone else raising their kids to be SAT-acing violin-playing robots, we start beating ourselves up for not doing it too.

As Americans, we have a lot to be embarrassed about, especially in the last ten years. But giving kids the chance to be kids, and to choose their own path in life is one of the things we do relatively well.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:42 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


why violin and piano?

Most of the people my parents gravitate to for services are Chinese or Asian - doctors, hairstylists, contractors, salesman. I think they one of the few non-Asian specialists they go to are for auto repair.

That said, it's pretty easy to find an Asian teacher for violin or piano as opposed to drums or something.

I'm just guessing but it makes sense to me.
posted by spec80 at 2:46 PM on January 9, 2011


Well, I had parents like this, it absolutely drove me crazy, and when I fell off the treadmill my family and my "community" had zero problem writing me off as one of the inevitable broken eggs. So I'm not at all surprised to hear people here talking about how it works more often than not and how we shouldn't judge; the failures are just statistical blips, after all.

Well, I'm judging. It was fucking evil. And I have no problem being held up as the "stereotypical" Asian mental case or whatever other label one may use to dismiss me; I'll just add it to the list of all the times I've been told I wasn't Indian enough or that I was betraying my community. Try to imagine how much I care about that.
posted by Errant at 2:46 PM on January 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


That said, it's pretty easy to find an Asian teacher for violin or piano as opposed to drums or something.

That's not the case here--the author explicitly sought out a high-level Soviet pianist to do it.
posted by polymodus at 2:48 PM on January 9, 2011


I missed that. Thanks!
posted by spec80 at 2:49 PM on January 9, 2011


One of the oddest things about this essay is how the author proudly reports that her children show signs of pleasure and even articulate thanks why they succeed in doing things that please her. She reads this as a testament to the enduring rightness of her parenting, rather than as a testament to the vast capacities of children to absorb and adapt to abuse.
posted by LMGM at 2:59 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'd rather be proud of my kids than be proud of my superior parenting skills.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:03 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've noticed this in some Chinese adults who are not too concerned with empathizing and come across cold and all-business (to me as a Westerner). Not that they are psychopaths incapable of empathy, but it seems like a weakness to them, whereas in the West empathy for others, including the weak, is often seen as a strength (at least among those who consciously strive for a compassionate life).
posted by stbalbach at 12:40 PM on January 9


Dude,

So once upon a time there was this rich prince guy who was raised sheltered and stuff. He became fairly famous. They started a religion named after him. It became fairly popular in China. They talk a bit about compassion.

I am definitely an atypical Mefite, but the idea that the above observation means I should be a white supremacist is pretty ridiculous.
posted by Xezlec at 4:53 PM on January 9 [+] [!]


No,

If you just wanted to say "Asian music seems much less popular in the United States than American music", that would be one thing. But saying that there is no original Asian music is a fairly ridiculous statement.

If I am ever fortunate enough to bump into YC "Father of Modern Biomechanics" Fung, I will be ... actually, no, I won't tell him that he's a bad, bad, Asian person for inventing modern biomechanics instead of making iPods or whatever it is you think Asian people are good at.

Would you Orientalists kindly make up your mind whether Asia is full of sensual decadence or faceless Yellow Peril hordes? You keep changing your minds, and it's making things very confusing.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:06 PM on January 9, 2011 [23 favorites]


why violin and piano?

I think it's because a lot of immigrant parents, at least in my own experience, have a lot of misinformed or outdated ideas, and make their kids do things that don't even make any sense anymore. Want to get into music? Fine, then do classical music, because it's the most prestigious. Or like getting a PhD - at one point that may have been the ticket to success, but now it's more likely to lead to you being unemployed after burning away years of your time. But that's OK, because you'll be the first one in our family with a PhD, and flight attendants will call you "Doctor"!
posted by pravit at 3:11 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]




Dear Asian-Americans,

Thanks for taking over from us that stereotype of the overachieving, uncreative grind! Feel free to hand it off to someone else next generation. Should be pretty easy, since we're planning to pass you control of the media.

Love,

The Jews
posted by escabeche at 3:18 PM on January 9, 2011 [44 favorites]


I think many of you have missed the point here - How to raise successful kids, not (necessarily) happy ones.

The real world doesn't care what you "want". It doesn't validate your "feelings". It doesn't let you grow up as a princess ballerina rockstar astronaut who marries a smart and funny supermodel.
But, truly successful people are the ones who are well socialized and fun to be around, so that other successful people will pick them to work with because that's how the world actually works. It's run on networking, not talent. You can certainly be successful by working hard 24/7, but you will never be as successful as people who both work hard and know how to network.
I've actually known a few Asian-Americans who weren't overachieving study-grinds. Wotta revelation, I know. A few of them were even burnout hoodlums like me and my friends.
Obviously the result of slacker, "Western born" parents, according to the Chua.
posted by delmoi at 3:43 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


This article is singularly horrifying. I can't even formulate anything intellectually coherent to say about it. My heart goes out to the terrified Lulu, and my pity goes to the author for feeling as though this is the only good way to raise her children.

This has already been expressed, but, to genuinely repeat: after reading this, I was compelled to thank my parents—a heartfelt, almost teary thank you—for raising me as they did. I am so thankful for having had sleepovers, for having been allowed to fail and encouraged to succeed, for being allowed to decide I didn't actually like the saxophone, for them coming to my shows in middle-school drama productions, for jokes, for freedom, for tolerance, for faith in me and my own personhood, for not turning the whole of my childhood into a pathologically-obsessive drive for the first letter of the Roman alphabet in order to justify their own existence and upbringing. So, thank you, parents.

And fuck you, Amy Chua, for any parent who reads your article and in the process feels themselves justified in their own sickness. Because... Jesus, fuck. Fuck.
posted by Keter at 3:44 PM on January 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


This way of raising children almost guarantees them to grow up into cookie-cutter middle class, working comfortably as accountants/doctors/lawyers and making middle class income. They could be unhappy all of their lives but at least they can provide for a stable family, and then pass the method down to their children who would again not be very creative or adaptable.

But they will not get the maverick who goes and starts his own Facebook or Amazon. They will not get a college drop-out who starts a Microsoft. Limiting their creative juice and preventing them from exploring their own path will almost guarantee a decent but mediocre life.

A child never allowed to take drama will never become a movie star even if he had the raw material. Sure, the western style gets their own shares of bums and potheads, but they have a better chance of hitting it big, or at least pursuing their own version of happiness. How many people would volunteer full time for a charity organization, or dabble unprofitably in creative arts, or aspire to be a professional athlete, if a traditional "Chinese Mother" had her way?

I am of the Chinese descent and I disapprove of the form of parenting.

But I guess, to each their own...
posted by VeGiTo at 3:46 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


So about thirty seconds of googling took me to her older daughter's twitter page, which actually comes across as charming and pretty normal. But it really hammered home to me that these are actual kids we're talking about. They're still in high school. It must be really, really weird to have your mom publish a book about your upbringing, while you're still in the process of being brought up. I wonder how they feel about it.
posted by craichead at 3:51 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


After reading this in the Journal a few days ago I was first horrified then amused then thoughtful. In fact I thought all afternoon about Chua's claims re the differences in east/west parenting - I'm okay with her speaking on behalf of the Asian parents but how does she define "western" parenting these days? How can anyone? I come from a long line of affluent wasp alcoholics who ignored their children: is that part of her western model? How about helicopter yuppie parents who are so focused on their child's preciousness and self esteem? How about the Italian-American parents of the Jersey Shore kids? I mean, what is this "western" mode exactly? Chua's massive blanket stereotyping about American parenting makes for a sensational read but it's all daft. I suppose I single handedly raised a girl-child who just graduated magna cum laude in science (scholarship all the way) because I'm a Capricorn Swede...?
posted by henry scobie at 3:51 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Now I know why the Wong brothers never got to play with the rest of us. We didn't even know they existed until middle school. Sure they excelled at academics, but they didn't have many friends. It must have been torture for them knowing the rest of us kids on the block, and there were many, were having a good time playing hide & seek or kickball or whatever game we made up that day right outside their door while they were hidden away inside. I got to know them a little in my honors science classes in high school. They were nice enough fellows but a bit too shy to hold conversations with. One ended up being salutatorian of our graduating class. We had three valedictorians (one of which attempted suicide his first year at Harvard) so it makes me sad to think that his achievement might have been considered anything less than stellar.
posted by wherever, whatever at 3:52 PM on January 9, 2011


Obligatory: http://asiansnotstudying.tumblr.com
posted by raztaj at 4:10 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh crap, already posted. Nevermind! kudos, dustyasymptotes!
posted by raztaj at 4:12 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you just wanted to say "Asian music seems much less popular in the United States than American music", that would be one thing. But saying that there is no original Asian music is a fairly ridiculous statement.

Sure is. That's why I didn't say it.

What I did say is that most new styles come from the West. That's clearly a subjective view since the originality of music is debatable, but it's my impression. It will maybe surprise you to learn that I'm a fan of some of the music you linked to. But I don't think, for example, J-Pop is very original or uniquely Japanese, it's just Western pop with a little bit of Japanese flair. I've listened to quite a lot of it, as I happen to like it better than American pop. Again, I feel like they've refined and perfected the genre. There's also Japanese rock and Japanese rap, but rock and rap both came from the US originally.

I'm not insulting them. Like I said, I actually prefer Japanese music to American music. I think it's better. I'm also not saying all Japanese people are the same. But there surely is some general tendency for the culture over there to have certain traits that are, on average, different from the traits most commonly found in the culture over here. I'm speaking very broadly and assuming that it is understood that there is plenty of variation around these trends.

Would you Orientalists kindly make up your mind whether Asia is full of sensual decadence or faceless Yellow Peril hordes?

Oh, is that what I am? I've never thought it was either. I think it's a place with a bunch of people trying to live their lives, and because they have a somewhat separate history and culture from ours, they're naturally going to have somewhat different take on things and do things a little differently in some cases. But that's refreshing. If they were Exactly The Same As Us, as you seem to want me to declare, the world wouldn't be very interesting.
posted by Xezlec at 4:32 PM on January 9, 2011


[♫ we do not tell each other to fuck off here ♫]
posted by jessamyn at 4:33 PM on January 9, 2011 [23 favorites]


What I did say is that most new styles come from the West. That's clearly a subjective view since the originality of music is debatable, but it's my impression. It will maybe surprise you to learn that I'm a fan of some of the music you linked to. But I don't think, for example, J-Pop is very original or uniquely Japanese, it's just Western pop with a little bit of Japanese flair. I've listened to quite a lot of it, as I happen to like it better than American pop. Again, I feel like they've refined and perfected the genre. There's also Japanese rock and Japanese rap, but rock and rap both came from the US originally.
All of that music could be summarized as "technological music" (i.e. music created with electronic machines), which of course was developed first in the west because that's where technology was advancing. But actually the styles that underly a lot of rock and pop came from Jazz which came from African American music in the early 20st century. Is that really "western" though? Maybe in some technical sense but I don't really think you can credit the "Western" way of doing things for those musical styles.

And really, the definitions have become so broad that any music by anyone would fit into those categories no matter how unusual. Radiohead counts under the broad category of rock or electronic music.
posted by delmoi at 4:52 PM on January 9, 2011


*pops second bowl of popcorn*

Man, i was waiting for this thread to get good.

Please Xezlec, continue sharing your expertise on Japanase culture and history with us.
posted by empath at 4:57 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


JapanEse.
posted by empath at 4:57 PM on January 9, 2011


Aside from the main topic, I think this memoir shows that you may be a successful law professor, and you can write decent policy books (Day of Empire, World on Fire), but you jump the shark when you publish your memoir and reveal the ugly, kinky gears and too tightly wound mainspring that drive your achievements. Leave these things to your biographer, dammit!

Ironically, the confessional genre is so American.

[personal cred: 3rd generation Chinese-American; partially deaf so wasn't forced to play any instruments; won Latin prize 3 times in high school]
posted by bad grammar at 4:58 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


we do not tell each other to fuck off here

We do, however, call people racists without mod intervention.
posted by Dasein at 5:08 PM on January 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


I have a Chinese father and Western mother, and I was raised in Canada. Chua's description of Chinese parenting is pretty accurate, I'm afraid. Luckily I had both east/west influences in my household, so my childhood wasn't that extreme. However, I was forced to study classical piano for 13 years, and also give up any activity that infringed upon practice time (like gymnastics and figure skating). I was also punished for getting anything less than A's in school.

Most of the pressure I felt was throughout elementary school. By the time I got to high school, I was starting to slack and rebel. Yes, Chinese parents do expect that children owe them them everything for all they've sacrificed. Disobedience is huge insult, and bad behaviour reflects upon the parents.

Every Asian kid I grew up with was parented extremely strictly. Top grades, top musicians. The character Lane Kim on Gilmore Girls is the best example of an Asian teen I've seen on TV. Lane's relationship with her mother is often portrayed comedically, but hell it ain't funny when that's your actual teenage reality! Lane lives a double life hiding from her mother, dating a white boy and playing devil-music (rock'n roll!).

Western parents generally emphasize happiness over other traits. Asian parents are driven more towards success, no matter what the sacrifice.
posted by exquisite_deluxe at 5:13 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


We do, however, call people racists without mod intervention.

Yeah, that's kind of the downside of being a racist.
posted by empath at 5:14 PM on January 9, 2011 [15 favorites]


In high school I knew a lot of kids who were raised this way.

None of them seemed to be particularly happy or well-adjusted individuals.
posted by Sara C. at 5:18 PM on January 9, 2011


Dasein, name-calling is terrible, but a statement like the following from your first comment in this thread does not help:

"I will concede one point to this insane woman, who sounds like the product of a seriously fucked-up culture..."

Emphasis mine, obviously. What culture are you referring to in this statement?
Her specific culture? Or perhaps generalizing about the Chinese culture?
posted by typewriter at 5:19 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Jesus H. Christ. The whole critical lot of you, especially the ones making rash generalizations about Asians and/or Chinese culture in the U.S. based on this article just sound so ignorant and racist that it pisses me off.

I think that some of you are using Chua's article as a method of confirmation bias to explain why the one or two Asian kids you grew up with seemed so different. And you shouldn't congratulate yourself because you know a couple of Asian slackers, because they are much, much more common than you would like to believe.

Not all Asian kids are raised in Chua's household. In fact, I'm pretty sure Chua's kids aren't actually raised this way; she uses an extreme anecdote to illustrate a counter-point to the low expectations of and lack of time spent with children. You can masturbate to the myth that your Western well-rounded upbringing is far superior to the way any Asian kid was raised, but you then must not know very many Asian kids. We come in all flavors, not just dead-in-the-eye robot, even if we did get a Merit scholarship and have played in Carnegie Hall. We still become Eagle Scouts. We still ride motorcycles. We still pwn you on the Xbox 360. We still dance and sing and laugh and love life.

And maybe we still have high expectations foisted on us by our parents, and even if that sucks, if that's the worst thing our parents have ever done to us -- i.e., believed in us, and believed that we could be better than we are, and better than anyone -- then I'd say that kind of baggage ain't so hard to carry compared to some of the shit other parents shovel onto their kids.

I won't defend Chua's crap method of demeaning her kids in order to moralize them. But how many of you wish your parents had made you stick with something you had given up on?

Think of Chua's description of parenting as one end of a spectrum; and at the other end of the spectrum are parents that don't spend time on their kids' education; who don't care if their kids get good grades; and who try really, really hard to not do anything that might hurt their kids' self-esteem. Surely, there's a happy medium, but I think it's closer to Chua's end of the spectrum than on the other side.

Hey, I know some people like Lulu. And from my experience, I know that Lulu's going to grow up to be a more well-rounded, more awesome person than you seem to think, with great self-confidence and the ability to be extremely happy; and she will never attempt to commit suicide, or become a pathetic loser that hates her mother.
posted by jabberjaw at 5:32 PM on January 9, 2011 [22 favorites]


Anyway, I talk to these people, and hear about their years spent playing oboe or whatever, and I'm like, "Don't you ever get together with friends and just jam?" And here's the thing : they CAN'T jam.

No, but that's not to say that classically trained musicians can't use their skills in an amateur way, if they're interested. I studied classical piano from early childhood through high school, and now I accompany an amateur vocal musician for private home concerts. It requires a lot of practice, both apart and together, and it's a different sort of pleasure than you get from jamming (which I think I also get a taste of as a member of a fairly casual a cappella singing group that creates our arrangements as we go), but it's definitely a huge source of joy -- first, the joy of accomplishment, in mastering the notes; and then the more creative joy, once we're comfortable with the notes and can really create music together.

I found the article to be trollish, but I do think that for many pursuits -- classical music among them -- there's a valley of tedium that children are often reluctant to walk through, but there are huge rewards on the other side. That said, I did find that 1 hr/day was enough to become quite good, and if I'd been subjected to 3/day I think I would now stay as far away from pianos as I could.
posted by palliser at 5:33 PM on January 9, 2011


Interestingly enough I started reading this thread before I went off to have a horseriding lesson, and finished it after I came back. When I went out I had a lot of anxiety about the way I am raising my two clever daughters. I put a very high value on education and sometimes jokingly call myself an immigrant mom (I am white, but not a US citizen.) My big kid is learning piano. But I also try not to be an asshole and live out my unfulfilled dreams through them. One of my mantras when dealing with children is that they are just time-shifted adults. If you treat them like inferiors, they will put you in the cheap nursing homes. So be mindful.

When I came back from riding I was no longer anxious. I am kind of a crap rider, or rather, I am just now at forty beginning to be slightly less crap. I can now reasonably reliably get on a strange horse, if said horse is not too tricky, and get the horse moving forward into a frame. That's, like, knowing your alphabet, whereas to be professional-standard is to have a PhD in English Lit. But I get endless satisfaction from the boring repetitive work of trying to improve a little tiny bit every time.

My parents never pressured me about riding but they were happy that I had such a deep interest, and they encouraged and supported me wherever they could. So when I caught myself starting to be a self-conscious, classist asshole about my big girl's piano practice, I took a leaf out of their book. These days I encourage her to practice, listen and applaud when she asks me to and leave the corrections to her teacher. Because I don't honestly give a crap whether she becomes a concert pianist or gets into an Ivy League college. Sure, it would be nice if she did. But she won't be a failure if she doesn't.

I want my kids to learn flow. I want them to find the thing they are as enduringly interested in as I am interested in high school equitation. I want them to still be learning something - some deeply complex art or craft or science or skill, programming or cooking or kung fu or painting in oils - when they are forty and fifty and sixty, and to consider those lessons among the high points of their lives. I don't give a flying fuck whether they're forty-year-old amateurs like me - in fact I would be gratified if they were, because to be an amateur is to do something for love alone.

And I think that flow, that love of learning for its own sake, overflows (ha!) into every other activity and relationship in a person's life and benefits everything. That's certainly true of, oh let's see, almost every single one of my close friends.

Here's to raising happy and fulfilled nerds!
posted by rdc at 5:36 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


For whatever its worth anecdotally, I am first generation Chinese Canadian. My older sister was a dutiful student and the model pianist. I was not. My parents were strict with my sister, and they were not with me. They tried to be, but they simply gave up at around 6 or 7. As long as my grades were excellent, I ran around and did whatever I wanted as long as I did not burn the house down. (I liked fire at one point.) I built a magical forest in our basement. I pretended I was the character 'Heidi'. I quit piano for gymnastics. Not only did I do school plays, I did professional ones too. And then I didn't go to university, but instead went to theatre school. I work in theatre now, and my parents come to the shows.

My sister on the other hand, followed the dutiful path until her acceptances for medical schools came rolling in. Full scholarships etc. Then she had a breakdown from the pressure, lied to my parents about her acceptances, finished her undergrad and jumped into theatre marketing. She works as a marketing director with international corporations now.

We're both happy, normal people with good relationships with my parents.

Is this indicative of their failed 'strict' style? Perhaps, but they did not use this style with me. It wouldn't have worked. In the end, our personalities dictated the parenting style. But damn, do I wish my parents made me stick it out with piano? You bet.
posted by typewriter at 5:37 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I used to wish I had been shamed and scolded from a young age into pushing myself and developing a good work ethic.

But, then, I probably wouldn't have gone to the *other* state school, and met so many wonderful people and drank so much wonderful boxed wine. I would have been so wrapped up in band or mathletics that I wouldn't have discovered Model U.N. and met all those great people, and found something that will probably be my hobby for the rest of my life. I would have had real direction and focus, and picked a major based on market analysis of median salaries, instead of just saying "history sounds cool" at freshman orientation and discovering another passion, and exposing myself to such a big, wide, unimaginably fruitful discipline. Finally, I would have had a real job after graduating last year (a semester late, by the way), and wouldn't have taken the job ringing up cowboy hats in a tourist trap in Wall, SD, and therefore wouldn't be moving to Poland in a month to be with the woman I suspect will be my future wife.

There is more than one path to happiness, I suspect. I hope I'm on one, but who can say? I'm certainly happier now, with a tangible goal that I am trying hard to meet (making a reasonably successful life in Krakow with moja dziewczyna, so that I can stay with her) than I was as a goalless loaf who drank too much and slept through his classes.

But that was fun too!

