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Thoughts on Tiger Mom February 20, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Books, Parenting, Schools.
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As promised in my previous post, I am now writing my thoughts about Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. Like many people, I was horrified when I read an excerpt from her book titled Why Chinese Mothers are Superior. Later I read another article maintaining that Chua’s book was not a how to manual but a memoir and that the article strung things together to make the book seem worse than it really was. I thought of recent events such as the unfair persecution of Shirley Sherrod when her words were deliberately taken out of context and decided to read the book for myself.

Honestly, the first article gave a pretty good overview of what you will find in the rest of the book. Yes, it was a memoir and Chua’s methods did blow up in her face, yet her conclusion seemed to be more that her draconian methods worked well for her older daughter, Sophia, but not for her younger daughter, Lulu. Then it changed to that her methods worked for Lulu, but in a round about way.

Throughout the book Chua employs abusive, torturous methods to ensure that her daughters succeed. When she sits down with three-year-old Lulu to teach her to play the piano, and Lulu acts like a typical three-year-old and bangs away at the keys, Chua throws her outside in New England in the dead of winter in the snow. The girls had to practice their instruments every day for many hours a day. Chua reported that if they were sick, they still had to practice. One girls had dental surgery and she still had to practice. Chua would be over their shoulder the whole time screaming abuse (Sophia’s lists of what Chua said when she was practicing was disheartening to read). Even on vacations, they still had to practice. For her birthday when four-year-old Lulu and seven-year-old Sophia give her homemade cards, Chua rejects the cards saying the girls put little thought into them and she expected better.

She justifies this by saying that when the girls’ grandmother died they composed beautiful speeches for her funeral because she made them give her good birthday cards. Never mind the fact that the girls were grieving and said they didn’t want to write and give a speech. And never mind the fact that Chua made 12 year-old Sophia throw out her first draft, saying it was no good, and insisted on a better one.

The litany of abuses is long. And while the book is a memoir as opposed to a how-to manual, you never get the sense that Chua regrets her methods. When Lulu completely rebels (gee, who saw that coming?) by throwing glasses in a restaurant in Moscow Chua finally backs down and lets Lulu quit the violin. Lulu decides she doesn’t want to completely quit (ie, playing thirty minutes a day instead of 5 hours) and that she wants to play tennis as well. When Lulu’s tennis instructor comments that he’s never seen anyone improve as fast as Lulu and that she knows how to drill, Chua seems to take this as proof that her methods worked in a round about way, that she taught Lulu how to work hard and that she just needed to let her have some control.

Like myself, a lot of Western readers were also uncomfortable with the contempt she had for Western parenting techniques. Though she plays lip service to the idea that anyone can be a Chinese mother and Western parent, it’s obvious that she doesn’t really feel that way. Now, I think some of it is reactive. She most likely grew up hearing people criticize her parents for how she was raised, and then as an adult met with criticism about how she raised her daughters. As a result, she criticizes the “lax” Western ways that lead to kids playing Wii all day. She really doesn’t do herself a lot of favors, though.

Especially because as she stereotypes Western parenting methods as weak and permissive, she stereotypes “Chinese” ones as strict and abusive.

I remember when I first started watching a lot of Japanese anime. I was surprised by how many focused on a character who didn’t do well in school. Used to be when I thought of Japan I thought of a place where everyone must make straight As. Turns out, like in the west, there are students who make straight A, students who make Bs, and those who fail school. There are some who drop out of school all together. Like students in the west they run the gamut, even though as a whole they test better than us. I imagine the same is true for China.

And from the studies I’ve read the higher test scores do not result from abusive parenting, but from other factors, some of which Chua does employ but doesn’t seem to pay much mind to. In the West, people’s abilities tend to be seen as fixed. When a kid does well on a test, we tell him/her that s/he is so smart. In the East, parents tend to remark that s/he worked hard studying for a test. The difference is subtle but leads to startling results when the child has a hard time with a subject.

