Chinese Immigrant MotherBy Tina Case of Parent GrapevineTina first published this article as Are Western Mothers Inferior? on Technorati.
There is no doubt we live in a global society competing with world powers such as India and China. At question is whether our Western way of educating is creating an ineffective and inferior generation of children who will be unable to compete. If our current education system prevails will our society fall further into the recesses of our academic bowels? Recent documentaries underscore our ineffective education system and the academic pressure we place on our children in "Race to Nowhere" and "Waiting for Superman."
Yet study after study (reference the Education Trust) confirms that American students are not prepared to compete internationally in this digital world we live in. So this begs the question, are Chinese mothers superior in terms of how they parent and how they educate their children? After all, how many of us know of a stereotypical Chinese student (and like Amy I use the term "Chinese" loosely to fit other ethnicities) who is top in their class and class valedictorian?
At first blush many Westerners will be aghast at Amy Chua's essay which is an excerpt from her book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" (to be released Tuesday by Penguin Press). In her essay she describes an instance where she is working with her 7-year old daughter, Lulu, to master a piano piece called "The Little White Donkey" by Jacques Ibert.
Many children, let alone adults, cannot master this difficult piece because the two hands play at rhythmically different paces. In Amy's recollection she describes how she drilled her daughter nonstop for a week (for hours at a time) to her daughter's complete and utter exasperation. At one point Lulu punched, kicked, and tore up the musical score to shreds. Amy taped up the pieces and encased it in a plastic sleeve so it could not be destroyed again. Without missing a beat Amy ordered her daughter back to the piano. She threatened not to feed her, to get rid of her favorite doll house, with no Christmas gifts, and no birthday parties. If any Western mother were to have observed this they would have called their lawyer to sue for child abuse. Amy verbally insulted her daughter, calling her lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
In contrast a Western parent would have consoled their child and decided that such a tantrum and outburst was indicative of their child's lack of innate musical talent. The parent would most likely have given the child a break to shake it off and allowed them to pursue some other activity and praised their child's attempt to "do their best".
But Amy did not relent and continued to coerce her daughter into submission despite her husband running interference for Lulu (her husband is not Chinese by the way). Like a drill sergeant Amy worked Lulu to tears taking out every weapon in the "Chinese Mother" arsenal including lack of bathroom privileges, no food or water and insult upon insult. But don't get me wrong - according to Amy none of this was done without her complete devotion and love for her daughter!
Then out of the tumult of Amy's Chinese Mothering, Lulu miraculously played the piano piece flawlessly. A complete change in Lulu's demeanor overtook both of them. The realization came that what Lulu (and her father) once thought was an utterly impossible piece to play became possible.
It is this example that Amy calls out as the difference between superior and inferior parenting. The Western style of parenting is to coddle the individual, drawing out the child's natural talents and lavishing them with praise to build self-confidence. To Western parents "Bs" and "Cs" are acceptable as long as they feel their child gave it their all. But to a Chinese parent, an "A" is the only acceptable grade because they know all children are capable of superior work. Amy's belief is a Chinese mother truly knows greatness is possible for their children and it is their duty to draw (even threaten) it out of them.
Amy wants to expose Westerners to what goes on behind the closed doors of the Chinese mother's home and the extreme love behind this methodology. There's nothing a Chinese mother wouldn't do for their child. And at the heart of this ancient way of parenting is the complete love and belief in the child. And a side effect of this style is the child's devotion to the parent. The cycle of guiltful and dutiful love persists.
But how long can either methodology be sustained? In China, an educational revolution is beginning to create a paradigm shift which may be reflective of the growing wealth of the middle class and their Cultural Revolution upbringing. Parenting books that teach the Western style of praise and that encourage independent thinking and self-confidence are flying off the bookshelves (including "A Good Mom is Better than a Teacher" and "My Kid is a Medium Ranking Student"). Western influence is slowly gaining upon a society that has thrived on the importance of filial piety for millennium.
Somewhere in between is the answer to both the Eastern and Western way of education. In the West, more rigor needs to be reinstated and more importantly, a closer look at our public school system where the power of teacher unions does not perpetuate the bureaucratic ineffectiveness and allows for superior teachers to be paid accordingly. Before you rebuke Amy's parenting style, give it a day to ponder because there's no doubt it has proven results. I just wonder how her children will grow up and raise their own children?
How did you react to Amy's essay? What questions does this raise to you about your parenting style and our American education system?
(Reference the provocative article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" by Amy Chua).
Tina Case is third generation Chinese, raised by a Chinese mother who was the first in her family to graduate from an Ivy League school. Tina's oldest brother is a brain surgeon (neurologist), second brother is a rocket scientist (aeronautical engineer), older sister has a PhD in Linguistics and Tina is the runt of the family with merely two bachelor degrees, one in Art and the other in Computer Science. She did graduate Summa Cum Laude. She is happily raising her three daughters with a Western style of parenting. The photo is of Tina's maternal grandmother, Mary Lum.