Who can say what a "happy life" is? I suspect it has a lot less to do with one's circumstances than with one's attitude. "Striver" types will always be less than satisfied, simply because there is always something more you can achieve, or something more your children can achieve above and beyond what you have. In fact, that's probably the case with almost anyone. You'd have to be a fucking Zen Master not to have any regrets at all in life.

In sum, I don't think I've really made any kind of worthwhile point, but it was fun reading this thread and writing this comment (and filling out the forms and playing with the pencils on the bench there). Maybe that's all any of us can hope for, illiterate unemployed glue-sniffers and high-blood-pressure classically-trained alcoholic cellists alike.
posted by LiteOpera at 5:54 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


OK, Xezlec, let me ask you some questions.

Poetry: Creative? Or no? If the answer is yes, would you agree that there is modern Chinese poetry? Is modern Chinese poetry a mere copy of Western poetry, or is it influenced by a long Chinese tradition?

Art: Creative? Or no? If the answer is yes, would you agree that there is modern Chinese art? Is modern Chinese art a mere copy of Western art? Or is modern Chinese art influenced by a long Chinese tradition of art?
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:55 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, seriously, could you point me to where you see racism in this thread? Like, links with explanations of why a comment is racist.

The way you insist that this whole thread doesn't have any racism in it suggests you're too defensive to understand and too set in your ways to even give an honest try. It would actually be a huge waste of my time to do what you're asking me to, now that I think about it.

I hope you are speaking out of anger and will rethink your response later.

I don't have a strong opinion about the racism in this thread, other than to say that, as in most of the rest of the world, I'm pretty sure there are racists here, non-racists here, and a bunch of people in-between those poles who are generally not racist but who have lapses sometimes.

But, in my mind, what you just did was unconscionable -- especially in a thread about eduction.

Person: [makes some claim].

Other person: Why did you make that claim? Can you explain?

Person: your question suggests you're too defensive to understand and too set in your ways to even give an honest try. It would actually be a huge waste of my time to do what you're asking me to, now that I think about it.

That's an incredibly rude way to behave in a conversation. If you can't converse fairly, answering people's questions when they ask them, then please opt out of conversations.

Because maybe I'm racist in some unconscious way, though I don't have any strong issues -- or knowledge about -- Chinese culture. But I have the same question. I think you might be right (I also think it's possible you might be wrong). I'm just unsure and need clarification. But now I'm afraid to ask you for it, because I suspect you'll call me a racist for just ASKING!

I also agree it's POSSIBLE the asker was baiting you. But I don't know that for sure and neither do you. You could at least take five seconds to point out one example of racism in this thread. And so what if he IS trying to bate you. He's not the only person in this thread. You made an incredibly brutal accusation -- that we're all racists. And when someone asks you to back it up, you tell him he's too racist to understand.

Not fair.

Okay, forget him. I think the writer of that article is a horrible, horrible person. I think she's a child abuser. If I could, I would take her kids away from her. I don't care if she's Chinese or British or Turkish. But I am a MeFite. Can you explain to me how I'm racist? I promise I will listen to you to the best of my ability and take what you say seriously. I can't promise to agree -- especially before hearing you out. But I will listen and think carefully.
posted by grumblebee at 6:36 PM on January 9, 2011 [10 favorites]


Additional comments and a powerful rebuttal by Christine Lu is over at the quora.com thread on this op-ed.

Parenting: Is Amy Chua right when she explains "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" in an op/ed in the Wall Street Journal? - Quora
posted by gen at 6:51 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


One of the comments at the WSJ site caught my eye and is worth re-printing here:

Bob Lee wrote:
Ms. Chua,

By your argument, the entire nation of China should be teeming with incredibly successful, well-educated high achievers. News flash: It's not.

Chinese kids in America are predisposed to be successful (as defined by the standards of our meritocracy -- a lousy standard, in my opinion) because their parents were hard-working enough and intelligent enough to be given the privilege to immigrate from asia to the United States. The immigrant population is highly selected. Many immigrants come to the U.S. for graduate school -- which automatically puts them in one of the most educated sectors of the population. Others come through sheer dedication, perseverance, and adaptability. However they get here, the Chinese who immigrate here are freaking strong people, and it should be no wonder that they raise very strong kids. The pedestrian Chinese are not given visas, so they stay home in China, and raise normal Chinese kids.

The argument that these kids do well -because- of their parenting ignores how many Chinese kids have horrifically broken relationships with their parents. It also ignores how many Chinese kids sink into a pattern of low self-esteem and angry rebellion, dropping out of college as freshmen, getting hooked on drugs, getting involved in asian gangs, whatever. Those kids exist, and are actually quite numerous -- you just never see them, because the parents do a very impressive job of hushing it up.

Do I think American parents could learn a thing or two from Chinese parents? Sure. Holding your kids up to high expectations is a good thing. Not coddling them is a good thing. Teaching them to work hard at everything they do is a good thing. Teaching them to always strive for self-improvement, even when they are doing well by everyone else’s measure, is a good thing.

But Chinese parents could learn a thing or two from American parents too. Allowing your kids to explore their own interests (even when they stray outside of what -you- think is best); allowing your kids to choose their own social circle and interact with their friends both in and out of school; providing encouragement when they succeed; and, providing actual guidance (as opposed to just berating them and calling them garbage) when they fail -- those are all good things too.

Ms. Chua, as far as I can tell, your kids have yet to leave the house. They have yet to leave their mark on society. I am not saying that they are not wonderful kids, but I do question your credentials when you claim victory for your own parenting approach. A football game is 60 minutes long, but you have declared victory in the first quarter.

Furthermore, Ms. Chua, you seem to fail to recognize how lucky you are to have such wonderful kids. However important your facilitation has been in their lives, do your children not deserve a great deal of credit for their own achievements? If they were born as lazy creatures devoid of character or drive, do you really think they would have achieved any of the things you pushed them to achieve? Coaches do not win games. Players win games.

Ultimately, where I take the most issue with your article is your unilateral declaration that Chinese parenting is “superior” to American parenting. If achievement in math, science, piano and violin during K-12 is the ultimate measure of good parenting, then yes, Chinese parents in America are an unparalleled success. But I think that everyone -- Chinese or otherwise -- can agree that that is a rather shortsighted measure of good parenting. We would all do better to learn from each other's cultures, instead of declaring one culture's parenting to be unilaterally superior to the other.

Bob Lee
University of Colorado School of Medicine

posted by gen at 6:57 PM on January 9, 2011 [32 favorites]


No, but that's not to say that classically trained musicians can't use their skills in an amateur way, if they're interested

Very true; I've jammed with a number of them. They all pretty much said that jamming was a completely separate skill from their classical training. I think the sad thing about kids who never learn how to jam is that once they're done with school, they pretty much have no venue for their playing. And since music was something they only did because they had to, they stop playing entirely. This seems so sad to me! To lose something that's been such a joy in my life would be unthinkable.

The ironic thing about parents who force their kids to play classical is that they may actually be better off encouraging their kids to play jazz or rock. I had a Filipino buddy growing up whose parents forced a lot of this "model minority" stuff on him, but when it came to music, all they cared was that he practiced and got good at it. He wound up being one of the most talented musicians I've ever known; the guy can pick up almost any instrument and become proficient in an amazingly short period of time. Anyway, playing in bands definitely helped him make friends, and gave him a degree of social cache since he was so good. I remember him being a pretty popular guy, whereas lots of Asian guys I know are really shy. Most importantly, he still plays music to this day; it's a big part of his life and his work, and continues to give him joy.
posted by Afroblanco at 6:57 PM on January 9, 2011


Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything.

I'm Chinese and grew up there. I can see my mom reading this article and nodding her head at this line. The idea that you owe your parents your life and thus everything -- it's like the Chinese version of original sin. Our cross to bear happens to be parental expectations.
posted by of strange foe at 7:01 PM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


I can't help but feel a strong mix of anger and disgust after reading that article. Growing up in an Asian household my mother was very similar to Professor Chua in that she expected her kids to be the best and to always do as we were told. If we got less than As we would be berated and called losers. In some ways it was motivating, but as someone who secretly struggled with low self-esteem, it eventually led to severe clinical depression, to the point of suicidal despair, in the first few years of college. It's taken several years of therapy to heal a lot of the damage and repair my relationship with my mother.

What really bothers me about the parenting style Chua advocates is that it is mostly self-centered. It's not about what my child truly wants for himself or herself. It's about what I want him or her to be. She scoffs at the idea of treating kids' feelings with dignity, and believes that her kids will be better off because social status is what is ultimately important in life, not emotional health and stability.

Well, Dr. Chua, enjoy your smug sense of superiority. In case you haven't already, you'll get your come uppance when your children learn to despise and be estranged from you for all the years of your "superior parenting."

When I have kids of my own, I am going to treat them and their feelings with respect and understanding. I don't care if they grow up to be doctors or janitors or if they know how to play piano or nothing at all. As long as they grow up to be well-adjusted adults who treat others with respect and kindness, I will be more than proud of them.

Fuck materialistic, social-status obsession.
posted by Schwartz_User at 7:06 PM on January 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I have a Taiwanese mom. She was apparently slightly this way with my older brother - he's the successful investment banker now, has a wife and kids, seems to be doing fine. She had the rest of us much later on (My two older sisters and I) and aside from the pretty normal practice of not accepting grades lower than a B, she was pretty lenient. I guess we've turned out okay so far too, it's just none of us are going to be making six figures any time soon...haha.
posted by majonesing at 7:08 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


(although I definitely get your point about using classical training in an amateur venue -- I don't mean to imply that improvisation is the only way to enjoy playing music. I just get the impression that many classically trained students never learn to enjoy playing, and as a result they stop playing once it ceases being a way to get approval from authority figures)
posted by Afroblanco at 7:09 PM on January 9, 2011


"Ultimately, where I take the most issue with your article is your unilateral declaration that Chinese parenting is “superior” to American parenting."

It's actually really important to keep in mind that when you write an op/ed piece for the newspaper, you don't write the headline. You don't even always see it before the article comes out. In other words, Chua almost certainly did not declare Chinese parenting to be "superior."
posted by escabeche at 7:10 PM on January 9, 2011


I think the sad thing about kids who never learn how to jam is that once they're done with school, they pretty much have no venue for their playing.

Hm, I think I didn't get across what I meant to -- I think it's not too hard, or rare, for trained musicians to create venues for playing classical music. As I said, I perform with a vocal musician. We don't jam, like, at all; we learn sheet music and practice it over and over, then get together to practice several times; then send out invitations and perform for an audience of a few dozen in her living room. It's fun, and a hugely welcome use of a skill I'm happy to have!

And since music was something they only did because they had to, they stop playing entirely. This seems so sad to me!

Agreed! it seems sad to me, too, and if I associated piano with being threatened with the destruction of my most treasured possessions, I'd find a new hobby.
posted by palliser at 7:19 PM on January 9, 2011


oops, just saw your latest, Afroblanco!
posted by palliser at 7:20 PM on January 9, 2011


French: They let force feed their children wine! What a terrible culture, breeding future generations of inebriated wusses! What is wrong with them?

Saudi Arabians: Jeezus, parents make their teenage daughters wear burqas! That's so evil! Those parents should be locked up!

Jews: Holy shit, they make their kids memorize the whole Torah! How useless is that! I'm so glad I didn't have to do that and instead got to do more productive things with my life like go outside and play with my friends.

The Sioux: My god, they abandoned their boys out into in the middle of the woods and forced them to undergo these vision quests! They sometimes didn't even leave them with trail mix before forcing them to go out and do all sorts of messed up rituals! I'm so glad we're taught them the right way to raise their kids.

Yes, perhaps you think (as do I in some respects) that Chua's methods are abominable, but they are specific to her. She is a troll. She does not speak for all Chinese parents. However, even if these methods are indeed representative of a Chinese way of parenting, who are we to judge the way others raise their kids? We can only judge them as relative to our own culture, which shouldn't be assumed to be the best or even normal. Sure, we can have a discussion about various ways of raising kids, but to make blanket statements about how there is an inherent negative way to raising your kids is just plain ignorant. You can argue that what Chua has done is child abuse, but would you say the same to the Sioux, Muslims around the world, Jews, and all other people who are of a different culture who do things you wouldn't do to your kids?
posted by jng at 7:36 PM on January 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Thanks to all the White people who told me about your Asian friend. I learned a lot.
posted by chunking express at 8:00 PM on January 9, 2011 [28 favorites]


who are we to judge the way others raise their kids? ... to make blanket statements about how there is an inherent negative way to raising your kids is just plain ignorant.

I disagree. If someone beats his kid to a pulp every day, I'm sure as hell going to judge him. He's a child abuser and his kids need to be taken away from him.

Now, there's a big gap between beating-to-a-pulp and what Chua's doing, but my point is that most sane people will -- I hope -- judge parenting choices when they get too extreme and abusive.

If you're willing to admit that, then it becomes a question of where you draw the line. Personally, I'm not going to judge someone for letting his kids watch 2 hours of TV as opposed to 1 hour. But I do judge Chua. I think what she's doing is abusive and horrible. Not kind-of worrying -- HORRIBLE. It's not as bad as beating-to-a-pulp, but it's really, really bad. I don't expect you to share that value, but it is my value.

Are you seriously saying that you'd never, under any circumstance, judge a parent's choices (even if he was feeding his child poison or whatever)? Are are you just saying you don't judge Chua, because you don't think what she's doing is extreme enough to merit judging? If so, do you see how that's just a matter of where you personally draw the line?
posted by grumblebee at 8:03 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


However, even if these methods are indeed representative of a Chinese way of parenting, who are we to judge the way others raise their kids?

We aren't talking about cultures in isolation; this is about a culture clash happening between a multi-generational, immigrant community and the rest of America. The evidence for mental health issues specific to Asian-American youth, up to and including suicides, is there. Parental methods that work back in Asia do not translate to long-term efficacy in a Western country, and it seems some parents need to be clued in on that.
posted by polymodus at 8:07 PM on January 9, 2011


After reading the link in this comment, I'm not so sure that the author is a troll. I think the Wall Street Journal done trolled us.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:10 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


From gen's link:
Dear Christine: Thank you for taking the time to write me, and I'm
so sorry about your sister. I did not choose the title of the WSJ
excerpt, and I don't believe that there is only one good way of raising
children. The actual book is more nuanced, and much of it is about
my decision to retreat from the "strict Chinese immigrant"
model.

Best of luck to you,

Amy Chua
The whole quora thread is worth reading.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:33 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Parental methods that work back in Asia do not translate to long-term efficacy in a Western country, and it seems some parents need to be clued in on that.

"Results: In the month preceding the survey, AAPI students were significantly less likely than black, Hispanic, or white students to have drunk alcohol or used marijuana. AAPI students also were significantly less likely than white, black, or Hispanic students to have had sexual intercourse; however, once sexually active, AAPI students were as likely as other racial or ethnic groups to have used alcohol or drugs at last intercourse or to have used a condom at last intercourse. AAPI students were significantly less likely than white, black, or Hispanic students to have carried a weapon or fought but were as likely as any of the other groups to have attempted suicide."--Journal of Adolescent Health, 2000 [source 1, 2]

Not denying that there are mental health issues among Asian Americans caused by overbearing parents, but I think this whole Asian Americans are more likely to attempt suicide perception is overblown and based more on media bias and our desire for simple explanations. One can find evidence that supports or denies such claims. Even if you can prove without a doubt that Asian American students commit suicide at a greater rate than others, shall we then condemn white, black, and Hispanic parenting styles for allowing their children to carry weapons and fight, on average, more than Asian Americans? No, of course not, there are lots of factors that go into why a white student is more likely to fight than an Asian American student, not just parenting, same for why Asian Americans might commit suicide at equal numbers as other students.
posted by jng at 8:52 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Great comments. I just wonder what comments Andre Agassi would make about the Chua story.
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:58 PM on January 9, 2011




It's interesting that Amy Chua was herself raised this way. She has three sisters. One is a high-powered lawyer. Another is a high-powered doctor. But the youngest has Down's Syndrome and, according to this interview, is the "family favorite".

There must have come a time when her parents realized that just maybe their youngest child wasn't going to be "successful" in their usual sense; maybe wouldn't get the best grades or play the violin, no matter how hard they drove her. And maybe after raising three high-powered daughters this came as something of a relief. They even let her play sports.

Of course, their youngest child does have two International Special Olympics gold medals in swimming.
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:07 PM on January 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Parental methods that work back in Asia do not translate to long-term efficacy in a Western country, and it seems some parents need to be clued in on that.

Hm. I'm not sure I agree with that, and I'm not sure that everyone's parenting methods once they arrive here have to conform to some [white] expectation of how things should be.
posted by waylaid at 9:11 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've dutifully read every comment in this thread. It should come as no surprise that the author of the essay can rationalize her parenting style in much the same way a biker or meth addict would: by remaining completely oblivious to any negatives.


What no one has really addressed is the real question. Why is this in the Wall Street Journal? Her approach to parenting is in no way conservative or traditional. So why is the Journal endorsing this approach to parenting by printing the essay?

Because the Journal wants to communicate NOT the idea that she is a good mother or parent, but rather that the characteristics she describe are what defines good kids: little achievement machines driven against their will to succeed in those areas the established authority figures in the community have deemed important.

Why only piano and violin? Because they way they are playing those instruments, the music can only be classical, which is a "safe" artistic outlet. Why is that safe? Because the composers are all long dead and no one knows their politics. Trumpet? No way, too likely to end up listening to Miles Davis. Guitar? Duh, Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Davis, Guthrie and Dylan we're all incredibly successful, but their music is incredibly radical, and if you practice Miles Davis 6 hours a day, you will end up a radical as well.

Likewise everything else. Drama is a big no-no too much risk of being bitten by the Hollywood bug. It's okay to excel in English in high school, because even AP English just pounds into your head slices of the conservatives-approved literary canon. Unless this had radically changed since my time, I don't think Michel Foucault is on the AP World Lit syllabus.

This article is not about what makes good parenting. It is about defining what makes good kids. It's about re-asserting the social insiders in order to properly frame the outsiders. And the outsiders are the usual suspects - artists, poets, inventors, etc. If your kids don't play two instruments and get straight A's, they are falling behind, according to this article.

The Wall Street Journal wants kids in the machine, so that they'll be in the machine endorsing its every whim when they are older. They accomplish this by shaming.

This isn't new. When I was a kid in the 80's the Journal ran this creepy full page ads/articles that highlighted how the US was below countries like Vietnam in math or how Russian kids always did better than chess.

I don't want to raise kids like Ms. Chua's daughters. They are failures in my view. Have they composed any original music? Have they made an original contribution in any way? Are they making the world better? Are they happy?

Of all the famous people we all know, the industrial leaders, the artists, the writers, the social activists, i.e. the people who radically alter the world, none of them--not one--have a backround resembling Ms. Chua's achievement machines. Many of them were unremarkable until adulthood. Many dropped out of college or never went. Many tried drugs, many tried a few religions, etc. These are the people to emulate.

By contrast, every Ivy League college, law school, and med school produces a valedictorian every year. And where are they? Making lots of money, no doubt. Good for them. That's just more to pay the psychotherapist when the repressed libido from childhood explodes in late adulthood. By hey, that doesn't matter. There's no AP Psychoanalysis, is there?
posted by Pastabagel at 9:12 PM on January 9, 2011 [23 favorites]


It's interesting that Amy Chua was herself raised this way.

By interesting, I assume you mean totally predictable. Behaving the way she does towards her children is in no way natural or normal. Ms. Chua is able to dominate her children in this way because the voices of her parents are in her head calling her a failure every time her daughters fall short.

We carry our parents with us our entire lives. Long after they're dead, we still hear their voices, "YOU LET YOUR DAUGHTER QUIT AND BE LAZY? WHAT KIND OF A MOTHER ARE YOU?"

But again, Freud was a left-wing European drug addict, so what the hell did he know.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:21 PM on January 9, 2011


grumblebee: Sure, judge away. Feel free to declare "I would not raise my children in that manner because it does not befit the values I believe in nor do I think it will benefit the child I raise to live in this culture" and we can have an excellent discussion about why you feel this way. But to say, "She should not be allowed to raise her kids in this manner based on the values I hold!" is rather different. Would you want to disallow parents from having their daughters wear burqas here in the U.S.? Sure, one could say that those beliefs are outmoded and might harm their daughter's future life in the U.S., but from their point of view, the burqa provides benefits based on their values system that may not be evident to someone in our cultural system--same for stereotypical Asian-American parenting techniques.

And thank you for forcing me to acknowledge that beating your kids to a pulp and trying to poison them constitutes child abuse. I should also mention that I think disfigurement, refusing to feed your kids, and raping your child also constitutes abuse. Fortunately, we have a system that does tell us where to draw the line (albeit rather fuzzily): the law. Outside of those types of cases, the rest are personal values. If in a certain region enough people's personal values match one another's, you may have social mores, but breaking social mores shouldn't be grounds for having your way of life attacked.* You're welcome to give the stinkeye to Chua the next time she's at a school function and talk about ways you would parent your child differently, but you shouldn't be able to take her children away from her.

*this may be an overstatement, but I'm too tired to make this more nuanced :)
posted by jng at 9:22 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why only piano and violin? Because they way they are playing those instruments, the music can only be classical, which is a "safe" artistic outlet. Why is that safe? Because the composers are all long dead and no one knows their politics. Trumpet? No way, too likely to end up listening to Miles Davis. Guitar? Duh, Arlo Guthrie and Bob Dylan. Davis, Guthrie and Dylan we're all incredibly successful, but their music is incredibly radical, and if you practice Miles Davis 6 hours a day, you will end up a radical as well.