In the West, when a child has difficultly with a subject s/he tends to assume it’s because s/he isn’t smart or that s/he is no good at the subject and gives up. In the East, s/he assumes that s/he isn’t working hard enough and puts more effort into it.

The other thing they do in the East is use preschool as a time to learn about how to be a student. In the West we tend to see preschool as a time for kids to get ahead by learning their ABCs and how to do math. The thing is, sitting and listening, developing skills, taking notes, doing homework, etc are not things that children instinctively know how to do. Like ABCs and 1, 2, 3s, they have to be taught…preferably before you get to the ABCs. Hence children in the East are given lessons on how to be a good student while in the West we throw our children into the water without teaching them how to swim.

Chua employed both of the above methods with her daughters. Which is great. And along the way she threw in a good deal of torture and abuse. Which isn’t.

And you see plenty of it with Western families. I remember riding in a car with a friend while her mother berated her for not getting As. My friend was humiliated, especially to have it happen in front of an audience. I’ve seen my fair share of Western parents employ authoritarian techniques on their children. And throughout the book I was reminded of the concept of the stage mother, a western concept.

Like plenty of Western parents, Chua believed erroneously that she could force her daughters to do anything she wanted them to do. At least Chua came to realize that she couldn’t. Most authoritarian parents never do. It’s unfortunate that she only came to this realization after spending seventeen years of Sophia’s life and thirteen years of Lulu’s utilizing harsh, draconian techniques.


Oh Those Teachers! February 16, 2011

Posted by frrobins in Books, Memories, Personal, Schools.
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I’ve been reading the infamous Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. For those not familiar with the book, Chua caused quite a stir when an excerpt from her book was published maintaining that Chinese parenting methods are superior. To many readers, Chua’s methods didn’t seem superior, they seemed authoritarian and abusive. Later another article was published saying that Chua’s words were taken out of context to be far worse than it actually was. So I decided to read it for myself and see. I’m almost done and will have more thoughts on that later. One thing that really jumped at me in her book, though, is her criticism of “Western” parents for siding with their children rather than teachers.

According to her, if a Western child gets poor grades, parents blame the teacher. If a “Chinese” child does, then the parents work that much harder with the child. You never criticize the teacher. Ever.

I do know of parents who seemed unable to believe that their child was anything less than perfect and did, as Chua maintained, unfairly blame the teacher. Yet they were in the minority. If anything my experience has been that sometimes parents aren’t complaining enough.

There are a lot of good teachers out there. And there are some teachers that shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a classroom. When I was in junior high, there were several teachers who fit the bill. Perhaps the worst was the one I was fortunate only to hear about as I was not in his class. Though I knew to stay far away from his classroom. You were liable to be hit by a flying book traveling out of the classroom through the door and into the hall. I wish I were joking.

Yes, he threw books. He threw pens, pencils, chalk, erasers, papers, anything on his desk, anything he could find. He was known for manhandling students in a fit of anger. Anger management was apparently something he was quite unfamiliar with. What’s amazing is that for two of the three years I was at that school, he was there. During my last year in junior high, either the school wised up to the fact that he was a law suit waiting to happen or a parent did finally complain, because he was gone and good riddance. Last I checked, students don’t learn well in an environment where the teacher could physically harm them at any minute.

Another teacher, Coach H., was one I was not so lucky to miss out on. Supposedly, the class I was taking from him was Texas history. I say supposedly because I learned very little about Texas history in his class. On the first day of class he talked about actors, actresses and athletes who were from Texas (half of whom he just happened to know and be friends with, of course). And we had to memorize trivia about these famous people because there would be a quiz on them. Yup, Texas history of the modern rich and famous.

Then there were the movies. He showed us The Birds. No, this was not a nature documentary about the native birds of Texas, but the Alfred Hitchcock movie. It’s a good movie. I have no idea what it has to do with Texas history. May be one of the actors was from Texas. Another movie we watched was The Bad Seed. Once again, no idea about how this movie relates to Texas history.