I get what you're saying here, but I think Ben Folds, Tori Amos, Laurie Anderson, the members of Arcade Fire, and pretty much anyone playing bluegrass or folk these days would beg to differ. As would Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton.

Also, Miles played the sax.
posted by Sara C. at 9:26 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


How many people commenting on this actually had similar experiences with immigrant parents?
posted by Apocryphon at 9:28 PM on January 9, 2011


Unless this had radically changed since my time, I don't think Michel Foucault is on the AP World Lit syllabus.

My very elite high school had us edging into this. Not Foucault specifically, but we definitely stepped well outside the canon, and even within the canon the idea was that we should be exposed to the sorts of ideas that we'd eventually be exposed to in graduate level coursework.

That said, we didn't have official AP classes in the humanities - all our humanities classes at the senior level came with the assumption that a majority of the students would be taking AP exams in the relevant subjects. Also, the kids who were parented in the Amy Chua model took the bare minimum of humanities courses (for the same reasons Chua restricts things like participating in the school play or studying an offbeat instrument); you don't have to have a 5 on the AP World Lit exam to get into med school or become an engineer.
posted by Sara C. at 9:31 PM on January 9, 2011


If I were Jed, I would fucking divorce this woman, and take the kids with me.

This article horrifies me.
posted by ms.codex at 9:48 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Khalil Gibran on Children:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
posted by eegphalanges at 9:51 PM on January 9, 2011 [11 favorites]


That's a nice poem and Gibran would have made a great father. On the other hand, you don't hear much about Khalil Jr., do you?
posted by twoleftfeet at 9:59 PM on January 9, 2011


@Sara C.: Miles played trumpet. Coltrane played sax.

And as for the article, an additional inherent contradiction that bugged me about Chua's style:

"Hey, fatty, go lose some weight. But no, you are not allowed to take up organized sports. And no, you cannot go running; it may interfere with the four hours of piano practice you have to do today. Now, go be sedentary at your desk studying for the rest of the evening. If you'd like to shed some pounds, you may focus on your debilitating fear of me so as to discourage you from eating."

Jeez.
posted by hoperaiseshell at 10:04 PM on January 9, 2011 [7 favorites]



I get what you're saying here, but I think Ben Folds, Tori Amos, Laurie Anderson, the members of Arcade Fire, and pretty much anyone playing bluegrass or folk these days would beg to differ. As would Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton


If her kids are learning piano by playing that music, I will eat this keyboard. I know Charlie Daniels plays the fiddle too. But I would bet you anything that Ms. Chua doesn't consider Charlie Daniels a good violinist, despite his obvious technical proficiency. Furthermore, do you think Ben Folds became Ben Folds by grinding his way through Czerny?

My problem is with the the Journal's implicit statement that Ms. Chua's kids are carrying the torch for Western Civilization simply because they excelling in an educational system that everyone agrees is flawed.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:08 PM on January 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Name the 10 (or even 100) biggest inventions of the last century, and go look up where each one was invented and then where the biggest producers of that thing are located today.

The Nintendo was invented in Japan, and the Kalashnikov in Russia.

Checkmate. (also from Asia)
posted by Apocryphon at 10:10 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of people on the internet have fallen for her troll-trap and focused on the "Chinese" aspect of her article. The article is not about mystic China vs. the West. It's more accurately about Chinese-American first gens, and other immigrant populations, and perhaps some other American subcultures who have been more settled down (Jewish-Americans, and the stereotypically white as Wonderbread Mormons) vs. mainstream middle class Americans. As a general rule, immigrant parents tend to be stricter on their children. There is a sense of entitlement they have from their kids, as part of the "we did all of this for you to give you life in this land of opportunity" narrative. I don't think this is exactly a controversial viewpoint.

The article is indeed written like a polemic with absolutist statements, pejorative language, and exaggerations galore. However, it does serve as a sort of wakeup call for the different sort of parenting approaches in this country. And it does attack the apparent roots of mainstream parenting in America, such as the "self-esteem culture" or perceived laxity.

Consider this skit. Or this.

Both I can watch and laugh at, because I understand where the humor is rooted from. And it is from growing up in a setting drastically different from the mainstream. Is it Amy Chua's (or her children's) childhood? No, not exactly. Not by a long shot. But there are a lot of similarities, and I think we should talk about these experiences. The article might have fired some opening salvos, but this discussion doesn't have to be a war.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:43 PM on January 9, 2011


My parents didn't have high expectations of me; at least they never expressed any. I think I was supposed to try my best or something, I dunno. My mom is an immigrant, but not one of those kind, i guess. I struggled a lot in school, never did very well in primary and nearly flunked out of secondary. My mother just encouraged me to pass. At one point, having done reasonably well, my father said, "Yeah, but you know you could do better than that, right?" and I was oddly flattered that he thought so.

I was very much motivated in my hobbies, and they were entirely, completely mine, not chosen by my parents or particularly encouraged by them. I read a lot, wrote a lot of fiction and poetry, taught myself guitar, became very involved in guiding and army cadets, played around on computers, but didn't succeed academically. My parents were fine with it.

I found my own way to be motivated during undergrad. I learned how to succeed on my own terms. I went to Harvard for grad school. Got into a phd program. I have a well-paying job that I love, and I think I'm fairly successful by most measures. The entirety of my job is based around expertise I gained in my spare time, through following my hobbies, and not in my official course work.

I think it's kind of bizarre that parents think their parenting style is going to dictate how their kids turn out. Didn't they already prove that kids are more influenced by their peers than by their parents?

According to Gallup, we will be happier and more successful if we discover what we're naturally good at and spend our time doing it. Focusing on things we are weaker at, and repeating them over and over, will apparently ensure that we are miserable, and will have us doing things others will always be better at than we are. At least that's what their book on the subject says. Focus on your strengths, and surround yourself with people who have strengths you lack. That's a leadership theory, at least.

I also don't understand the point of focusing on grades in primary school. My performance in grade three has not turned out to reflect the quality of my life or career in any way. I'm glad my parents didn't make me feel like it would.
posted by Hildegarde at 10:58 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow - huge thread; I guess there's a higher percentage of 1st/2nd generation Chinese/Asian North American/Western European immigrants than I had originally thought, here on Metafilter.

I've known a bunch of people like me; children of Mainland/HongKong Chinese immigrants who either brought their children with them at a young age or had children shortly after immigrating who (the children, us), weren't particularly talented but had demanding parents (the mother, mostly). Taiwanese immigration seemed to follow even the later Mainland immigration wave.

I knew one person who attacked his parents with a hammer. Did quite a bit of damage to his dad, and some to his mother. Was sent to a mental hospital for a while. Came out, ended up being a middle manager at a bank.

Another was just a total loser, however, his younger brother ended up being a total player when his parents realized that they "broke" their first kid and let the younger brother do as he liked and spoiled the heck out of him. Another brother story; older brother was a total player and his parents knee-jerked and micro-groomed the younger brother. Older brother ended up running his own auto shop here and kept being a player; younger brother returned to Hong Kong... and stayed a loser, albeit with a decent job.

Know lots of people who immigrated in their teens (and rather later than the HongKong wave of immigration, you know, in anticipation to the China takeover thing); very different kind of pattern. The "tiger mother" kind seems to be a statistical anomaly of timing; I know a lot of people who immigrated when they were in their teens (with similar ages to me, who immigrated in '84 when I was 5) and... their upraising is as varied as any Western family that I know.

From second hand experience, loads (majority) of parents in China/Taiwan/Hong Kong/Japan don't give a fuck about how their kids do in school, and I'm pretty confident that it's not out of line percentage-wise with any other economically comparable society.

Me? I kept striving to succeed but stupidly chose science (damned '50's-'60's infatuation with and willingness to pay for SCIENCE!) instead of law or engineering or medicine. And I'm not very good at it (according to Tiger Mom definitions)... despite telling my mom, at age 8 or 9, that (paraphrasing - maybe? I can't remember what I said, in Cantonese) "the harder you squeeze, the less I'm going to be the shape you want me to conform."
posted by porpoise at 11:05 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Reading Amy Chua's article fills me with rage at her epic failure as an intellectual, not to mention as a human being. FYI, I am Chinese American.

She's wrong on several levels-- first, she is clueless about elite performance. Second, she encapsulates a point of view that has wreaked havoc in Chinese culture for generations. Third, her parenting style and ethos advance a narrow ideal of citizenship that has corrupted the American Republic and threatens to destroy the middle class.

Elite Performance:
For the purposes of this discussion, I am examining elite performance both in sports and the arts. Elite performance refers to the ability to perform at the highest level under extreme pressure. It is actually well known in human performance circles that the ruthlessly dismissive and negative methods advocated by Chua result in failure at elite level. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the Chinese Olympic sports program. For years, Chinese athletes were notorious for choking in international competition. You had a combination of extreme parents like Chua, and a coaching culture that venerated tearing people down and threatening them with humiliation if they failed.

During the sunup to the 2008 games, the Chinese government took the choking problem seriously and enlisted the efforts of sports performance psychologists , who of course told them that they had to ban the pushy parents and focus on a positive coaching atmosphere. This is not to say that the Chinese teams slacked on their basics-- rather, it was made clear to them that even if they did not win a medal, they would not be thrown out in the street like garbage. That contrasted with previous generations of athletes-- when they lost, they were treated quite harshly.

China's top sprinter, Liu Xiang, unfortunately was unable to compete in his event due to injury. I watched him warm up on TV and was really afraid that he would attempt to run anyway and injure himself to prove his loyalty and hard work ethic. Thankfully he waved off. The Chinese media was sure to run very positive news stories about how concerned the coaching staff was about him. In fact, I remember watching an interview with a fan aired by the Chinese broadcaster, where the fan , obviously very upset about the situation said "I still think he's a hero." There are still , obviously misguided people pushing the negative reinforcement pedagogical method in martial arts settings, but those people are beyond help. They are more interested in their own self aggrandizement and feeling of power that they derive from being able to deliver criticism, than in the success of their athletes.

I don't see instrumental musical performance as being any different, since it's still a skill requiring physical manipulation of a tool with the hands, under significant stress. I know that many musicians who come out of rigid, fear based backgrounds have a difficult time performing at an elite level-- they choke, just like similarly trained athletes. Writing, a place where Chua has excelled, is not the same, because it takes place outside of the stress of personal confrontation that you see in sports, or in music.

Other commenters have dealt with the music training issue, so I'll leave that topic and move on. As a brief aside, there are aspects of the traditional mainstream Chinese pedagogy that are designed mostly to reinforce the dominance of single individuals against all others among their subordinates, until the teacher dies. But that's another discussion for another day. The necessity of hiding knowledge is probably most relevant in the context of the next topic, the war of all against all.

The War of All Against All
I notice from her biography that Chua's family originates from Southern China, and participated in the diaspora to South East Asia. The cult of the Guan Yu, or the god of war, is huge in South China and South East Asia. Go into a restaurant or a business, and you can often see a statute of Guan Yu. I always wondered why this is. It makes sense in a police station, martial arts training hall or triad society gathering place, since Guan Yu is a patron saint, so to speak , of such organizations. But regular businesses?

A few months ago I was having a discussion about this with a few of my friends. What we came up with was that in many ways, traditional (loaded word to be sure) mainstream Chinese culture is really all about the war of all against all. You're always at war. Let me explain this by way of a concept a Chinese American friend of mine came up with, "the circle of better." In your family you are better than your siblings. Your immediate family is of course better than those of your extended family, i.e. your aunts and uncles and cousins. And your extended family, your clan is of course better than every other clan. In parallel to this is the idea that you and your friends are better than everyone else and their friends.

Now, my friend is to some degree exaggerating things, but nonetheless it's not too far off the mark from the way a lot of people think. Truthfully, I find myself slipping into this at times.

As the quote from Bob Lee above points out, in China not everyone is an A student. Not every Chinese American kid is an A student either-- this is impossible. So what you get instead is brutal, race to the bottom competition, where nothing matters beyond your immediate circle. That's a negative feature of Chinese culture that, frankly, limited Chinese people for generations and always made China an easy target for foreign powers. It also limits the development of knowledge when you have teachers who are mostly interested in hiding things from their students. It doesn't make better students, it makes ignorant people. If it was so great, why didn't China develop calculus and Newtonian kinematics (yeah, I know we use Leibniz's notation, and that proves my point even more.) The development of nationalism in the western sense (lowercase n intentional) was designed to build a wider community than the clan.

Corrupting the Republic
More than a generation ago, Margaret Thatcher denigrated the idea of a wider community when she said that there were individuals and families, but no society. Chua's approach to parenting perfectly fits Thatcher's dictum, and the kind of nation that the United States has become. As a commenter noted on the WSJ article, America is increasingly a winner take all place, where economic benefits accrue to a narrow slice of our country and the losers are shunted to the side. In such a situation, Chua's childrearing strategy may make sense as a way to maximize the chance that her children will attain at the very least middle management jobs. So what, they don't become world renown painters or CEOs of disruptive tech companies-- at the very best they can probably become investment bankers or lawyers at white shoe transactional law firms. Their inner life may be empty and full of desperation, but that's a lot better than starving on the streets in a world that increasingly looks like the dystopian science fiction role playing games I used to play as a teenager in the 90s. If they kill themselves because they can't take the strain, by this logic, then that's an acceptable risk because if they _don't_ make it to the ever deteriorating middle class, the alternative is a life of privation and misery anyway. Better off dead.

Although that's a horrible way to look at things, I can at least see the logic of it as a parenting strategy. However, there's a small problem here. This is not just about Chua's parenting strategy. It is about her obligation as a privileged legal academic with a mouthpiece in a major newspaper and a book deal. She chooses to write this nonsense about her over the top parenting style, and not address the actual problem, namely, what the hell is wrong with our political economy. The problem is that the United States has become a winner take all culture and it is destroying, bit by bit, the possibility of economic stability for most Americans. And it is the elite like Chua and their students who are directly to blame for this. Who do you think was pushing buttons at Goldman Sachs, Lehman and the other banks, pushing the U.S. into financial catastrophe? Who do you think is assembling anodyne narratives about the normality of high unemployment and the inevitable slashing of Social Security? It is the grown up Organization Kids like the ones that Chua seems intent on creating. This is not exclusive to Chinese Americans-- I went to an elite public high school and I can report that many of my white classmates were deeply into the culture of sucking up to authority and hoping to be labelled as high achievers for its own sake, rather than to actually learn anything.

This is what we have created in the United States with our obsession over standardized test scores and the brutal filtering process of so-called elite education. By the way, I am actually very good at standardized tests, so this is not me complaining about something I can't do. I realize how amenable they are to gaming. That's why I see them more as a filter, than anything else. Do they actually do a good job of training lawyers and bankers, businessmen and medical professionals? If by "do a good job" you mean "capture more and more of the wealth for a few and crush everyone else," then they are doing an exceptional job. If on the other hand you mean delivering a measure of economic equality and prosperity to average Americans, then the system that Chua represents is, like her thesis on "parenting," an epic failure. The fact is that there aren't enough good jobs for everyone to have a crack at a stable economic life; that is a failure of our political economy. The fact that Chua, with her privileged position at Yale Law School , cannot see that, is a sign of her own stunted intellectual development. I'm not asking for a world without elites; I know enough to know that's a futile dream. All I'm asking for is an elite that can actually deliver.

What makes me sad is that in reading one of her interviews I know that she has experienced how the giant wealth gap in the Philippines poisons the culture. In short, her Aunt was murdered by one of her servants, apparently a revenge killing for the years of condescending treatment and little pay. In the Philippines, the majority of the wealth is controlled by ethnic Chinese people-- this was , as far as I can tell , a deliberate attempt by the Marcos regime to have clients who depended on him for their survival. Sure, the Chinese families could get rich, but Marcos also knew that since they were a minority, he would always be able to stoke ethnic resentment if they got out of line. She does say in one of her interviews "We need to find ways to redistribute the wealth, whether it's property title and giving poor people property, land reform .... Redistributive mechanisms are tough to have if you have so much corruption." I don't think that she understands that the very educational system and norms she is pushing with her children, are the very reason that we face the destruction of the middle class in the United States.

After sitting down to write this , I actually feel a little bad for Chua. She had a shitty childhood and sees fit to impose it on her own children as a way of validating her own suffering, which I'm sure is considerable. However, she's an adult with apparently considerable financial resources-- it's within her power to actually deal with her pain, rather than subject all of us to her ridiculously unsupportable WSJ editorial.
posted by wuwei at 11:07 PM on January 9, 2011 [74 favorites]


What I did say is that most new styles come from the West. That's clearly a subjective view since the originality of music is debatable, but it's my impression.

Most new musical styles come from America. When's the last time there was a uniquely European style that swept the world by storm? I'm sorry, but citing the lack of huge Asian music genres being imported to the West as some sort of sign of creative deficiency is not only ethnocentric, but stupid. And who's currently importing whose animation more right now, anyways?
posted by Apocryphon at 11:12 PM on January 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


as a first generation taiwanese american i wanted to mention that while this article is hyperbolic (my parents were not as crazy as this woman was) i credit my "strict" (comparative to my american friends growing up) upbringing to the success and happiness i've been able to craft in adulthood. i never had self esteem problems or rage against my parents. i always felt like they were looking out for the best for me and feel indebted to them for the careful upbringing they gave me.

it's easy to be judgmental about parts of other cultures that one isn't that familiar with. all cultures have methods of raising their children. the extremity or laxness of those methods is up to the individual parent. i feel that the method is good (it worked for me and other first generationer friends), it's up to the execution. don't condemn us all or say this method is wrong just because one woman on the more extreme side of the spectrum posted a clearly trolling article on the web to get buzz for her own book.
posted by raw sugar at 11:50 PM on January 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, this is going to be long. I grew up this way, my wife didn't (she's Jewish), and we have two kids who are now 7 and 8 years old, so I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about what parenting style we should follow.

In response to all the people who are saying that Amy Chua is abusive and/or a troll, and that her kids will hate her:

This is pretty much how I grew up (including the 2-3 hours a day of piano practice), and I turned out fine, being reasonably hard-working and successful in life without feeling like an empty shell of a man (*). To an outsider, this style of parenting may seem way too harsh, but looking back, it doesn't feel like that to me. I certainly never doubted that my parents cared deeply about us. It's just that their parenting efforts were focused on making sure we were working hard, particularly at school and music, not making us happy. And it's not like they were slacking off, while demanding the impossible from us: they worked incredibly hard themselves. They never, ever took a vacation; looking back, I can never remember either of them taking a nap, or relaxing in front of the TV (we didn't have one). And no, I don't hate my parents; they did a good job of raising us, under extremely difficult circumstances. They made mistakes, certainly, but who doesn't?

As Judith Rich Harris puts it, all parenting books talk about three styles of parenting: "Too Hard", "Too Soft", and "Just Right" (which is what the books recommend). Harris points out that Asian-American parents tend to use the "Too Hard" style, because that's what they're familiar with, and their children generally turn out fine. What Chua is describing is the "Too Hard" style of parenting. (**)

My reaction to Chua's story about browbeating her daughter into learning a difficult piano technique is that it demonstrates her authority is weaker than it should be. Political scientists talk about the distinction between power (your ability to get someone to do what you want) and having to use physical force. If Chua's authority were stronger, she wouldn't have to resort to threats and exhaustion to get her daughter to continue to do something she doesn't want to do.

(The expectation of parental authority--that in a functional family, parents can get their children to do something without resorting to force, whether it's doing their homework, eating their vegetables, or refraining from hitting someone else -- isn't specific to Chinese or Japanese families. This often comes up in Ask MetaFilter. 1-2-3 Magic describes an approach to discipline which I like: it emphasizes clear communication, with a minimum of talking. Just sitting there and telling your kids to do something, or to stop doing something, doesn't work. My wife relayed this comment from another parent: "You can't parent from your ass.")

Besides this, I'd criticize Chua's pedagogy. When our son was six, I remember him often getting frustrated whenever he was trying to learn a new piano piece. He exemplifies Chua's point about enjoyment being linked to competence and mastery: he hates being bad at something, so trying to learn a new piece was always difficult. I would get him to break it down: take one line at a time, if that's too hard take one bar at a time, if that's too hard take one note at a time! Instead of forcing them to take on a huge, seemingly impossible task all at once, break it down.

A couple years later, our son has gone through this cycle a hundred times or more. The first time, it's really hard, and so you take it really slow; the second time is still hard, but much less so; after a couple days of practice, you're at "conscious competence", where you can do it well, but only by concentrating hard; after a week or so of daily practice, you've reached "unconscious competence", where you can do it almost automatically. Since he knows that the first time is going to be hard, and he's going to be doing it badly, but he also knows that he'll get past it, it's no longer nearly as psychologically hard for him.

I learned a lot from playing piano as a kid, even though I disliked it at the time. (I quit once I got to my last year of high school and I could plausibly argue to my parents that I needed the additional time to study; I never played after that until our kids started studying piano.) The main benefit wasn't the music itself. It was the self-discipline, the continual practice at doing something that's really difficult at first, and then getting better and better at it.

There's a very popular MetaFilter post which talks about the dangers of praising kids for being smart, rather than for working hard. Where American parents tend to emphasize innate ability (either you're good at math or bad at math), Chinese and Japanese parents--not just immigrants!--emphasize that you can become good at anything if you work hard enough. Or as my parents put it, "If so-and-so can do it, why can't you?"

See this abstract by educational researchers Harold Stevenson and Shin-Ying Lee (comparing hundreds of first- and fifth-graders in Chicago, Taipei, and Sendai). It's consistent with Go Banana's experience teaching math.
Background information about the children's everyday lives revealed much greater attention to academic activities among Chinese and Japanese than among American children. Members of the three cultures differed significantly in terms of parents' interest in their child's academic achievement, involvement of the family in the child's education, standards and expectations of parents concerning their child's academic achievement, and parents' and children's beliefs about the relative influence of effort and ability on academic achievement. Whereas children's academic achievement did not appear to be a central concern of American mothers, Chinese and Japanese mothers viewed this as their child's most important pursuit. Once the child entered elementary school, Chinese and Japanese families mobilized themselves to assist the child and to provide an environment conducive to achievement. American mothers appeared to be less interested in their child's academic achievement than in the child's general cognitive development; they attempted to provide experiences that fostered cognitive growth rather than academic excellence.

Chinese and Japanese mothers held higher standards for their children's achievement than American mothers and gave more realistic evaluations of their child's academic, cognitive, and personality characteristics. American mothers overestimated their child's abilities and expressed greater satisfaction with their child's accomplishments than the Chinese and Japanese mothers. In describing bases of children's academic achievement, Chinese and Japanese mothers stressed the importance of hard work to a greater degree than American mothers, and American mothers gave greater emphasis to innate ability than did Chinese and Japanese mothers.
Chua mentions self-esteem somewhat dismissively. I'd be less dismissive, but I'd also note that competence (or lack of it) has a major influence on self-esteem. Paradoxically, I think focusing on short-term happiness can lead to greater unhappiness in the longer term--if you find it difficult to work hard, for example, your life opportunities are going to be narrower.

I don't remember Chua talking about delayed gratification in the excerpt. That's another thing I remember my parents explicitly teaching us while we were growing up, and that we try to teach it to our kids. (When they were little and they had blueberry porridge for breakfast, we would tell them not to eat all the blueberries first, leaving the unappetizing porridge; instead they should eat some porridge, then a blueberry, then some more porridge, then another blueberry, etc.) Again, not really specific to Chinese or Japanese parents; M. Scott Peck talks about this in The Road Less Traveled.

One area where we've definitely diverged from the parenting style Chua describes has to do with achievement. We've been telling our kids that it's the effort, not the result. You can't control the final result, you can only control the effort that you put in.

If our kids ever want to quit something, we wouldn't force them to continue, but we would say that they'd have to continue until the end of the year. (Again, not specific to Chinese or Japanese parents.)

(*) Although my parents were never as concerned about our grades as Chua describes--they would certainly never have blown a gasket if I brought home an A- or a B. Nor did they try to force us into particular high-status careers. They encouraged me to get a Ph.D. immediately after I did my M.Sc., but when I decided against it, they didn't push it.

(**) Judith Rich Harris, The Nurture Assumption:
In 1967, Diana Baumrind defined 3 contrasting styles of parenting--Authoritarian, Permissive and Authoritative. I have always found these terms confusing, so I will call them Too Hard, Too Soft and Just Right....

... Middle-class Americans of European descent try to use the Just Right parenting style, because that is the style currently approved by their culture. If they don't use it, it's because they have problems or the kid does. ... If the kid has problems--a difficult temperament for instance--the Just Right style might not work and the parents might end up switching to the Too Hard method. So among European-Americans, parents who use a Too Hard child-rearing style are more likely to be the ones with problem kids. This is exactly what researchers find.

In other ethnic groups--notably Americans of Asian or African descent--cultural norms differ. Chinese Americans, for example, tend to use the Too Hard style--the style Baumrind called Authoritarian--not because their kids are difficult, but because that's the style favored by their culture. Among Asian and African Americans, therefore, parents who use a Too Hard style should not be more likely to have problem kids. Again, this is exactly what the researchers find.

What they find, in fact, is that Asian-American parents are the most likely of all American parents to use the Too Hard style and the least likely to use the Just Right style, and yet in many ways Asian-American children are the most competent and successful of all American children.
posted by russilwvong at 11:59 PM on January 9, 2011 [25 favorites]


On preview: the conversation has moved on a bit. Apologies if this retreads old ground.

I don't want to get too involved with the accusation of racism and so on in this thread but I'll draw out an equivalence Dasein made and point out how completely absurd it is in the context of articles like this one.
I await the day that a non-white Mefite recuses herself from a discussion about middle class white America because she wasn't raised in that culture.
As if middle class white America is just another culture on the National Geographic pick-n-choose platter of the month.
As if most Western non-white Mefites aren't forcefully assimilated into that culture whether or not they are raised in it, whether or not they wanted to because it was a matter of survival.
As if it's a trivial matter for these Mefites learning to bridge the divide between middle class white America and the non-white culture they were raised in or would have been raised in.
As if that essential navigation is somehow on par with a middle class white American who saw a PBS special or had an ~exotically different~ jr high friend (who they have long since lost contact with) but felt the need and right to chime in.
As if both parties have 'equal legitimacy' or 'equal non-legitimacy'
As if cultural, economic, and social imperialism and colonialism doesn't exist and didn't exist and wasn't intrinsically bound up with capitalism in the construction of modernity and how we conceptualize it. What success means. Who gets to determine in a meaningful way what success means.

So no, it's not just about generalizations. Generalizations are just the tip of the iceberg. No one is challenging anyone else's right to speech, but what kind of speech it is, what kind of discussion it engenders and how fruitful or not it is. I haven't participated in previous epic metafilter threads about various kinds of privilege and intersectionalities. But filling up a thread with anecdotes about people the posters themselves barely know that aims to preach truth about dehumanizing East Asian stereotypes (UNCREATIVE! AUTOMATRONS! UNFEELING! EMPTY AND DEAD INSIDE!) definitely perpetuates racist and ableist discourses even if specific users aren't being explicitly or directly racist. Especially in response to a trollish article that is suspiciously silent about the processes at work that create the conditions where one of the only viable human responses is to try to make virtue out of what generations of people have had to do to get by and be deemed acceptable.

Doesn't mean inter-generational abuse isn't totally fucked up though, just that it doesn't arise in a vacuum. It is entirely possible to criticize abusive parenting styles and systems of thought without falling back on another set of racist tropes. In fact, I would argue that it's pretty much impossible to properly understand the phenomenon at work never mind effectively criticizing it while relying on racist assumptions.

The WSJ, a fairly conservative news source, has nothing to lose and everything to gain with promoting and de-politicizing a view that affirms the model minority route, positioning it as one we should all aspire towards. It's genius really. Not only is the bar set for Acceptable Minority Status, but because it's 'intra-culturally ascribed, one that you only have your parents and your people to blame for, the stage is set for a count-narrative where white saviours can swoop in and save you from yourself!

I'll close with the end of the Resist Racism post on this already too long comment, but I think it needs to be said:
So fuck you, Amy Chua, for reinforcing that tired old model minority stereotype. For speaking for an entire group of people and ascribing your abusive parenting to your culture.

Yeah, I have to say I sometimes bought into this stereotype. Despite the fact it went against what I know to be true. I have taken a lot of time to unpack and disassemble this particular bullshit trope. And yet I still found myself thinking, “His parents let him do what?” when I read about fashion designer Jason Wu. He played with dolls as a kid, and his mother drove him to bridal salons so he could look at the dresses.

And fuck you again, Amy Chua, when I think about the high rates of suicides among Asian Americans, especially young women. Fuck you for the fifty percent of crisis calls at the university from Asian American students.

Fuck you for every person who expresses surprise at my chosen profession. Because we don’t do that. Fuck you for all those people who interviewed me and marveled how they didn’t know any Asian Americans in that line of work. Despite the fact I was sitting right in front of them. Because obviously my parents should not have “allowed” me to enter my field.

Fuck you for the abuse kids get because their parents don’t know any better.

Fuck you for the kids who are made to feel like idiots because they are not geniuses. Or musical prodigies. Or the kids who are told that our people don’t speak out, don’t protest, aren’t politically active, aren’t activists.

Fuck you for making us think our parents aren’t proud of us. (I saw Helen Zia and Lia Shigemura’s wedding video. And I saw her mom beaming in the background.)

Fuck you for perpetuating racism. And fuck the Wall Street Journal for promoting your majority view voice.
posted by dustyasymptotes at 12:22 AM on January 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


I wonder where the line is drawn between discussing cultural differences and racism is. How do you talk about a topic like this without being racist? Is it automatically racist to say "there is a widespread practice among people of this ethnic group and I would like to criticize this practice as such: blah blah blah"?

I would like to know what the best practices of cultural discussions are. Do you have to always place a caveat like this "I acknowledge that this practice is not 100% universal nor am I saying every single member of this ethnic group acts in this manner nor am I stereotyping them."?
posted by clockworkjoe at 12:36 AM on January 10, 2011


This stuff runs deep. If you've got a real shot at prosperity, you'd best believe Mama's going to make you hustle. We are all supposed to be Upwardly Mobile together.
posted by emeiji at 12:40 AM on January 10, 2011


We are talking about suicides as a hard indicator for mental health problems, conditioned on parenting style. Comparing suicide likelihood across ethnic groups doesn't give that information, I don't believe. Asian Americans may be less or equally susceptible to suicidal ideation and related problems, but if what depressive symptoms they do have are correlated with style of interactions with parents, then that is a valid problem area that needs to be addressed. This is what I've found from the literature:

"Asian American girls have the highest rates of depressive symptoms of all racial groups and the highest rate of suicide among all women age 15 to 24." (APA circa 2005 / Similar statement by US Dept. Health Services 2007)

"In the decade before 2006, Asian/Asian-Americans at Cornell accounted for ~14% of the student population, yet 60% of suicides." (Cornell web page discussing this)

"Asian Americans whose families experience a high degree of interpersonal conflict have a three-fold greater risk of attempting suicide when compared with Asian Americans overall." (UC Davis, 2008. copy of press release)

From a survey of 400 Chinese American families:
"[S]tudy findings showed that parenting practices characterized by higher levels of warmth, strong endorsement of family obligations, and lower levels of punitive and non-democratic behaviors were associated with fewer depressive symptoms in adolescents." ("Parental acculturation, parenting practices, and adolescent depressive symptoms in Chinese American families", Huang, X., UT Austin)

"... Lau, Jernewall, Zane, and Myers (2002) found that in a clinical sample of [285] Asian American children and adolescents, parent-child conflict interacted with acculturation level to predict suicidal behaviors."
"Several other studies have pointed to the strong influence of in-groups (especially the family unit) on suicidal ideation in Asian/Asian American adolescents." (Chang, R., Michigan)

"Coupled with Kisch et al.’s (2005) suggestion that Asian American college students are at a higher risk for seriously considering suicide than are White college students, these data highlight the importance of the issue of Asian American college-student suicide for counseling psychologists working on college campuses."
"Furthermore, perfectionistic characteristics accounted for 50% of the variance in depressive symptoms in Asian American students compared with 29% in Whites, with self-doubt being the most significant indicator." (Choi et al.)

More from the PI at UC Davis:
"Dr. Sue discussed his research during an interview in his office and provided a persepective on how family expectations for high academic achievement affect Asian Ameircan students.
"Sue explained that Asian American students don't generally externalize anxiety, but underneath a calm exterior, underlying pressure to succeed causes self doubt. Using personality inventories while a researcher at UCLA, he found that the anxiety level of Asian American students is higher than average for the general student population. He found that even students who were performing at high levels of academic success felt pressure to be at the very top of their class. Those students who did not meet the standard of high achievement might give up on school to avoid the criticism and embarassment of their families." (article)

Not denying that there are mental health issues among Asian Americans caused by overbearing parents [...]

Mental health issues like depression logically, and tragically, imply suicide. So it seems correct, to me, to say that certain parenting styles have been contributing factors to much unwanted grief.

My personal take is that it is pointless to simplistically blame parents. They're doing what they think is best for their children, given incomplete information about American society--unfortunately it may mean defaulting to the way they themselves were raised. On the other hand, parenting technique is certainly a point of intervention, and the community should leverage it in order to enhance the mental well-being of its progeny.
posted by polymodus at 1:32 AM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


This was a big article run in the printed, British, Sunday Times yesterday; as Honest Knave points out at the top, looks like she's been selling her story left right and centre in order to drum up interest in the book.

I was strangely horrified and fascinated with the tale - I can (kind of) understand pushing very hard to make sure your offspring do well enough at core things like maths, as well as instilling a sense of wonder, a desire to learn, and an ability to question things rather than take them at face value... but to rigidly enforce music lessons, and to deny other childhood experiences seems extraordinarily draconian and unnatural.

Anyway, this is one set of advice that I won't follow when I have children... (although kids, if you're reading this in 15 years time, I reserve the right to change my mind!)
posted by Chunder at 1:36 AM on January 10, 2011


By contrast, every Ivy League college, law school, and med school produces a valedictorian every year. And where are they? Making lots of money, no doubt. Good for them.

Just one data point- I went to an Ivy League school and iirc the valedictorian (or it may have been the salutatorian- he's a good friend of mine) went on to be a grassroots organizer for progressive causes and now leads a major progressive coalition. I'm sure he does alright salary-wise but he's no investment banker.
posted by gen at 3:05 AM on January 10, 2011


This kind of parenting would have utterly destroyed me, or made me run away at a young age. My parents were fairly permissive and ostensibly encouraged me to find a career I loved, but they did project a lot of negative expectations on me when it turned out I'm much more inclined to the arts than to a general BA and specialized Masters from a university, and I never knew how to completely take ownership of my life until very recently (I'm 40). Of course a lot of parents do this and their kids come out fine, but I have ADD that was only diagnosed a couple years ago, and as it is it took years for me to come to the terms that it's OK to do what I want with my life, a road I am only learning to walk for the moment. However, if I had been diagnosed much earlier or had parents who were truly encouraging of their kids' choices, it might have turned out differently ... although it might have turned out worse.

But the pressure of living up to a standard I could never meet was the issue at the center of years of clinical depression, self-medication and alcoholism. I did attempt suicide in earnest at one point, figuring I'd never be able to live up to anyone's expectations, and couldn't bear the thought of living out a life where I wasn't capable of anything other than disappointing the people who loved me the most. The guilt of not living up to others' expectations is crushing to some people, because they can never meet those expectations and may not understand why (being children), so be careful what you expect of a child.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:45 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think I should clarify my earlier comment. I am not Chua's husband, if anyone took me to be saying that. My immediate reaction to the article was a hope that my wife would not see it. She does share Chua's training techniques - the hours of piano practice, the berating, etc., but also lets our daughter do gymnastics. The girl goes to a Yamaha music school, which does encourage creativity and original composition, at least with their advanced students. The struggle I referred to was my continuing effort to help my wife see what her techniques do to our daughter. I have had some success in mitigating the harshest of those techniques, but it isn't easy.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:15 AM on January 10, 2011


If her kids are learning piano by playing that music, I will eat this keyboard.

hahaha! I remember one time, I got the sheet music for the piano version of November Rain by Guns N Roses and I was practicing it because I was done practicing hour of my classical pieces. When I take a second to make some notes on the music paper, my mom yelled from the kitchen that she thought that sounded really pretty.

And I just had this gleeful oh-ho-ho-ho! sneaky evil feeling that I had put one over on my mom by making her like Guns N' Roses. I think this was when I was 12.
posted by spec80 at 5:14 AM on January 10, 2011 [7 favorites]


This is not to say that the Chinese teams slacked on their basics-- rather, it was made clear to them that even if they did not win a medal, they would not be thrown out in the street like garbage. That contrasted with previous generations of athletes-- when they lost, they were treated quite harshly.

I've been watching "Eyeshield21" - am amazingly improbable anime about a gridiron-style highschool football team in Japan. The team's leader/coach/quarterback, despite being the devil incarnate (no, he actually is) - cruelly manipulative and ruthlessly focused on winning - refuses to give up on an untalented hanger-on, because the kid puts in twice the effort and refuses to call it quits. Of course, he makes all sorts of pretense otherwise, but he's cruelly manipulative, and also Satan. (He puts the other team-mates in a position to help him progress as an athlete.)

Contrast this with the school's very traditional and popular baseball team, which did not respect effort and devotion, only fully developed talent, and beat up a third stringer who didn't have the decency to quit the team.

It's an interesting social criticism.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:35 AM on January 10, 2011


So the consensus seems to be that the WSJ excerpt was taken out of context and misleadingly titled, that the book is actually a memoir about how she decided that she had to chill out a bit because her younger daughter wasn't responding well to her parenting methods, and that the book is well-written, fairly self-aware, and very funny. And that's nice, but I predict that the book is going to be huge, and the WSJ article is going to set the tone for the entire discussion of it.
posted by craichead at 5:59 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


grumblebee: Sure, judge away. Feel free to declare "I would not raise my children in that manner because it does not befit the values I believe in nor do I think it will benefit the child I raise to live in this culture" and we can have an excellent discussion about why you feel this way. But to say, "She should not be allowed to raise her kids in this manner based on the values I hold!" is rather different.

She should not be allowed to raise her kids in this manner based on values I hold.

Saying, "lose some weight, fatty" is child abuse. It is likely to fuck up a child for life. I've seen the results of this in kids I've worked with (I used to be a preschool teacher) and in adults.

I have a personal value against child abuse. Do you think it's okay for people to abuse their children? If you don't, then, again, we're talking about personal values and you just don't happen to think what Chua is doing is abuse.

My point about poisoning a beating is that those are personal values too. Yes, they are against the law while calling your kid "fatty" isn't. So what? All the law is is someone's (or some group of people's) personal values.

In any case, I don't see what state law has to do with ethics. Laws in various cultures throughout history have permitted slavery, genocide, child labor, etc. Laws don't make things right or wrong -- they just make things sanctioned (or not) by the state.

Would you want to disallow parents from having their daughters wear burqas here in the U.S.?

No. What do burqas have to do with anything? I am against parenting styles that are likely to cause long-term-to-permanent harm to children. I am skeptical that burqas do that.
posted by grumblebee at 6:05 AM on January 10, 2011


please please please mod, please sidebar WUWEI's comment. it is truly fantastic.
posted by liza at 6:41 AM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


My parents did a fantastic job.

At making me opt out of having kids.
posted by Legomancer at 6:51 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Grumblebee, when you say 'she should not be allowed', are you really implying that the state or some other externality should intervene? Because if you aren't, you are just bloviating.
posted by unSane at 7:00 AM on January 10, 2011


Yes, i think the state should intervene to stop child abuse. It already does. It's just that the state doesn't classify her behavior as child abuse. And, yes, I think what she's doing should be classified as child abuse.

In a perfect world, I would not necessarily have the state remove all abused children from their homes. It WOULD removed them if they were in clear and present danger of being killed or maimed. In other cases, abusive parents would have to work closely with case workers to improve their parenting skills.
posted by grumblebee at 7:51 AM on January 10, 2011


That said, I was bloviating to some extent, as were many people in this thread. Chua wrote an article about her parenting style. I am against it. I think it's horribly evil. I was stating that opinion. I will admit that I haven't thought through the ramifications of "what the state should do" all that thoroughly. I'm sure my idea of what the state should do could get abused in all sorts of ways. That happens already with current child-abuse laws. Sometimes the state takes kids away from parents who are falsely accused. Sometimes the state puts abused kids in worse environments. Etc.

But I think most people agree that if a child is being horribly abused, the state needs to step in. I know people hate it when someone uses extremes in an argument, the way I did when I brought up poisoning and beating. But I don't know any other way to make this point.

If we agree that the state should step in when abuse gets really, really bad, then the locus of the argument comes down to whether or not what Chua is doing is really, really bad.

I think it is.
posted by grumblebee at 8:00 AM on January 10, 2011


I'm glad I don't live in your world, Grumblebee. FWIW I hate what she describes but the idea that the State needs to get involved and make judgements about this kind of thing boggles my mind.
posted by unSane at 8:16 AM on January 10, 2011


There is an alternative way: the underachiever's manifesto

Going to go play a few chords on the piano now. It's not Rachmaninoff, but I'll still feel happy.
posted by john wilkins at 8:21 AM on January 10, 2011


> I am against parenting styles that are likely to cause long-term-to-permanent harm to children.

The key problem here is: cite? I share the values you mention, think she is completely over the top, and would absolutely never treat my kids that way. But there aren't any studies on this stuff and it isn't obvious to me that if an accurate study could be done that the two cultural norms -- "lots of playtime and coddling their self-esteem" on one end and "chinese mother" on the other -- would come out different.

Provided, and it is a big provided, that both methods are implemented with a strong base of love and compassion that is viscerally understood by the child.

Are the vast majority of kids all over China really long-term-to-permanently damaged?
posted by stp123 at 8:26 AM on January 10, 2011


I agree with everything millipede posted, and only ever did things I was naturally good at and wonder what might have been, had I been better at rote practice and dedicated focus.
Life turned out pretty good for me. I had a creative and permissive upbringing that was coupled with a strong (and uncontrolled by my parents) work ethic. The equal amounts of hard work and extended daydreaming gave me the skills to cope with some huge struggles in my late teens and 20s.
Had I had an authoritarian schedule growing up, I could have easily been a suicide statistic.