He showed us Dallas Cowboy football games. While I see the connection, I somehow doubt that the school board this in mind when drafting the curriculum.

When he wasn’t showing us movies and sports games, he was using the classroom as a pulpit to expose his views on just about everything. He talked about how school prayer should be allowed and how the horrible liberals would take the pledge away. He maintained that a woman could be as ugly as hell, but if she was a good cook she would be able to bag herself a man. After flaunting that bit of sexism, he then asked “How many of you GIRLS can cook?” and went around the classroom interrogating each girl on what she could cook and giving disapproving looks to the ones who couldn’t cook much. He then asked the ones who could cook to demonstrate their knowledge by taking everyone step by step on how to make spaghetti with homemade sauce. If someone can see the connection to Texas history, please let me know because I can’t.

Now while I think it’s important for children to be exposed to other points of view, the teacher should not act as the arbiter of the “correct” view vs “incorrect” view. There’s a difference between facilitating a discussion between students and spouting off your own views while disparaging other points of view. Let’s just say I was often very uncomfortable in his class.

The closest he came to talking about Texas history was when he talked about the hard life of a cattle rancher. And his idea of teaching was, after the whole class had failed a test, having us spend a class period reading and re-reading the same chapter over and over.

For another assignment he wanted us to draw a map of the United States. Why, I don’t know, but he gave a long speech on how he didn’t want a rush job (though he only gave us a few days to complete it). Well, I can’t draw. It’s something I REALLY wanted to be able to do. I took classes when I was in elementary school and practiced a lot. However, I have a spectrum of learning disabilities, several of which affect my fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. I never got good at it. I spent hours drawing the map. I worked really hard on it. I thought it turned out well all things considered.

I guess he didn’t. He turned it back into me with “Rush job!” written across it. Which smacked. He had no way of really knowing how long I spent on it. And it still didn’t have anything to do with Texas history.

My grades suffered. Usually history was one of my best subjects. And my grades in other courses remained good. From what I related to them, it wasn’t too hard for my parents to believe that I had a dud teacher. They complained and asked for me to be placed in a different class.

I remember the skepticism directed at me by my new history teacher. She believed I was the problem, not Coach H. I actively participated in her class. I got good grades. Half way through the sixth week grading period when progress reports were sent out, I had an A in her class. She wrote on the report that my grades were based on daily work only, no tests. When I was finally tested it didn’t matter. I still had an A. And for the rest of the year I made an A in her class. I don’t know what she eventually made of me, but I do know I was lucky to be out of his class. One of my friends wasn’t so lucky.

Her mother complained, but for whatever reason she had a harder time getting her daughter out of Couch H.’s class. And Coach H. started to target her in class, playing himself as a victim of her persecution. What is ironic is that while he was targeting my friend for having a parent who complained about him, he spent quite a lot of his class time talking about how his childrens’ teachers were so unfair to them and how he had to constantly go up there and correct those errant teachers!

Yes, Coach H. was a piece of work. Eventually we learned that he got transferred to another school…one where the parents would be less likely to complain.

As I mentioned above, I’ve seen teachers unfairly singled out by the irate parent who thinks that his/her precious darling couldn’t have possibly gotten a failing grade. And I’ve seen parents stay quiet when they should complain. Me and every other student in Coach H.’s were not learning about history. And without our input, nothing would have changed.

I find myself wondering what Tiger Mom would have done if Coach H. had taught one of her daughters. I doubt that she would have been thrilled with her girls watching football games when they should be learning about Stephen F. Austin. I wonder if she would have asked for them to be moved to a different class or if she would have told them to suck it up and memorize which cities Phylicia Rashād and Nolan Ryan are from. And if the latter, I wonder what would have been gained.