And I could not imagine a childhood without sleepover parties. Sleepovers were without a doubt one of my favourite memories of growing up.
Getting together with a friend, having an evening together building fantastical words, giggling endlessly over all sorts of absurdities, sharing all of that time and energy because you won't get this kind of intense sharing experience for at least a few more weeks...
Sleepovers were amazing.
posted by Theta States at 8:44 AM on January 10, 2011


I suddenly have an urge to go to some event that will be filled with high-expectation parents like Chau... maybe a high-level piano recitcal for 10 years olds? Maybe introduction to SAT prep sessions for kids in grade 8?

Anyways, just go there and slip them all MDMA. Yessir, it becomes hard to truly hate someone when you can fantasize about secretly drugging them.
For science.
posted by Theta States at 9:01 AM on January 10, 2011


I'm glad I don't live in your world, Grumblebee. FWIW I hate what she describes but the idea that the State needs to get involved and make judgements about this kind of thing boggles my mind.

It's fine for you to disagree with me, but I wish you'd explain the locus of your disagreement. Do you think the state should never step in, not even when someone is beating his kids? Or is it just that you don't think what she's doing in particular is bad to that extent?

I share the values you mention, think she is completely over the top, and would absolutely never treat my kids that way. But there aren't any studies on this stuff and it isn't obvious to me that if an accurate study could be done that the two cultural norms

This is a very good criticism of my point-of-view. I don't have any studies at my fingertips, though I'll look. But you're focusing more on playtime and coddling; I'm focusing on "loose some weight, fatso." I know I've seen studies before about the affect this sort of thing has on kids. Hopefully, I'll be able to find them. Anecdotally, I know a LOT of kids who were raised this way -- with parents making negative comments about their looks or intelligence, and in EVERY case it's been devastating.

(One friend of mine, in her 30s, is the daughter of an actor. All she's ever wanted to do was to be like her dad. But from day one, he told her she had no talent. She's still killing herself to get his approval. It's heartbreaking to watch. I have countless friends who have pathological relationships to food because their parents told them they were fat. And, in my five years as a teacher, I saw kid after kid affected by comments like that.)

I am also not happy the other stuff -- the no playtime and the pushing of school values, which, in America, I think are almost always terrible values, but I won't go as far as to call that stuff (necessarily) child abuse.

I am pretty shaken that other people here are not instantly labeling "lose some weight, fatso" as child abuse. To me, that's like saying, "slapping a kid so hard you knock his teeth out isn't child abuse." But I guess this is one of the many times, in life, I must come to terms with the fact that not everyone is like me.
posted by grumblebee at 9:30 AM on January 10, 2011


Here's another way of thinking about it: what if a kid is is continually made fun of, at school, for being fat? Every day, 100 kids call him "fatso" when he walks to class. They follow him home yelling, "Hey, tubbo!" Etc. Of course, this sort of thing happens all the time. And we call it bullying. And we tend to want the state to step in -- in this case "the state" being represented by teachers and other school officials.

In the schools where teachers step in, they don't first call the parents and say, "All the other kids are making fun of your kid. Do you want us to do anything about this or just let it continue?"

And if they do inform parents of the bullying, and the parents say, "Please don't stop this. In fact, we'd like you to encourage other kids to call our son fatso, and we'd like his teachers to call him that, too," I doubt many schools would honor those wishes. Why not, if it's what the parents want?

But we let parents do it. A parent can call his kid fatso a hundred times a day, and that's fine -- or at least not actionable.

I don't buy that this has much to do with our culture's feelings about parenting. I think it's bundled up with our culture's feelings about private property and government. We don't want the state messing with our stuff. That's a pretty core value in the US. And we think of our kids as our stuff.

Of course, I understand that there are concerns if we go too far the other way. What if the state becomes a dictatorship run by a crazed fundamentalist. We don't want him dictating to us how we raise our kids!

It's a balance. As much as we love private property, and as much as we think of kids as belonging to their parents, we DON'T allow parents to do whatever they want to their kids. And you don't have to go to extremes like beating to see places where the state steps in. For instance, we don't allow parents to forgo educating their children. They MUST either send their kids to school or home-school them.

If I choose to keep my kid and home and NOT homes school him, that doesn't put him in any clear and present danger. Yet the state will step in. So why should it step in then and now when I bully my kid by calling him fatso?
posted by grumblebee at 9:57 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's fine for you to disagree with me, but I wish you'd explain the locus of your disagreement. Do you think the state should never step in, not even when someone is beating his kids? Or is it just that you don't think what she's doing in particular is bad to that extent?

I think if what she does qualifies as abuse requiring state intervention then you would need to erect a massive child services bureaucracy which is vanishingly unlikely to improve outcomes for the children involved. It would also require redefining abuse in such a radical and subjective way that the term would become infinitely elastic.

You're the one proposing this: what I think about her actions is quite immaterial. You're proposing something unrealistic and unworkable and which in all likelihood would have poor sequelae for tens of thousands of families.
posted by unSane at 10:13 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't buy that this has much to do with our culture's feelings about parenting. I think it's bundled up with our culture's feelings about private property and government. We don't want the state messing with our stuff. That's a pretty core value in the US. And we think of our kids as our stuff.

Of course, I understand that there are concerns if we go too far the other way. What if the state becomes a dictatorship run by a crazed fundamentalist. We don't want him dictating to us how we raise our kids!


Exactly. There are people who think the way I was raised was abusive - single-parent home, latchkey kid from the time I was about 10, never had a curfew, didn't have to go to church, wasn't required to believe in God, etc. I mean, they really, truly believe that that's an abusive way to raise a kid, and they probably believe the state (or someone) should step in in cases like that.

It's a weirdly difficult thing to draw a bright line through. Some stuff, like physical abuse, is clear - or rather, seems clear: for a lot of people, spanking is abuse; for a lot of people, including most or all states, it's not. My mom occasionally got so mad at me she called me bad things. Is a once-a-year occurrence abusive? More than that? How much more?
posted by rtha at 10:20 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]



But...I have to admit that I couldn't help but wish there were more parents like the author and her mom in the African-American community. Obviously there's a middle ground between "The Chinese" and "The Western" approach, but it shames me to admit that if I were allowed to choose between the two on behalf of "my people," I'd pick "The Chinese" style in less than a heartbeat. Now I have to do some soul-searching to figure out why I feel that way. Because of that, I think this is article is ultimately a good thing, even though I initially rolled my eyes hard when reading it.


Speaking as a black girl that survived this (and has had therapy to deal with it)...no. you don't.

What you wish for is more encouragement in the general community of education. And true, it does need some help, but it's there if you look. However. It could be way better.

In my case it was a matter of crossing over "It takes a village to raise a child" AND this crazy style of parenting. While having a supportive community when you're young is great...Imagine a whole neighborhood totally focusing on the one black child who had straight As and was going to go to college, darnit! When I brought home a B I didn't just disappoint my house, let's just say.

Some of them still think I totally betrayed them by not being a doctor or a lawyer; rather, I went to grad school, became a librarian (because that's what I wanted to do) and moved away from my home state as fast as I could.

And I have one English professor to thank, who literally said "yay!" and danced around the college halls when I finally admitted to myself I had no talent for math or science, and decided to be an English major.

Money doesn't really matter, though it's nice. I'm doing what I'm actually GOOD at - and I LOVE IT.

When I raise my children...
posted by palabradot at 10:24 AM on January 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


Seconding sidebarring WuWei's comment. The article s/he links to is fantastic. This segment from Chau is illuminating:
Okay. In 1994, I had just started teaching in North Carolina. I received a call from my mother in Berkeley. She told me that my aunt, my father's twin sister, had been murdered in her home in the Philippines, in Manila. She'd been killed by her chauffeur. Obviously, this was a terrible family time for us. We were very close to my aunt. She was my father's twin.

My aunt, as I mentioned, was a member of the Philippines' extremely entrepreneurial 1 percent Chinese minority, and her chauffeur was a member of the indigenous Filipino majority. Everybody was upset, but I, in particular, was very upset by the criminal investigation, because we went back and I asked if there had been any developments in the murder, and my uncle said, "No, the case has been closed. The suspect ... " And, actually, it wasn't even ... You know, the maids ... There were two maids who were also complicit -- they confessed. There was no doubt as to who had done the killing. But the police said the suspect had disappeared, the maids were let go, the case was closed.

I asked my uncle, "How can this possibly be?" And he said, "You're so naïve. This is the Philippines; not the United States." It turns out he wasn't just being cynical. It's true. My aunt's killing was part of a much larger pattern in the Philippines. Hundreds of ethnic Chinese are kidnapped annually, not always killed, but kidnapped all the time. The police force and the military are principally Filipino. In fact, they all are; there are no Chinese. They are sympathetic [to anti-Chinese sentiment], and often they're quoted in the papers as saying, "Look, the Chinese can afford the ransom. It's a form of redistribution." I'm not saying they condoned the murder, but they're sympathetic to the frustration of this very large majority in the face of a tiny, outsider minority that controls so much wealth and has all these servants, and seem very arrogant. The Chinese don't intermarry. They speak a different language.
posted by benzenedream at 10:37 AM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


When this was happening to me, I desperately wished for someone with more power or authority to step in and help me. But that's not how we do things, not even if the kid says they need help, because as long as no one's getting physically mistreated, the authority of the parent over their child is sacrosanct.

I don't think there should be a state agency; I don't really see how that would work and I'm no big fan of state power. But the best way to prove to a kid in pain that they're on their own, that they're expendable, is to shrug helplessly and say, well, what could we do?

Maybe nothing. Maybe our value system dictates that kids can't get help until they're bleeding. And then we wonder why children harm themselves. Maybe we're just incredibly stupid.
posted by Errant at 10:37 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]




I will end my posts here, unless someone has a specific question, because I haven't made my mental framework clear. I agree with all of you who say that, if we start legal sanctions against parents who, say, call their kids fat, we'll be creating all sorts of complications.

I have pretty radical views about raising children. To convince you that I'm even more nuts than you already do, I will admit here that I also think it's child abuse to send your kids to most public and private schools in America.

Whether we should legislate against that abuse is a whole other question. But it's abuse because it damages kids in a permanent way. I know many of you will say, "I went to school and turned out just fine." I disagree. You didn't. But you're unaware of the alternative, which is too bad. If you poke out an infant's eyes, he'll grow up thinking he's just fine, too -- especially if all the other kids have their eyes poked out, too.

I realize these views are radical, so I won't bore people with them more than I already have. But if anyone want to discuss them, I'm available via MeMail.

I think we're enmeshed in a terrible system -- one that has no solutions to offer millions of children who suffer and/or get blunted in permanent ways. And, as people have rightly pointed out, there's no solution unless you radically change the system. So -- no -- given our current system, I wouldn't arrest Chua and throw her in prison or take away her kids. But that's only because I think our current system is fucked up beyond repair. (By "system" I mean the entire framework our culture uses to relate-to and raise children.)
posted by grumblebee at 10:40 AM on January 10, 2011


grumblebee, I think you're still failing to take into account the differences between mainstream American parenting and the sort of traditional parenting that Chua stands for (in her article, at least). We're talking about two different sets of merits and problems.
posted by Apocryphon at 10:47 AM on January 10, 2011


I know many of you will say, "I went to school and turned out just fine." I disagree. You didn't. But you're unaware of the alternative, which is too bad.

I don't mind that you don't want to continue this here, but I do want you to think about how ignorant and judgmental this sounds. Ignorant because, really, you don't know: you can't know. There is literally no possible way for you to know that I or anyone else in this thread who went to a school in the U.S. would have turned out "better" than if we had acquired education in some other way. "Better" in what way? By whose metric? Why that metric and not some other one? And? The presumption that you (or some other authority) is a better judge of my fineness than I am - barring debilitating mental illness on my part - is sort of breathtaking.

And judgmental because, well, you're judging people you don't know, whose experiences you haven't had. I don't know if you went through a traditional public or private U.S. school system, or if you experienced education in the way that you seem to advocate, but I will tell you that based on your words here, your thinking on this subject, or at least your ability to communicate it, is far from clear.
posted by rtha at 11:15 AM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


rtha, it's not that I don't want to continue here. It's that I don't want to take over or derail the thread any more than I already have.

I am happy -- too happy, probably -- to discuss this stuff at great length. I'm just thinking that this isn't the place to do it, because my views are too extreme. So if I do it here, everyone will be forced to "battle" with one nutcase. It's not fair.

To answer your question as briefly as possible, yes, I am very aware of how ignorant and judgmental I sound. I've been having this debate for 30 years. I am crippled in two ways in these conversations. First, by my inability to express my ideas without, basically, Godwinning. (Not by evoking Hitler, but by evoking other extreme metaphors.) If there's another way to express my ideas, I'm too stupid to come up with it.

Here's an analogy: imagine you washed up on an island where everyone blinded their babies at birth. Their whole culture was set up to make it easy for blind people to get by just fine. However, no one there would ever be able to see a sunset, an impressionist painting, the stars, etc.

It's possible that you might think of this as an okay choice for a culture to make. It's also possible you might not. You might think it was wrong -- that this culture was robbing people of possibilities that could easily be in their lives. But if you said that, you wouldn't be able to prove that it's better to be sighted. Better by what metric? By the able-to-see-impressionist-paintings-metric? Why should they accept that metric? And you're ignorant, because you haven't been blind from birth. (This is, of course, similar to the arguments that rage about cochlear implants.)

If I make analogies like that, whether they're good or bad analogies, they generally don't get out of the starting gate. Someone says, "Give me a break! You're likening school to BLINDING people?" Even if school someone IS like being blinded, most people will tune out. Alas, I can't think of a better way to explain things. I don't think there is a better way.

My second problem is that I readily admit that my views are based on subjective values. Yes, I think being-able-to-appreciate-impressionist-paintings-and-sunrises is better than not-being-able-to. Can I prove it's better? No. That wouldn't make sense. It's not provable or disprovable. It's a value.

The problem isn't that I have values. The problem is that I admit to having them and I admit that my position is based on them. I claim that EVERYONE'S position is based on their values. But for some reason, we're not supposed to admit that in arguments. So once I do it, I lose. Because whoever is arguing with me is not going to do it. They're just going to say, "Aha! You selfishly want everyone to live by your rules!" Yes. So do you. So does pretty much everyone. That's what happens whenever you make an ethical judgement of someone besides yourself.

That's my problem with this thread: I'm seeing cries of "No fair! It's her culture!" We're not allowed to impose our rules on other people. Yet we do that all the time. Whenever we say, "You're not allowed to beat up your kids," we're doing that. Whenever we say, "You must educate your children," we're doing that. If your personal values just happen to coincide exactly with US Law, then you're lucky. But you're still advocating that other people should have to follow your rules -- rules based on your personal values. Isn't that judgmental of you?

(And, by bringing up beating children, I'm Godwinning again.)

Sorry, that wasn't brief. See why I think I should quit?
posted by grumblebee at 11:44 AM on January 10, 2011


One part I agree with her about is when she states:

"But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up".

I've had this discussion with Mrs. KillaSeal before, when our son took martial arts classes. After two years, he wanted to quit, because he felt it was too hard to learn the movements required to move up to the next belt. Mrs. K felt it was OK for him to stop (as a child, she was forced into 5-7 different activities, and wound up hating them all), but I felt that was the worst thing to do. I felt that by letting him quit, he would start to think that (at an early age, he was 8) that if you're learning something, and you think it's too hard, you can just quit. I felt that keeping him in the class would help him learn that he can do anything he puts his mind too. In the end, we wound up taking him out, but I was very disappointed. Not disappointed with him, but just by thinking about what could have been, the lessons he could of learned, the pride he would have felt, etc.

On the other hand, while I do disagree with some of her other "methods", I find the explanation behind the "Chinese Parents" philososphy, especially when compared with the "Western Parents" philosophy, interesting. The cultural aspects behind Chinese parenting was something that I hadn't really given much thought to before.
posted by KillaSeal at 12:11 PM on January 10, 2011


grumblebee, fwiw I tried to reach out to a guidance counselor once (I attended a public school) and even as a young teen, it didn't make sense. He said I would have to talk to someone from Child Protective Services (CPS) and then CPS would have to talk to my parents and then I'd have to wait for their findings while still living with my parents. I dropped the issue because I was scared shitless to think what my parents could come up with between the time they were aware I reported them and the findings of the committee which may not have even made a decision in my favor.
posted by spec80 at 12:16 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's my problem with this thread: I'm seeing cries of "No fair! It's her culture!" We're not allowed to impose our rules on other people. Yet we do that all the time. Whenever we say, "You're not allowed to beat up your kids," we're doing that. Whenever we say, "You must educate your children," we're doing that. If your personal values just happen to coincide exactly with US Law, then you're lucky. But you're still advocating that other people should have to follow your rules -- rules based on your personal values. Isn't that judgmental of you?

The principle of everyone living by their own values and trying to promote their values to a certain degree isn't in question here. The question is where we draw the line on what is acceptable based on a societal consensus.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2011


There is, perhaps, a difference between quitting an activity you chose and an activity your parents chose for you, and between quitting the second it turns difficult and at the end of a session. Never ever quitting anything is not a good trait, no better than never sticking with anything. (No matter how much I wanted to, I wasn't allowed to quit swimming until I was really able to swim, but I was allowed to quit anything else. Or I suppose I would have been, but I generally chose my own activities and stuck with them because I enjoyed them. This did not carry through as well as I might have wished as an adult.)
posted by jeather at 12:25 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]


The question is where we draw the line on what is acceptable based on a societal consensus.

Which brings up some interesting questions like "who is this 'we'?", "by what process do we reach consensus?" and "is that process useful or good?"

And I disagree that "The principle of everyone living by their own values and trying to promote their values to a certain degree isn't in question here," though it may not be in question for you, personally. As with most discussions of this type, there's a strong strain of "You can't compare X to Y, because X is just your opinion, whereas we all know that Y is wrong."

Y = something forbidden by conventional thinking or the speaker's personal values.
posted by grumblebee at 12:36 PM on January 10, 2011


The problem isn't that I have values. The problem is that I admit to having them and I admit that my position is based on them.

No, the problem is that you think other people should obey your values rather than those they choose to. If you come out of the gate saying that all people who send their children to public or private school are abusers, you are not going to engage with anyone but a bunch of homeschoolers who are, quite frankly, about the best ads for formal public education that could ever be produced.

Furthermore if you really think the government should intervene to prevent people from sending their children to government-run schools, you've lost me. Perhaps you had in mind some kind of vigilante action instead?
posted by unSane at 12:37 PM on January 10, 2011


Saying, "lose some weight, fatty" is child abuse.

If that's the only problem you have with Chua's parenting style, then this isn't much of a discussion. I don't think anyone agrees with talking to someone that way, especially because we know how dangerous eating disorders are. You want us to agree that you should not call your child "fatty"? Sure, we agree.
posted by deanc at 12:39 PM on January 10, 2011


"... a bunch of homeschoolers who are, quite frankly, about the best ads for formal public education that could ever be produced."

You sound like you have never met someone who has been seriously homeschooled with an eye towards their education (as opposed to someone who was homeschooled because their parents don't want them ever to find out that some people cuss and like sex.)

Look, can we lay off grumblebee? Yes, he (apologized if I'm getting the gender wrong) came in swinging and sounding like a lunatic, but has since acknowledged that he knows his position is considered extreme, that he is aware of the practical difficulties with implementing anything resembling it in current society, and that he would rather drop the discussion than raise our hackles more.
posted by kyrademon at 12:57 PM on January 10, 2011


(Also, without knowing exactly what he considers "abusive" about the schools, and why, I am not prepared to say that I either agree or disagree with his views. I am withholding judgment until he explains better, which probably should and will happen sometime in a completely different, more appropriate thread.)
posted by kyrademon at 12:59 PM on January 10, 2011


Which brings up some interesting questions like "who is this 'we'?", "by what process do we reach consensus?" and "is that process useful or good?"

You might as well question the principle of democracy. Society must do what is pragmatic to reach a general consensus, while being as accommodating to minority views as possible. I'm certain we know most of the Y's within mainstream American parenting. The whole point of this discourse is to examine minority- specifically, first-gen immigrant- parenting to figure out how it compares to our conventional wisdom, and to question whether or not cw is wrong.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:59 PM on January 10, 2011


"can we lay off grumblebee?"

Only do so if you feel like it. I'm trying to keep a low-profile here, now, because I feel bad about how much I hogged the thread. But no one is hurting my feelings. I'd have to be crazy to think I could say some of the stuff I said and without engendering strong disagrement. Well, people have strongly disagreed, but no one has been rude to me.
posted by grumblebee at 1:10 PM on January 10, 2011


"You might as well question the principle of democracy."

Well, first of all that's an okay thing to do. Otherwise democracy just becomes mindless dogma. But even within the framework of a democracy, you can't arrive at good solutions if problems aren't even on the table. We have no serious discussions about foundational principles of education in this country. Every once in a while, we debate whether kids should be forced to take class X instead of class Y, but we don't debate whether kids should be forced to take classes in the first place. When it comes to education, we are mostly coasting along a track of unquestioned (unquestionable?) tradition.
posted by grumblebee at 1:15 PM on January 10, 2011


Yeah, stop it grumblebee. I want to talk about sleepovers and pillow forts here.
posted by Theta States at 1:18 PM on January 10, 2011


I never had enough pillows to make a fort, but I used to make really cool yarn spider webs. My parents had to hide the knitting basket, because if I got hold of a ball of yarn, within ten minutes the living room would look like Shelob's lair.
posted by grumblebee at 1:20 PM on January 10, 2011


fort-functional design has been the primary consideration in my furniture purchases as an adult.
posted by Theta States at 1:28 PM on January 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK -- never mind! :)
posted by kyrademon at 2:09 PM on January 10, 2011


One extreme seems as bad as the other, and I am not sure that either style of parenting makes for healthier people or a healthier society, but the U.S. must begin to respect knowledge, education and teachers or we are surely done for.
posted by KathyBraid at 3:13 PM on January 10, 2011


No, the problem is that you think other people should obey your values rather than those they choose to. If you come out of the gate saying that all people who send their children to public or private school are abusers, you are not going to engage with anyone but a bunch of homeschoolers who are, quite frankly, about the best ads for formal public education that could ever be produced.

Ack, I dislike immensely how you criticize people with monolithic values and then put down a system of education that is just as diverse as public or private school. Homeschoolers are a very diverse lot. Some of the varied reasons include learning disabilities or illness (I was homeschooled for this reason), kicked out of school, religious or ideological reasons, or quite a few who are ahead of their school curriculum and are able to study better on their own.

Because so many people are homeschooled because they had problems with school, I guess some are a bit unruly, but there are normal well-adjusted homeschoolers out there. My sister, my boyfriend, and I were all homeschooled during periods of our lives and I promise no one knows that we are homeschooled unless we tell them.
posted by melissam at 5:16 PM on January 10, 2011


"I went to school and turned out just fine." I disagree. You didn't.

Passive-Aggressive much?
posted by chunking express at 5:30 PM on January 10, 2011


In the interests of anti-racism, I'm thinking of Victorian British parenting styles, of the "Kensington system" under which Victoria herself was brought up in (with a startling resemblance to Amy Chua's ideas of parenting), and of characters such as Dickens' Mr. Gradgrind. All those public-school horror stories.

Nineteenth-century English literature isn't my field, so if someone else has more references, I'd welcome them, as well as studies of whether Victorian education really was like that.

I may also be wrong here, but I have the impression that the British Empire stamped itself on Westernized elite Chinese culture as well, especially in Hong Kong and Singapore.

Non-Western cultures are not unitary and hermetically sealed to outside influences, and I'd be wary of saying "That's absolutely Chinese" of Westernized Chinese-Americans even when they themselves claim it is.
posted by bad grammar at 5:46 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]


I also agree it's POSSIBLE the asker was baiting you.

grumblebee, this comment was from way upthread, but I wanted to note for the record: I was NOT baiting anniecat. I thought it was an extraordinary claim that this thread (and this community) was replete with racists, and I wanted to see at least some evidence. I was genuinely wondering how she could possibly form such a view. I suspected that she didn't have much to go on, which was borne out by her response: an ad hominem attack calling me too racist to see all the racism around me. Says more about anniecat than me or anyone in this thread, I think.

I will also say that while many ad hominem attacks will be deleted or get you a warning from the mods, calling someone (or a bunch of people) racists - which is actually a lot worse than telling them that they're assholes or whatever - seems to be acceptable rhetoric around here.

In response to typewriter's comment - the culture I was referring to was not Chinese culture writ large; my point was that this woman's infliction of what I think is an hysterical style of parenting is not the product of some mental deficiency or addiction on her part, but the result of a broader social expectation about how kids should be raised and what they should do. In short, a (sub-?)culture, one that not all Chinese immigrants share, as the author herself points out.
posted by Dasein at 8:20 PM on January 10, 2011


Dasein, you should read the MetaTalk thread. This comment is a good place to start.
posted by chunking express at 8:38 PM on January 10, 2011


Thanks for the link; I hadn't been to MeTa and seen that. It seems to me, though, that anniecat does the same thing again in the MeTa thread: refuse to defend her blanket labeling of people as racist, and refer to the request for an explanation as evidence of said racism (and now also bullying).
posted by Dasein at 9:00 PM on January 10, 2011


2 and 1/2 hours later and having skipped/skimmed a number of comments along the way, I've finally made it to the bottom of this thread. I'd like to thank my Chinese parents for instilling in me the perseverance to get this far.

In all honesty, though, I do want to make an anecdotal comment about the parenting style Chua's article appears to advocate.

My twin sister and I were raised in roughly that manner--we were expected to get straight A's, play the violin (which we both quit after less than a year) or piano, sit in a room and do homework for hours every night, not go out with friends, etc. We did bargain with our mom to be able to do school plays, but that was a constant battle that would take way more than an inara-length comment to get into.

My last battle royale with my mom was in my final year of law school (at Harvard, of course). I decided I wanted to do a non-traditional clerkship, and my mom was NOT okay with that. I've since finished the clerkship and started as an associate at a big law firm, but my mom has never admitted that the clerkship was anything but a mistake, and I just don't talk to her about that or the fact that I'm provisionally in my firm's white collar criminal defense group (instead of doing patent law like she'd planned for me to do) anymore. My sister went to medical school and is now a pediatrics resident, and my mom is currently horrified at the lack of ambition that's driving my sister to stay in general pediatrics instead of specializing further (and making more money down the road). My sister and my mom go through long stretches of time when they just don't speak to each other now.

Regardless, on the surface both my sister and I seem to be well-adjusted, successful members of society. We even each have our own creative pursuits--poetry and fiction writing for her, music and theatre for me. But as for happy, I don't know. Neither my sister nor I can say if we're really in professions we would have chosen for ourselves if our choices had been more extensive than med school, law school, or business school. And our relationships with our mom don't feel completely healthy.

So my point is that, yes, I agree that some variation on Chua's parenting style makes for successful children--if by success you mean high-paying careers. But on the other hand, as I sit typing alone in my apartment after a long and not particularly interesting day at work, I'm not sure I've found that "success" to be everything it's cracked up to be.
posted by inara at 11:09 PM on January 10, 2011 [10 favorites]


I couldn't agree more with Amy Chua. Self-esteem comes from being good at stuff, and being good at stuff comes from working hard. The "violin and piano only" model isn't exactly my cuppa, but the general gist, that confidence and self-esteem (as well as, of course, valuable competency) comes from early acquisition of the ability to sit down and do work, is absofuckinglutely correct.

I've been teaching the smartest kids in Korea for four years, and many of the smartest Korean kids at US boarding schools for eight.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:26 AM on January 11, 2011


I am a Chinese-born Chinese-American with a different experience. Perhaps because my parent were new immigrants to the US and constantly working, they never had the time to monitor my academics. I watched 5-8 hours of TV a day. To my parents, I was a straight A student (I hid all other report cards). I played violin on their insistence, but begged my parents to pay for lessons; holding an after school job was a big no no. As were sports and sleepovers. But it was okay that I was in every other club at school.

My parents were very lax by most immigrant standards and absentee by Western standards, yet they passed on to me their sense of prestige. I think I did enjoy school (it was more interesting than TV), but I think I ended up at top schools for undergrad and grad because my parents instilled in me the belief that having brand name education made me somebody worthwhile. I don't think this belief is unique to Chinese in the least bit, but having a childhood as poor as mine made me want that prestige so much more. I was (over)compensating for my humble beginnings.

I am a happy and well rounded person, in every aspect except for my career. I started to see a psychologist when I became severely depressed about my work. My psychologist has been trying to convince me that self esteem should not be not be tied to our accomplishments. Ridiculous! What else should self esteem be tied to, if not our accomplishments? Our kindness, resilience, perceptiveness, humor....traits that cannot be taken away. It's still bizarre to me, but you have to admit, it is a much more healthy attitude than what Chua is pushing.
posted by pistachio at 3:52 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow inara, thanks for sharing. Congrats on you and your sisters fabulous careers, but it makes me sad that it came with the damage to the relationship with your mother. I am a bit stunned that even though you two got in to med school and law school and then started a career, your mom would still be pestering you to somehow optimize your life for monetary success.
Survival in a tough world is one thing, and I understand every mom wants their kids to be in a good position to survive and thrive. But a desire for your kids to strive beyond law and medicine for the richest niches, well that seems a bit pathological.

Congrats on your successes, and hopefully you will indeed find happiness in what you do.
posted by Theta States at 6:05 AM on January 11, 2011


I saw Chua on the Today Show this morning. Apparently, she rejected a birthday card her daughter made her because "it wasn't good enough" and one time she said, "If you don't play that piano piece perfectly next time, I'm going to burn all your stuffed animals."

Lovely.
posted by grumblebee at 7:28 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


The abuse aspects aside, it's a good way to bring up a child completely terrified of trying new approaches in case they fail. Defining 'success' in such a stereotypical, normative way seems like it places great limits on what a person might achieve, in the sense that it measure achievement against a pre-existing set of norms. Failure is an integral part of creativity.

Maybe it produces fantastic patent lawyers, neurosurgeons and classical violinists, but on the face of it seems unlikely to produce an Einstein, Hendrix, Picasso or Shakespeare.
posted by unSane at 7:37 AM on January 11, 2011


How about a Ted Chiang? An Amy Tan? A Ken Jeong?

Actually, I don't know how any of these folks were raised, I'm just trying to make a point.

Parenting techniques can be good, bad, or even harmful. But they are not necessarily informative of a final product. Placing a limitation on people, on children, because of disagreeable parenting, is a narrow way of looking at the world. Let's criticize the parents for doing bad things because they are bad; let's not criticize, or limit, their offspring for being raised the way they were raised.

It's highly unlikely that any particular form of parenting would produce a Picasso, an Einstien, a Hendrix. These people are exceptional, and amazing, and it is unfair to judge products of strict parenting against them.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:47 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interview with Chua in today's Globe and Mail.
Because most of the book is written in such a deadpan way I know there will be a lot of misunderstandings. ...

I haven't done a study but I think that, ironically, although Western parents are the ones that worry so much about self-esteem -- and Chinese parents don’t, they assume strength rather than fragility -- I wonder if the Chinese approach isn’t better at creating self-esteem. You can coddle your child and tell them, "You're the best no matter what." But in the end, when they go out into the real world, I think it's pretty tough out there and other children are cruel. When your child doesn’t do so well at school or make the team they'd wished they'd made or can't get the job they want, that’s when people really lose self-esteem.

How could this have seemed a good idea to publish? Both Chinese and Westerners are likely to squirm.

I showed it to some family members and some Chinese friends of mine and a Korean friend. They all thought it was so funny and they completely related to it, but they all said, "Of course you can't publish this. You’ll get in so much trouble." I thought, "I wonder why should that be?" Millions of people raise their children this way. It’s not just Chinese people. It's really an immigrant thing. I know Indians and people from Nigeria and Ghana and Jamaica. Even some Irish. I did not write this book to promote the Chinese model. It's as much about mistakes as it is about successes.

You do openly disdain the current "Western" parenting style.

The dominant or prevalent Western approach right now is much more permissive than parenting was in the West, say, 60 years ago. Western parents romanticize the idea of pursuing passions and giving your kid choices. If you give a 10-year-old the choice to pursue his or her passion, it's going to be doing Facebook for six hours. I don’t think it’s going to be playing the violin or doing any school work very seriously.
There's also an excerpt describing a confrontation with her second child at three years old. It's even worse than the piano story (although she did back down).
posted by russilwvong at 9:17 AM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


I realize this thread has gotten long and a bit argumentative, but after sleeping on this article, I'm not entirely sure it has to be race specific. While no where near as extreme as what Chua describes (keeping your child from taking a crap until they can play a certain piece warrents a call to Child Protective Services, IMHO), I grew up with a mother who cared about my success and pushed me to do more. Most of this was about class - mom's a teacher and we grew up in a rural, northern community where there were not a lot of models of economic success - but the fact that my sister and I would go to a university (not a college) was mandatory and known to be so from when I was very young. I didn't do well at math until the rote memorization of it (multiplication tables) was done and we could get into problem solving and conceptual stuff. One of my most persistent childhood memories involved doing my math homework, having my mom mark it in pencil and then redoing all the wrong answers until I had 100% - which could take up to 3 hours or more. My best friend, also a teacher's daughter, did a lot of the same. And I was told (in a more gentle way than Chua describes) if I was gaining weight. I've internalized an expectation for perfection that is both good (it motivates me to do all things I try well, to set goals and plan to achieve them) and bad (when you're berating yourself for completing your first marathon in 5 hours 19 minutes when you arbitrarily decided you had wanted to finish in under 5 hours, it isn't actually helpful).

I'm not sure it made me much more successful than my peers: I have an masters degree and work for the government in a job I mostly like, that's stable and gives me plenty of time for my own persuits. I own a house. But classmates that dropped out of school have managed to make more money than I have (probably in large part because I live in what is still a very resource dependent economic region).

But while Chua is framing this about race (possibly because race and class are more closely linked in the US compared to Canada), I read this article as being about class primarily. The violin and piano in particular are class markers: I was initially confounded about Chua's hate-on for drama when it seems no less frivolous a persuit than playing the piano, but it makes sense in the context of piano and violin as instruments that signify the flashiest parts of a high-class tradition of classical symphony music.
posted by Kurichina at 9:18 AM on January 11, 2011




I pulled good grades, played in orchestra, was involved in all the (non-sports) clubs, had schools compete over me to give me money, went on to overachieve in graduate school, have had pretty amazing career and financial success and have a family and house...
And I was raised by self-involved heroin junkies who couldn't bother to remember that I needed food on a regular basis.

I resent any parent who thinks that they are the only, or even the primary, factor in a child's success. Evil mothers trying to be a cartoon of a Chinese stereotype will raise happy children, and depressed children, successful children and unsuccessful children. There's a lot, a ton, a world-load of things a parent can do to support or sabotage their children, but treating them like interchangeable widgets who will thrive under the same formula is insane at best.

Then again, I did play the upright bass rather than violin or piano, so she has me there.
posted by Gucky at 1:37 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can understand the desire to give your child the tools that will breed conventional success (such as becoming a Law Professor in New Haven), but I don't understand the "no playdates" thing.
posted by cell divide at 4:12 PM on January 11, 2011


My guess is that playdates are a big waste of time, from this point of view. What purpose do they serve, after all?
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:35 PM on January 11, 2011


cell divide: such as becoming a Law Professor in New Haven

Actually this was Chua's way of rebelling against her own parents. From the interview:
Was it your parents' wish for you to be a Yale law professor?

My parents were very narrow. They wanted me to be a scientist and get a PhD or to be pre-med. The PhD/MD is a trope in Asian families. So in a way it was kind of rebellious that I didn't go into science and went into law. I forged my father's signature on my Harvard application....
posted by russilwvong at 5:09 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


In the interests of anti-racism, I'm thinking of Victorian British parenting styles, of the "Kensington system" under which Victoria herself was brought up in (with a startling resemblance to Amy Chua's ideas of parenting)

Don't have any literary references but a BBC-produced mini-series called "Timewatch: Young Victoria" went into some detail about the Kensington system, explaining how it came about and how it affected the eventual queen. It may not offer a good argument against Chua's parenting style since Victoria became a very successful and popular queen. However, if Victoria and her suffocating mother the Duchess of Kent's relationship can be held as an example, Chua may one day find herself ostracized from her daughter's lives.

Chua: "It's really an immigrant thing."


Not entirely. There are several generations of middle-class African-American parents who have raised their children in similar ways (probably mostly in the pre-Cliff and Clair Huxtable era). The style had particular emphasis on a type of physical punishment some might describe as abusive. But if the kids turned out to be "successful" there'd be plenty of parental bragging similar to Chua's.
posted by fuse theorem at 5:11 PM on January 11, 2011


"Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value."
—Albert Einstein

(came across that line via http://thetwincoach.blogspot.com/2011/01/when-does-encouragement-become-pushing.html)
posted by polymodus at 5:24 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]


Heh, Gucky, I was just about to post about having been intensely achievement-driven and success-oriented and self-disciplined without my parents pushing me. In my case, there was that background middle class Jewish assumption that intelligence and study are of the highest value— but no one pushed me to do homework or get high grades. I assumed I would go to an Ivy League school and did.

Of course, I managed to drive myself into becoming a drug addict for a while too but it all goes to show that parenting isn't the only influence.

That said, I found the abusive nature of this woman's method horrifying and have seen people whom it drove to severe depression and in one case, lasting inability to hold a job.

I think one can take the best of both worlds: teach children to understand that learning takes hard work, that talent isn't just innate but also help them find their passions and when they are pursuing them and they want to quit, *then* push them through the boring bits. You can push people in ways that are supportive and get far better results than if you stress them: in fact, it's quite probable that the child would have mastered the piano piece she writes about more successfully if she *stopped* practicing for a bit and slept. Sleep actually consolidates learning.

There's actually quite a bit of research showing that physical and emotional abuse like the fatty business and the food deprivation can leave lasting scars and that authoritarian parenting like this can cause lasting damage in some cases. However, most abused kids do manage to be resilient— but that fact doesn't mean abuse is OK.
posted by Maias at 5:30 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]




Yikes. As the offspring of a Chinese-born and -raised Chinese father, a lot of this strikes a bit close to home (coming home with all As and one A- for example, and being asked "what happened"? is a particularly un-fond memory).

To his credit though, my dad's take on this whole Tiger parenting phenomenon is that it stems from a deep-seated fear of poverty and the erroneous belief that only a narrow number of professions can lead to the kind of financial success, day-to-day comfort, and respect that so many (Chinese) immigrants seek. His theory is that immigrant parents don't realize that in the West, there are options for comfortable, well-fed, secure living that don't require squeezing the souls out of your children and working tenaciously to ensure--for their own good and for the greater good of the extended family--that they end up a violin-playing doctor or lawyer.
posted by kaiserin at 8:02 PM on January 11, 2011


Why violin and piano? Two factors. 1: Those are the "superstar" solo instruments that have the biggest competitions and stardom in the classical music world. Add in cello and you have the big three. 2: There's an asston of instructors and material for pedagogy, a lot of it very tedious, incremental and progressive.

Personally, that statement bugged me on top of all the other bullshit. 6 years of slogging at the violin followed by 4 years of viola gave me a deep love of music and a bad shoulder. It's a physically demanding instrument that requires an extremely harsh rotation of the shoulder and wrist and not everyone has the bones to do it. I picked up the viola after a particularly awkward growth spurt and was instantly more comfortable and better at it, although I never became good.

I'm reminded of Esperanza Spalding who switched to the double bass at 14, became a professor at 20 and was invited by the president to perform at the Nobel concert at 25. If the kid wants to become a virtuoso tuba player, give him or her a tuba.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:35 PM on January 11, 2011


This WSJ comment, by someone who also underwent tough-love parenting, makes a simple observation that implodes a premise of Chua's article:

Ms Chua states in her article that Chinese parents assume their child's psyches are strong. But children, because they are not yet fully developed, are by their very nature fragile. During their developing years, children depend on their parents and other adults to teach them how they should view and feel about themselves. If their parents tell them that they are stupid and worthless, as Ms Chua does, most children will internalize and believe that because they have been told that by the people they trust most in the world.
posted by polymodus at 10:20 PM on January 11, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a lot of arguing in this thread, but I don't know that any of it is quantitative. There are a thousand different people citing anecdotal evidence as to why this method is terrible/wonderful, but facts are, I doubt any of you have a large enough sample size to come to a meaningful conclusion. Once you take into account external variables such as community and location (among others), it's practically impossible to say whether the way most of those children ended up was due strictly to this particular method of parenting.


That being said, I'll give my own input, hopefully without adding too much fuel to the fire.

I went a fairly large, fairly successful high school, about 3-4k students, and I left this high school less than a year ago.

From what I've seen, this is what most kids raised in the "Western" style will do: they'll latch onto one thing, or multiple things that they constantly switch between as their "main" focus. In other words, the thing that they plan to be doing for money. They put right about enough effort as they deem necessary to be decently successful in this field into this field, and put the rest of this effort into socializing. Truth is, the main interest of most teenagers is hanging out with their friends, playing video games, and spending time on the internet, via facebook, tumblr, twitter, etc. Now, I'm not going to say that there's anything wrong with that and I'll even say that most of those kids are happy.

Kids raised in the "Asian" style, to put it loosely, were much less relaxed. Year after year would be a race to see how many points above 100 these students could get in order to be at the top. Seeing as you got extra points added to your GPA for taking AP classes, regular classes would actually end up lowering the GPAs of many of these students. The result? Not taking AP classes became unacceptable, and many students would take AP classes that they would never even need in college, just so they could be .1 ahead of whoever was next in line.

This lead to an incredibly vibrant social group at my high school. Sure, kids would be studying all the time, but it was always who was meeting who to study for AP Chemistry and where. Rather than hooking up at random parties, getting drunk, and having sex, these students were working hard with their friends to keep their better than perfect grades. The kids who were most closely competing against didn't hate each other; they were the best of friends, constantly working with each other to stay at the top.

I see many of you saying that this system creates robots who have no creativity, but frankly, I don't see how that's possible. Nowadays, it's common knowledge that you can't get into a top tier school with grades alone. When your parents are telling you that anything short of Ivy league is unacceptable, you start looking for clubs pretty quickly. You join things you wouldn't typically join: the school newspaper, the arts and literature journal, the robotics team, the science society. I don't think that anyone could tell you that those things don't require creativity.

A lot of people have talking about music. Practically every Asian American I know has been raised in this oh-hey-I-see-you-can-walk-now-would-you-like-to-play-piano-or-violin-btw-your-first-lesson-is-tomorrow ideology. I've never seen it turn out badly for anyone who hasn't given up. I go to a Korean-American church, I can't tell you how often teenagers are trying to impress one another with whatever new song they've learned on the church piano. The same thing in orchestra. Practically, everyone I know who actually listens to classical music does so because they learned to play it. The kids I knew who were the best at their instrument typically grew to start composing their own works.

It's silly to say something as stereotypical as to say that all Americans are lazy, but if you raise your kids from an early age to think that all you need is to be happy, then they tend to set their standards low. After all, I might have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs or something, but do I really want to put in that much work? After all, I can be happy just partying all throughout high school and college, and as long as I get a job that pays the rent and feeds me, what else do I need?

I'm also finding it interesting that no one is mentioning the basic difference between Asian and Western Cultures that leads to practically all of this. In western culture, the focus is on the individual. In Asian cultures, the focus is on the collective. When you're born, you're defined as a part of your family. When you make a bad grade, you're not just letting yourself down, you're letting your parents, your parent's parents, your aunts, uncles, cousins, everyone you share a namesake with, down. Similarly, this is also why these parents will sit down with their children for hours on end helping them study in order to ensure those grades; because the success of your children is your success, the same way your success was your parent's success, the same way your spouse's success is your success, and your grandparent's success is your children's success. These parents aren't trying to "live through their children" as if to make up for their failures. Everyone's success /is/ everyone's success.

Admittedly, this is fading in recent times for the more popular individualism, but it helps to explain a lot about Asian culture.

Another difference between western and eastern culture is the focus on intellectualism and this comes to light in interesting ways. Arguably, the most important quality in western teenage popularity is athleticism if you're a guy and beauty if you're a girl. If you go overseas, you'll find something completely different. If you have the highest grades, you are the most popular person in the school. You'll notice that significantly more money is spent on sports events by companies and colleges in the US than in any eastern company.

I'm also a bit confused by the people who say that they disagree with they notion that children owe their parents everything. Admittedly, I was raised in this mindset, but it is your parents that have bothered to raise you, feed you, provide a home for you, etc. In the typical parent-child relationship, the child literally does owe their parents for their lives.
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 3:19 AM on January 12, 2011 [5 favorites]


I forgot to mention this, but, as kaserin said, many of these parents have been raised in an impoverished background where food and basic living necessities were scarce. As a result, many parents push their children like this because they don't want any chance of their children going through the same thing. I remember arguing with my own parents about colleges not too long ago, and a point that they kept making is that sure I could /not/ go to an ivy league college and I probably wouldn't be scrounging for food and living paycheck to paycheck, but why would I want to take that chance if there's any possibility that I might get in?
posted by fizzzzzzzzzzzy at 3:26 AM on January 12, 2011


Is anyone planning to read her book and report back?
posted by sdn at 5:36 AM on January 12, 2011


If it turns up at my daughter's bookstore she will be allowed to "check it out" and bring it home.....
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:29 AM on January 12, 2011


You can tell that this has generated much public interest and discussion, not just here on MeFi. How can you tell? NMA (the Taiwan animated news shop that shot to fame with their interpretation of the Tiger Woods scandal) released a video about it called "Western mom vs. Chinese mom: Who is better?".
posted by gemmy at 7:48 AM on January 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's silly to say something as stereotypical as to say that all Americans are lazy, but if you raise your kids from an early age to think that all you need is to be happy, then they tend to set their standards low. After all, I might have the potential to be the next Steve Jobs or something, but do I really want to put in that much work? After all, I can be happy just partying all throughout high school and college, and as long as I get a job that pays the rent and feeds me, what else do I need?
The thing is, though, that the real Steve Jobs and other people who have gotten rich in tech did so because for them working on computers was fun. The kind of pressure on these kids to get super-good grades in everything is actually narrowing the range they can end up in. Sure they'll be upper class but they're never going to 'break through' to be Steve Jobs or Bill Gates or whoever, because time they would have spent programming for fun was spent over-studying to get an A instead of a B.
posted by delmoi at 2:54 AM on January 13, 2011


You may remember that the last time this topic was majorly in vogue was in the 80's, when hair was big and everybody was afraid the Japanese were going to buy up America. The articles back then, of course, focused more on the children and less on the parents. This time, people are all a little nervous about China, and so here they go again. Look at how hard these people work! BE AFRAID. It's a theme as old as importing Chinese laborers to build the railroads.

I don't want to raise kids like Ms. Chua's daughters. They are failures in my view ...

Dude, Pastabagel, I usually respect what you have to say, but it's a little off to be all "Of course it's wrong to call children garbage ... because they're failures!"

Anyway, my siblings and I were in a bunch of those Asian kid articles, back in the 80's. Yes, theoretically, there was no television, fiction that was not 'literature', or Nintendo. (I have a crippling inability with video game controllers to this day.) Practically speaking, well, there were two of them and four of us, so it's not like we were really doing math problems for eight hours a day or anything. And was I always successful in getting good grades? Well ... nooooo. It turns out, for example, that no matter how much yelling is involved, I am really awful at foreign languages.

Look, I'm not going to say it was all sunshine, lemon drops, and lollipops, and I'm definitely not saying it's the best way to raise your children. I also think a huge part of this also depends on the children. I was really pushed towards science or being a doctor. I ended up in science. It turns out I really like science. Am I going to be the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates? Well, probably not, but again, very few people are. (I say probably not because sometimes things are discovered through serendipity, and maybe today's the day I accidentally spill something and cure every disease known to man.)

I'm not going to say it's impossible; I can't actually find out how Steven Chu (Energy Secretary/Nobel Laureate) or Jerry Yang (Founder of Yahoo) were raised, but they have pretty impressive backgrounds.

Now I'm sure this story would've been a really sad one if I were a person who didn't like what was on the menu, and had to pick one anyway. Or if I weren't just naturally a happy person. Just ... give the kids a bit more credit. Also, this isn't that James Cameron movie where you either pick the Stanford PhD or his brother who has no education but has loads of 'heart'. Or like Rocky IV, where a track-suit wearing Asian super-child is being trained in a super-advanced Asian laboratory to play the violin for hours and can only be stopped by the plucky young American who had to make his own violin out of snow and logs.

(PS: I love my parents.)
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:31 AM on January 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


A good follow up this this article in the San Fransico Gate by Jeff Yang:
"I don't think people pick up on this enough, but I'm an unreliable narrator!" she laughs. "My daughters kept telling me, 'You're exaggerating this, Mom. People are going to think you're so harsh!' But the truth is, even though I was maniacal about music, I did actually let my kids go on playdates. And I say in the book that 'I don't care if my kids hate me,' but if you read on you'll realize, that's not how I actually feel. Who wants their kids to hate them? I'm very close to my daughters, and I wouldn't trade that for the world."

That's what leads to the "humbling" mentioned in the coverline: The book climaxes with a wrenching confrontation between Chua and her indomitable younger daughter, Lulu, who has resisted Tiger Parenting throughout her childhood. It's she who ultimately makes Chua accept that she's gone too far, and vow to change. And, as it turns out, letting Lulu make her own choices doesn't prove to be the disaster that Chua fears.
posted by chunking express at 7:56 AM on January 13, 2011


Using hyberbole to get eyeballs, and then saying "but of COURSE I didn't mean it!"
How wonderful. How familiar.
posted by Theta States at 9:17 AM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I don't think people pick up on this enough, but I'm an unreliable narrator!"

That's the most weaselly thing I've read in a long time. Just when I think Chua can't offend me more than she already has, she does. I should give her some kind of award.
posted by grumblebee at 2:10 PM on January 13, 2011


"I don't think people pick up on this enough, but I'm an unreliable narrator!"

Then shut up and listen.
posted by polymodus at 4:52 PM on January 13, 2011


A longer excerpt from the Jeff Yang article:
The more I re-read the Wall Street Journal article, the more I felt like I wasn't getting the whole story. The "excerpt" made the book seem like a harsh diatribe against American parenting standards and a handbook of Ancient Chinese Secrets for fixing your lazy, sullen, Wii-addicted kids.

And yet, pictures of the actual book on Amazon clearly showed a coverline that seemed to directly contradict that impression: "This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs. This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it's about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old."

There was little, if any humility in the Journal piece. Something was definitely missing.

Then I saw a tweet by Jen Wang, who blogs at Disgrasian about her own "hardass Asian mom," in which she also noted a disconnect between the Journal story and the book from which it was supposedly excerpted. When I reached out to her for details, she explained, "The book isn't a how-to manual, as the Journal excerpt would have you believe -- it's a memoir. As such, you'll see some truth in it, and you'll also see glaring blind spots and a sometimes-woeful lack of self-examination. That truth, instead of making you hate Chua, will cause you to reflect on your own upbringing -- and your own parenting style, good and bad. And I think this is especially important for Asian Americans who feel that they were parented Chua-style, and are bitter about it -- that is to say, most of us."

I consumed "Battle Hymn" in a single sitting, and Wang is absolutely right. It's a riveting read, and nothing like what the Journal "excerpt" suggests. There's still plenty to be horrified by at in the actual book, but even more, as Wang noted, to think about -- and laugh at, as odd as that may seem to those who haven't yet read it: Far from being strident, the book's tone is slightly rueful, frequently self-deprecating and entirely aware of its author's enormities. It's a little, but not quite, like a Chelsea Handler book -- if Chelsea Handler were a Chinese American law professor and Momzilla of two.
Yang then contacted Chua:
I decided I had to connect with Chua herself to learn firsthand what she was really trying to say through her book -- and why that message ended up getting lost in its newsprint translation.

Chua responded to a brief message I sent her introducing myself and asking for an interview by saying that she was glad to hear from me, as she'd been looking for a way to discuss her misgivings about the Journal article. Apparently, it had been edited without her input, and by the time she saw the version they intended to run, she was limited in what she could do to alter it.

"I was very surprised," she says. "The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they'd put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn't even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end -- that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model."

While the Journal article was unquestionably good for sales and awareness of the book, which has already hit #7 on Amazon and is only headed upward, it has been painful for Chua. "I've gotten scary messages. Death threats. All from people who haven't yet read the book," she says. "And while it's ultimately my responsibility -- my strict Chinese mom told me 'never blame other people for your problems!' -- the one-sided nature of the excerpt has really led to some major misconceptions about what the book says, and about what I really believe."
posted by russilwvong at 5:13 PM on January 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, even in the article, I thought the exaggeration was as obvious as a kick in the nuts.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 5:14 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


From today's NYT: Retreat of the tiger mother
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:54 PM on January 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


But the younger, Lulu, rebelled. At the turning point of the memoir, Lulu, then 13, begins smashing glasses in a Moscow restaurant and yelling at her mother, “I HATE my life, I HATE you.”
And yet, Chua comes across even in this retraction as not having learned much. She thinks it worked out Just Fine Thanks for her other daughter and obviously isn't sorry that she gave it a go. She is extremely lucky that a few smashed glasses were the only hint she needed that she was destroying Lulu's sanity.
posted by localroger at 7:01 AM on January 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why Chinese Girlfriends are Superior:
Foreign girlfriends care too much about respecting their boyfriends’ individuality. By contrast, Chinese girlfriends believe that the best way to nurture a relationship is by stripping their boyfriends of individuality, so that existence as a couple – complete with its many rules and expectations — is the only existence these men will know, and be able to survive in.
posted by grouse at 10:54 AM on January 15, 2011


fizzzzzzzzzzzy,
RE: quantitative studies
You can check out this answer on Quora:
There are multiple studies that report that despite high levels of academic achievement, Asian American students report poor psychological adjustment (Choi et al, 2006; Greene et al 2006; Rhee et al 2003; Rumbault, 1994; Yeh, 2003). The high level of parental interest in grades soley can create depression and anxiety for youth (Pang, 1991). And perception of parental dis-interest in emotional well-being is significantly associated with depression (Greenberger 1996; Stuart et al 1999). There are more studies but I'll stop here, but it's shown that harsh parental discipline is related to depression of Chinese-Am teens (Kim & Gee, 2000).
Link
Even if one accepts the "but Asian cultures are collectivist and Western culture is individualistic" trope, it does not present a justification. You're committing the is/ought fallacy. Besides, there's an argument that collective responsibility , at least in the Chinese sense, derives from the baojia system of collective punishment that dates to imperial times. That isn't really the kind of thing we want to encourage in a republican democracy.

russilwvong,
I'm not buying her walk-back, and Jeff Yang is being entirely too generous with Chua. She can talk about how the book isn't a handbook for parenting, but if you look at the Amazon reviews you see the number of people raving about how Chua's child rearing practices are just what we need to make sure America can compete against China.

For someone who is putting her own identity front and center, Chua was appallingly ignorant of the level of anguish in the Chinese American community over the destructive practices she advocates in her book. That anguish is the kind of thing that comes out among groups of friends when you're sitting on the curb in front of a club after last call, waiting for someone to finish smoking their cigarette so you can get in the car and go home. At least, that was my experience.

I was going to say I'm shocked that she was unaware of it, but I notice that she's 48, and went to Harvard for undergrad. I think the kind of Asian American community that we take for granted today just didn't exist then, especially on the East Coast. So perhaps she didn't sit on the curb in front of a club in Cambridge and have this conversation with her friends.
posted by wuwei at 11:15 AM on January 15, 2011


FWIW, in Chinese culture, "You look like you've gained weight" is as acceptable a greeting as "Hello." It is not considered offensive, and many Asians happily partake in complaining about their body issues. This is not to say that it's good practice - I think it contributes to harmful superficiality among other things - but I don't think all Asian kids who are called fat by their parents are traumatized. (On the other hand, growing up American, I was.)
posted by nj554 at 8:41 AM on January 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think all Asian kids who are called fat by their parents are traumatized. (On the other hand, growing up American, I was.)

I can see how it's possible that a kid growing up in another culture -- one that doesn't treat weight they way ours (unfortunately) does -- might not be traumatized. But an Asian-American kid probably will be. At least, the chance is so great that he will be traumatize, a parent is a fool (at best) if he thinks he can counter-act this American ethos.

This seems to be a common parent fail: believing one is the ONLY influence on one's kids. Parents who want to be that will need to keep their kids at home all the time and never let them watch TV, listen to the radio, talk on the phone or browse the Internet.
posted by grumblebee at 11:47 AM on January 18, 2011


Good point in this NY Times editorial, which mentions how people are up-in-arms because Chua demands so much from her children. But then it goes on to say...

"Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

"Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. We do this because groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals (swimmers are often motivated to have their best times as part of relay teams, not in individual events). Moreover, the performance of a group does not correlate well with the average I.Q. of the group or even with the I.Q.’s of the smartest members.

"Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon have found that groups have a high collective intelligence when members of a group are good at reading each others’ emotions — when they take turns speaking, when the inputs from each member are managed fluidly, when they detect each others’ inclinations and strengths.

Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.

"This skill set is not taught formally, but it is imparted through arduous experiences. These are exactly the kinds of difficult experiences Chua shelters her children from by making them rush home to hit the homework table."
posted by grumblebee at 4:20 PM on January 18, 2011




The Onion's take: New Parenting Book Sparks Outrage
Last week, Penguin Press published Amy Chua's book Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mother, which criticizes "Western" parenting and advocates an "Asian" approach that includes forbidding playdates and being highly critical of children in order to make them more successful. Here are some other tips from the book:
- Take your children to Chuck E. Cheese's and let them play any game they choose, then make them watch as you burn their tickets

- Ice cream is a great motivator for kids; promise them that if they do everything you ask, they can have some when they turn 18

- Inform your child that televisions receive all of their power from flawless renditions of Brahms' Violin Concerto in D

- Only let your children have a pet dog if they can tame the most rabid dog at the pound

- Should your child express interest in spending more time with his or her friends, simply pack up and move several hundred miles away

- To ensure academic excellence, inform your children that there is a mark higher than an A-plus and then shame them for failing to attain it

- Replace their frail little limbs with less fragile prosthetics

- Remember, you may have to put up with one or two suicides before you finally craft that perfect child you've always wanted
posted by Rhaomi at 11:40 AM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]


So I was at a bookstore yesterday and took a look at the book itself. I read the first few chapters: it looks to me like it follows the "Too Soft", "Too Hard", "Just Right" view that Judith Rich Harris talks about. In retrospect, when Chua describes her parenting style, she's characterizing it as "Too Hard." (She still views the typical Western style of parenting as "Too Soft." She does recognize that there's a much wider range of Western parenting styles than Chinese parenting styles. *)

Chua says in one of the early chapters that she failed to give her daughters the respect for parental authority that she and her sisters grew up with. (This was obvious from the description of the battle of wills that she had with her younger daughter over piano--that kind of battle ensues when you lack authority). To me, authority is one of the most important aspects of parenting, Chinese or not. I mentioned the book 1-2-3 Magic earlier. There's also the idea that children want limits; they want to know that someone else is responsible and in control. This isn't a specifically Chinese thing.

I think people often get confused about the distinction between power and force, whether they're thinking about parenting or politics in general. Power is primarily psychological, not physical. If your child is even two or three years old, your ability to physically force them to do anything (put on a particularly set of clothing, for example) is very limited. You need to get them to understand that if they get into a battle of wills with you, they will always lose: you have much, much greater patience, willpower, and experience than they do. We follow the 1-2-3 Magic principle of two warnings, then a timeout; you never get angry, you're just totally serious. I don't remember the last time we had to give either of our kids a timeout.

What you don't do is make wild threats you can't follow through on (e.g. Chua's "I'm going to burn all your stuffed animals!"). Your kids need to take you completely seriously. If you make extreme threats, I suppose you might be able to win compliance temporarily, but only until they figure out you're bluffing.

Given the importance of authority in parenting, I'd have to say that I can't recommend Chua's approach as a whole (and it seems that Chua wouldn't either!).

By coincidence, I've been reading a book on the Suzuki method, for parents of Suzuki students: To Learn with Love, by William and Constance Starr. I think it does a much better job of explaining the importance of regular practice, good habits, mastery through repetition, etc. that I think of as the "[East] Asian parenting style."

(*) In Sons of the Yellow Emperor: A History of the Overseas Chinese, Lynn Pan quotes anthropologist Barbara Ward:
Anyone who has ever asked unsophisticated Chinese informants why they follow such and such a custom knows the maddeningly reiterated answer: "Because we are Chinese." At first one assumes that this is simply a stock response to the uncultured foreigner or a way of fobbing off an impertinent outsider; after a time one realizes that most of one's informants do themselves see it as a correct explanation of almost all their own cultural behavior and social organization.
Pan continues:
They carry something in their minds labelled "Chinese", a model they use "to explain, predict and justify their actual behavior". To put it another way, the Chinese have stereotypes of Chineseness...."
In other words: Chinese parents feel pressure to raise their children in a particularly Chinese way, e.g. to learn Chinese (hey, I haven't talked about weekly Chinese classes!), to respect authority, to be hard-working, etc. They feel that if their children assimilate completely, and become just like any other American kids, they'll have failed.

In actual fact, this ideal of what constitutes "Chineseness" may vary:
As Barbara Ward has observed, "What the people of one locality or time in the vast territory and history of the Chinese people think of as 'Chinese' may not necessarily be recognized as such by people elsewhere."
For "mainstream" American parents, there's a much wider range of parenting styles, as demonstrated by the parenting section at the bookstore. I think one reason there's so much variation is that American society embraces technology and technological change in a uniquely enthusiastic way, and this leads to extremely rapid social change. The best analysis I've seen of technology-induced social change is Joshua Meyrowitz' analysis of television, No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior. According to Meyrowitz, compared to print, television greatly reduces the social distance of authority figures, and hence their effective authority. It's not just the content ("Married with Children" vs. "Father Knows Best"), it's the structure itself.
Early television shows such as "Leave It to Beaver" are, in manifest content, much more conservative than more recent programs such as "One Day at a Time," but the two types of programs are, in one sense, very similar: They both reveal to children the existence of adult weaknesses and doubts. ...

Children's books of the past generally presented only an "onstage" image of adulthood, but even conservative television programs tend to reveal a backstage or "sidestage" view of adulthood. Child viewers see adults behaving one way when they are among adults and another way when they are with children. This view is very damaging to the traditional adult role.

In one episode of "Father Knows Best" ("Margaret Learns to Drive," NBC, November 20, 1957), for example, the three children keep quizzing their parents on their relationship. They wonder if their parents ever fight. After all, they have never seen any evidence of fighting. But when their mother, Margaret, asks their father, Jim, to teach her to drive a car, the wheels are set in motion for the revelation of a backstage argument to the children. Margaret and Jim have an argument on their first drive, but they are still composed enough to say "Let's look a bit happier before we face the kids," and they enter the house pretending that nothing unusual has happened. By the end of the program, however, the driving lessons have continued to go badly, and Jim and Margaret find themselves yelling at each other in the middle of the living room. Unknown to them, their three children have partially descended the staircase and are leaning against the banister (in size places, of course). The children witness the first argument between their parents they have ever seen. When Margaret and Jim turn and see the children, there is a moment of stunned silence. But the children begin to applaud, saying "great show," "good performance." The children declare (ask): "You were just pretending to fight for our benefit, right?" After a moment's hesitation, Jim and Margaret "admit" that, yes, they were just pretending to be fighting. Everyone laughs, and the show ends.

Thus, while the child portrayed on traditional television shows may be innocent and sheltered, the child watching the programs sees both the hidden behavior and the process of sheltering it from children. "Father Knows Best," for example, exposes child viewers to the ways in which a father and mother manipulate their behavior to make it appear to their children that they "know best." The behavior in the revealed adult backstage may be idealized, but from a social dynamics perspective, the particular content of the backstage behavior portrayed is less significant than the revelation of the existence of the backstage itself.
This is one reason why we don't have a television. Of course these days the Internet is mutating practically before our eyes, and it may take years or decades before we figure out how each new development (the web, Facebook, the mobile Internet) has impacted society. We realize that one day our kids will be exposed to all of these technological developments (including TV); we just want to slow down the process as much as we can.
posted by russilwvong at 10:34 PM on January 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


russilwvong, that was an excellent post.

I am curious about your disinclination to let your children see the "backstage" life of parents. That's the total opposite of how I'd parent. (Easy for me to say, I know, since I don't have kids.) I wouldn't necessarily let my children in on all the specific info that troubled me, but I'd definitely let them know that I was a fallible human -- one that gets upset, angry, scared, etc.

I find the idea of people who never argue really scary -- kind of robotic. I would not want my kids to think my wife and I were like that "Father Knows Best" couple.

Though I've never had kids, I was a preschool teacher for half a decade. I've also been in management positions. I've noticed a distinct split in managers/parents. Some take the stiff-upper-lip approach, and seem to work to become sort of super-human in the eyes of their employees/kids. Others let their warts show.

I think it's possible to maintain authority in either case. One technique sends the message, "I am the authority because I am the only person in the room who never cries" (so to speak). The other sends the message, "It doesn't matter if I'm laughing or crying or wetting my pants. I am still the authority." I think, if you can manage to own your right to be the authority -- and feel really confident about being in charge -- you can show your humanity (e.g. your imperfections) and still rule.
posted by grumblebee at 6:29 AM on January 24, 2011


russilwvong, that was an excellent post.

Thanks, grumblebee. I'd definitely recommend the Joshua Meyrowitz book to you.

I am curious about your disinclination to let your children see the "backstage" life of parents.

By definition, once the audience can see the backstage area, it's no longer backstage. It's part of the onstage area.

One of the main points discussed in Meyrowitz's book (basically describing work by Erving Goffman) is that there's an aspect of performance to all social interactions. We think that we're just "being ourselves", not "acting", but the way we behave depends on context. If I'm in a class, listening to a lecture, my behavior (passively sitting with a blank expression, trying to absorb the ideas) is very different from my behavior when I'm at a social occasion with friends: if I behaved in the same way (staring at people with a blank expression) it'd be taken as a sign of hostility or insanity. The way you behave at a funeral is different from the way you behave at a wedding; the way you behave at your own wedding is different from the way you behave at someone else's wedding. And so on.

As in any dramatic performance, the ability of the performer to do a creditable job depends on being able to relax, prepare, rehearse, etc. in a backstage area, separate from and hidden from the audience. If the performer has little or no backstage area, their ability to adapt their behavior to the context will be extremely limited. If when my wife and I decided to get married, our guests and the officiant were suddenly right there and we had had to carry out the ceremony right then, our wedding would have been very different. There wouldn't have been any prepared speeches, any special clothing, or a particular location. (In fact, it would have been in a muddy dog park.) Our guests wouldn't have been prepared to pay attention throughout the ceremony; some of them would have been sleepy, hungry, distracted, or for whatever reason ill-prepared to pay attention.

What's the difference between this hypothetical wedding and our actual wedding? The people would all have been the same. The difference would have been entirely due to our inability to prepare.

A wedding is obviously a very formal occasion. Parenting is much more of a continuous process. Nevertheless, the same structure applies: the more time and space we have to prepare for our roles as parents, the more we can adapt our behavior to be most effective as parents.
posted by russilwvong at 9:16 AM on January 24, 2011


By the way, there was some discussion earlier in the thread about suicide rates. I looked up the numbers (Health, United States, 2009: Death rates for suicide, by sex, race, Hispanic origin, and age) and was somewhat surprised:

All rates are per 100,000 resident population in the United States.

Asian or Pacific Islander female, 15-24 years: 3.7 in 2005, 4.0 in 2006
White non-Hispanic female, 15-24 years: 3.9 in 2005, 3.5 in 2006

Asian or Pacific Islander male, 15-24 years: 7.2 in 2005, 12.0 in 2006
White non-Hispanic male, 15-24 years: 18.4 in 2005, 18.5 in 2006

In 2006, suicide rates were somewhat higher (4.0 vs. 3.5) for Asian/Pacific Islander females vs. white non-Hispanic females aged 15-24, but not by a huge amount; in 2005 they were slightly lower (3.7 vs. 3.9). In both 2005 and 2006, suicide rates for Asian/Pacific Islander males aged 15-24 were significantly lower than for white non-Hispanic males.

(For the next age bracket, 25-34, suicide rates are significantly lower among Asian/Pacific Islander males and females than white non-Hispanic males and females. 2006 figures: Asian females, 3.3; white females, 7.8. Asian males, 9.2; white males, 26.9.)
posted by russilwvong at 9:30 AM on January 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


WSJ China Real Time Report blog:
Xinhua reports today that a Chinese-language version of Ms. Chua’s book, whose English title is “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” has hit the shelves in Beijing. As Xinhua notes, the cover of the Chinese edition of the book is substantially different from the original, featuring a photo of a smiling Ms. Chua standing against a red, white and blue map of the United States.

The Chinese edition’s title translates to “Being a Mom in America,” or, as Xinhua rendered it, “Being an American Mum.”
Why?
Western-style parenting is in vogue among some in China, where traditional parenting methods have come under fire for producing robot-like children who find it difficult to socialize and be creative.

posted by zarq at 12:50 PM on January 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


russilwvong, tell me to butt out if this is none of my business.

Thanks for your post. I certainly understand the value of preparation. But preparation doesn't necessarily have to mean hiding core truths about yourself. Of course, it DOES mean hiding something (otherwise, what's the point?), but, to torture the backstage metaphor a bit more, when actors rehearse a play, their goal (hopefully) is to render the truth of the human condition more clearly than they'd be able to render it they hadn't rehearsed.

I'll sidestep a huge debate here about "what is truth?"

Maybe I misunderstood your initial post, but I wasn't reacting against your desire to get your ducks in a row before showing them to your kids. I was reacting against what I saw as a desire to hide normal human frailty from them. Your "Father Knows Best" example suggested that parents should hide the fact that they disagree.

This may be a subtle distinction, but I think it's important: I DO think it's useful to find common ground about, say, homework before talking to your kids about it. If I was against homework and my wife was for it, I think it would be confusing to hit the kids with our disagreement. Hopefully, we could argue it out in private, come to an agreement, and THEN present what-we'd-agreed-upon to the kids, as a united front.

On the other hand, I would never want my kids to think that my wife and I are always in agreement about everything. I would want them to know that we sometimes argue, if for no other reason than the fact that I'd like to model how-to-survive-arguments for them. Humans argue. I don't think it's healthy for kids to see their parents as robots or perfect beings.

This reminds me of the many, many agonizing teacher-training sessions I've had to attend. I've been a teacher for over 20 years, but I continually get forced to go to these train-the-trainer classes -- ones meant for new teachers. Sometimes, it's because I'm trying to get a certificate that will allow me to teach some new subject, and they make everyone attend the how-to-teach-101 class, no matter how many years you've spent in the classroom.

What I hear in these sessions, from newbies, is "What do you do if one of the student's knows more about the subject than you do?" They say this with great panic, as if the goal of teaching is to seem like you know everything. I've even heard seasoned teachers worry about this. And I've heard some admit that they pretend to know things even when then don't. (Yikes!)

This has never been a problem for me, because, when I'm teaching, I don't play a character whoo knows everything. I am very upfront with ny students about the truth, which is that I've been studying the subject for years, and that hopefully this means I can help them, but, of course, there are gaps in my knowledge. Why are there gaps? Because I'm human. There were gaps in Einstein's knowledge about physics.

If as student brings up something I don't know, I thank him for teaching it to me. Then I move on to something I do know. Next time I teach, I have no problem saying, "A student in my previous class taught me this..."

Which has nothing to do with backstage or preparation. I spend hours prepping for my classes. And when I walk into the classroom, I work hard to be the best teacher I can be. I don't burden my students with ALL of the stuggles I had to go through to get where I am now. But I certainly let them know I struggled, and sometimes I struggle in front of them. It's no big deal, as long as I do it all with good humor and confidence.

It's the difference between "Oh my God! I don't know. I'm sorry. I should know!" and "How interesting. I don't know the answer to that. Do you? No? Well, let's see if we can figure it out."
posted by grumblebee at 2:24 PM on January 26, 2011


I'm coming to this discussion late.

I read the book. The first half is quite humorous. I found myself laughing aloud a few times. The second half is dark. I was saddened and disturbed by a lot of her behaviors. She allows her children zero autonomy and is cruel. I do not get the impression that she is cruel all of the time. She realizes that she is jeopardizing her relationship with Lulu (a little too late in my opinion) and takes steps to ease up.

From reading the book it is evident that Amy Chua is a bit of a snob. She name-drops at every opportunity. She is preoccupied with fame, prestige, and recognition.

That being said, I think there is something valuable to take away from this book. As an average, suburban, middle-class parent I could be doing more to ensure my child's success. Yes, I do care about their achievement. I care about grades and I wish for them to have financial stability. People like Mark Zuckerberg are an exception. The rest of us average Joes with average IQs need to work very hard at attaining success (not saying that Zuckerberg didn't work hard). This book is a great reminder that there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence. It was not unusual for me to glance over graded schoolwork and deem a B as acceptable. Sometimes I made them correct their answers, sometimes I did not. Sometimes I let them get away with practicing for 15 minutes on the piano. Now, my husband and I sit down with our kids and go over incorrect answers and take measures to help them grasp the concept. Now, I make them practice for at least a half-hour, and hour is ideal. I would demand more, but I'm a wimp.

I also am offended by the "Asian kids like this are automons or robots" comments. I have heard several interviews with Amy Chua on NPR and TV and it is obvious that she is not a robot. I've seen glimpses or her children on TV and it seems that they are dynamic and exciting people. One of Sophia's friends wrote into the NY Times and expressed that Sophia is loving, loyal, and kind and an "intellectual and musical powerhouse." That's awesome in my book.

I think this book is causing people to look inward. I think a lot of "Western" parents would love to have kids like the Chua-Rubenfeld girls. We just don't want to use Amy Chua's methods. Their success makes people uncomfortable. Parents are comparing their kids to Chua's. We question our parenting practices and have anxiety that we are too lax and question what could have been. Yes, some of Chua's methods are crazy and cruel but that doesn't mean we shouldn't examine our behavior. I'm generalizing, but a lot of "Western" parents are lazy and are self-absorbed and do not take the time to help their kids with homework. let alone stress academic excellence. A lot of "Western" parents are quick to give up and give in.
posted by Fairchild at 5:11 AM on January 27, 2011


I saw Chua on Colbert and he kind of steamrolled her. She really wasn't prepared and I think was more just in love with being there than bringing anything to the interview.
posted by Theta States at 6:48 AM on January 27, 2011




Also note that now "Tiger Mom" has achieved full on meme status.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:23 AM on January 29, 2011


I finished reading the book on the weekend. Chua doesn't really describe what would be "Just Right"; after giving in to her second daughter, she seems a bit lost.

I was somewhat astounded by how far Chua pushed her daughters in piano and violin. At least initially, they were following the Suzuki method. Here's what William and Constance Starr have to say in To Learn with Love: A Companion for Suzuki Parents:
Suzuki's program is primarily oriented toward capturing and sustaining the interest of the very young child. We all know with what phenomenal success this has been done. However, the percentage of Suzuki-trained students in Japan who continue to take private lessons and participate in Suzuki concert and recital programs throughout high school is not large. ... high school exams require a great deal of study, consequently limiting or eliminating time for practice.

This pressure causes many of the students to stop taking lessons. Others continue with less and less time allocated to practice. ...

I don't think that thoughts of regret cross the minds of many of these students or their parents. I met a young man who had been a member of Suzuki's original tour group and who was then studying medicine. "Do you play the violin any more?" I asked. "No," he replied. "Do you wish you could?" "Not really but I did enjoy it very much when I was a boy. It was a wonderful education for me."

I really think that many Japanese parents feel that their children's education via Suzuki instruction can come to a natural close as their children enter high school. They see the mission accomplished. Recalling the following words of Suzuki, they feel that they have fulfilled an important parental obligation toward their children's total education: "The greatest duty and joy given to us adults is the privilege of developing our children's potentialities and of educating desirable human beings with beautiful harmonious minds and high sensitivity. I believe sensitivity and love toward music and art are very important things to all people whether they are politicians, scientists, businessmen or laborers. They are the things that make our lives rich."
Personally, I think the primary benefit of studying piano or violin is self-discipline, not the ability to become a professional musician. Chua notes that her second daughter displayed great self-discipline when she dropped violin and took up tennis seriously; but was it really necessary to push her to such an extreme level in order to develop her self-discipline?

grumblebee: I was reacting against what I saw as a desire to hide normal human frailty from them. Your "Father Knows Best" example suggested that parents should hide the fact that they disagree.

As described, the parents are fighting ("yelling at each other") in front of the children, not just disagreeing.

I suppose it depends what you consider to be normal human frailty. Meyrowitz suggests that terms like "road rage" and "temporary insanity" are similar to what would be called a "temper tantrum" in a child: compared to the pre-television, print-dominated era, our expectations of adult behavior and children's behavior are no longer very far apart. Children are now more mature, and adults are less so; our standard of behavior is more like that of teenagers. (There's an analogy in the way we dress: nowadays, children and adults alike wear jeans.)

To me, it seems wiser to allow children more time to grow up, to absorb information and develop their understanding of "adult" topics such as death, war, sex, politics, and so on over a longer period of time. To take one example, I think the kinds of political ideologies that you can understand at a young age are probably relatively simplistic. Perhaps as a result, the level of political discourse in the United States often seems dangerously primitive ("we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem"), unable to absorb ideas of any significant complexity or subtlety. To take one example, by Paul Krugman:
To me, at least, the idea that changes in demand will normally be offset by Fed policy--so that they will, on average, have no effect on employment--seems both simple and entirely reasonable. Yet it is clear that very few people outside the world of academic economics think about things that way. For example, the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement was conducted almost entirely in terms of supposed job creation or destruction. The obvious (to me) point that the average unemployment rate over the next 10 years will be what the Fed wants it to be, regardless of the U.S.-Mexico trade balance, never made it into the public consciousness. (In fact, when I made that argument at one panel discussion in 1993, a fellow panelist--a NAFTA advocate, as it happens--exploded in rage: "It's remarks like that that make people hate economists!")
Conversely, as adults and especially as parents, I think we should make an effort to behave more like adults and less like adolescents. Personally, I think "behaving naturally" is overrated.
posted by russilwvong at 12:04 AM on February 1, 2011


russilwvong,

I suspect we don't have a deep disagreement, and that maybe I took certain words and phrases of yours to extremes in my head. I certainly agree with this:

I think we should make an effort to behave more like adults and less like adolescents. Personally, I think "behaving naturally" is overrated.

I would just add that, being human, you're going to fail sometimes. And THAT'S the frailty I think kids should know about it. In fact, they WILL know about it, because it's impossible to successfully hide it over a course of years. So, if you try to hide it, the best you'll do is wind up looking like you're trying (and failing) to hide something.
posted by grumblebee at 7:58 AM on February 1, 2011


grumblebee: I would just add that, being human, you're going to fail sometimes.

Fail at what, exactly? I find it hard to imagine that I would ever throw a temper tantrum in front of my kids, for example. Or hit them in anger. Or get drunk or intoxicated in front of them.

In your experience, how often do actors break out of character while they're on-stage?
posted by russilwvong at 9:24 AM on February 1, 2011


Fail at what, exactly? I find it hard to imagine that I would ever throw a temper tantrum in front of my kids, for example. Or hit them in anger. Or get drunk or intoxicated in front of them.

You might. Maybe you're the sort of person who is capable of restraining your emotions even in the more dire circumstances. In which case -- fine -- that id who you are and it's good that your kid know who you are.

But imagine you're the sort of person who might fall apart, just for a few seconds, if, say, someone got shot in front of you, an earthquake it, someone in another car slammed into you, you get fired from your job, etc.

And what if, unfortunately, your kids were with you when this extreme event happened. Would you want their world to fall apart, not just because of the event itself, but also because dad was suddenly turning into another person?

I'd want my kids to know that I'm fallible in this sense. I'd want them to know that they can count on me to be calm in all but the most extreme circumstances, and that even in extreme circumstances, they can count on my to regain my calmness. But I'd also like them to understand the truth, which is that the human animal, when pushed to extremes, sometimes acts in extreme ways. If, God forbid, I saw my wife get shot in the head, and I burst into tears, I wouldn't want -- on top of everything else -- my kids to be freaked out because "dads don't cry."

Also, what if I screw up one day and punish one of my kids unfairly? Maybe you're so well-balanced that there's no way you'd ever do that. I don't mean that sarcastically. If you are, then that's awesome. I'm a generally fair, calm person. But in my experience, shit happens. Maybe some medication has a weird side effect or whatever. And it makes me lash out and punish one of my kids for just breathing too loudly or something.

What do I do afterwards?

Do I say, "I'm very sorry. Daddy made a mistake. I was unfair to you"? Or do I keep up the illusion that daddy is always calm and perfectly just, letting my kid believe he did something wrong, even though he didn't, so as not to blemish the perfect-dad performance.

Again, you may think my examples are extreme and feel like, of course, you WOULD and DO let your kids know you're not perfect. That's fine. I just don't know to what extent we're on the same page. If you think I'm in favor of throwing daily tantrums in front of my kids and letting them know every time I'm a little anxious about a work or marriage issue, then you're seeing my view in over-the-top extremes.

Let's say my wife and I are constantly at odds. I WOULD want to keep the bulk of our fights from my kids, especially if we were constantly pulling back from the brink of divorce. Kids don't need that kind of instability.

On the other hand, what if my wife and I are generally harmonious, but we occasionally argue, and when we do, we work through our differences and come out the other end stronger. That's actually (luckily) the case with my marriage.

Now, if I had kids, I could let them see -- maybe just in small ways -- that my wife and I have differences but work to overcome them. Or I could totally hide this from them, letting them believe that my wife and I are always in perfect agreement about everything.

Were I to do that, I think I'd be doing them a disservice. One of the best things adults can do for kids is to model responsible conflict resolution. Otherwise, they will grow up thinking marriages are these completely, continually peaceful unions. And when they get into their first fight with their spouses, they'll have no coping skills.

In your experience, how often do actors break out of character while they're on-stage?

I've lost the thread of the metaphor and no longer understand how it applies to our discussion. Bit I will say this: when I go to see a play, I realize that the actors are pretending to be something they are not. I willingly let myself be fooled, all the time maintaining some level of control. (e.g. I can walk out of the theatre.)

So I am very happy to be fooled by Dustin Hoffman on stage. But if I was friends with him in real life, I would be less happy being fooled by him at a dinner party.

Also, please note that it's VERY hard to continually fool people you live with, people who see you every day for many hours, over the course of many years. Parents ALWAYS think they are fooling their kids -- just as husbands always think they are fooling their wives and vice versa.

Do you remember childhood? Didn't you know stuff about your parents that they were SURE they were keeping from you? I sure did. As did most of my friends.
posted by grumblebee at 11:43 AM on February 1, 2011


en forme de poire: Also note that now "Tiger Mom" has achieved full on meme status.

Along the same lines, see the earlier High Expectations Asian Father.

grumblebee: Again, you may think my examples are extreme and feel like, of course, you WOULD and DO let your kids know you're not perfect. That's fine. I just don't know to what extent we're on the same page. If you think I'm in favor of throwing daily tantrums in front of my kids and letting them know every time I'm a little anxious about a work or marriage issue, then you're seeing my view in over-the-top extremes.

If you believe that you would make conscious decisions about what to disclose to your hypothetical children, then yes, we're on the same page. I certainly don't attempt to fool my children into thinking that I'm infallible; I'm a parent, not the Wizard of Oz!

I think you might have misunderstood why I quoted Meyrowitz's description of the "Father Knows Best" episode. I'm not citing it as a literal model of how my wife and I are trying to raise our children! (My wife already knows how to drive!) My point is that a particular technological change, the introduction of television, has had subtle and far-reaching effects on society. They're subtle because they're independent of the content: even a portrayal of an idealized 1940s family reveals a great deal to children watching in the 1950s. It's the structure, not the content. That's why I provided that quote, not because I'm trying to pretend that we're living in the 1940s. (*)

Again, I'd highly recommend reading No Sense of Place to get a better sense of Meyrowitz's argument.

(*) I've never seen "Father Knows Best" myself. But there's a great parody of it in the Fallout 3 teaser trailer.
posted by russilwvong at 2:45 PM on February 3, 2011


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