If You Can Teach An Old Dog, Why Not Humans? September 6, 2010

Posted by Bill in Animals, Books, Uncategorized.
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Parade Magazine had an article on 8/15/10 about the rehabilitation of the Vick dogs. I had already read a little about this in the book Dogtown, which I wrote about in an earlier blog. What struck me as I read Dogtown and again as I read the article in Parade is how the animal workers did what was thought to be impossible– they took dogs of a bully breed- pit bulls- who had been raised and contained in horrible circumstances as fighting dogs or as bait dogs, and rehabilitated them into companion animals or service animals. Of the 51 dogs seized from the Vick farm, all but 2 have been rehabilitated.

It was not cheap to do this. U.S. District Court Judge Henry E. Hudson ordered that almost $1 million of the Vick money be set aside for the rescue and rehabilitation of the dogs. The ASPCA assembled a team of animal behavior experts to evaluate the dogs, and the animals were individually assessed and treated.

I am in awe that there are people who cared enough not to let these dogs be destroyed, cared enough to turn these dogs into loving companions, service animals and family pets. It would have been very easy to say that these animals could not be rehabilitated, to order their destruction and not give it a second thought, however the judge and the animal workers involved chose not to take the easy road, and their rewards were infinitely greater.

Which leads me to wonder why we cannot do the same with humans. In 2008, there were 2,304,115 people incarcerated in jails and prisons in the United States at a total cost of approximately $36 billion per year, a cost of about $15,624 per prisoner per year. To rehab the Vick dogs cost about $20,408 per dog. What if we were to apply the same sort of rehab philosophy toward human prisoners as was applied to the Vick dogs? What if instead of merely incarcerating prisoners, we took a real stab at rehabilitation? Not the joke that passes for rehabilitation today but a real effort that treats each prisoner as an individual person with individual needs and not a number. With almost 7 out of 10 male prisoners returning to prison within 3 years of their release, what we are doing is obviously not working.

Obviously it’s much easier just to lock the criminals away and throw away the key, but in so doing, we are also locking away potential. Individual assessments and rehabilitation plans, addressing the issues that made these people turn to crime in the first place might go a long way toward turning them around and making them into productive members of society. We’ve shown it can be done with dogs that most people thought could not be saved. Why can’t we do it for people as well?

Love Moments September 12, 2009

Posted by Bill in Audio Books, Books, Memories, Mystery Books, Personal.
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I’m listening to Step on a Crack by James Patterson on audio. I’m enjoying the book- I almost always enjoy James Patterson. It’s a pretty good thriller about a group of celebrities that are taken hostage and held for ransom in a New York church a couple of days before Christmas. The main character is New York City Detective Michael Bennett, who unwittingly finds himself cast as the Hostage Negotiator at a time when he is dealing with his own personal tragedy- his wife and the mother of his ten children is in the hospital dying of cancer.

It is the scenes of Bennett with his wife and children that I find the most compelling as he tries to grasp the reality that his wife is dying and that he will soon have to face life without her. Her death is not some distant specter in the future- it is here. It is now, and any time he leaves her it is entirely too possible that he may never see her again.

As he is thinking about his life with her, his memory returns not to the milestone moments such as their wedding or when he proposed to her, but to the memories of times they spent together doing what were, to them ordinary things, but were done in such a way as to define their relationship with each other.

(Oh man, I started this blog intending to write about one thing, but I see it is heading somewhere else. Okay, Guess I’ll see what happens with it- but I’ll probably have to change the title.)

Bennett remembers how, in the early days of their marriage, he and Maeve would go on junk food runs to the grocery store and would come home and watch old movies and eat junk food. He reminds his wife of this when he smuggles a cheeseburger into her hospital room and they sit and watch an old movie.

When Bill and I were first married, I was still in school and we had no money. (Of course, we have no money now, even though we’ve been married almost 30 years, however I’m not in school anymore. ) Since we only had one car, he would run home at lunch, pick me up and drop me off at my workplace, then come back at the end of the day and hang around waiting for me to get off work so we could ride home together.  On the way home we would stop at McDonald’s and go through the drive through and buy ice cream cones. At the time, McDonald’s sold them for five cents each so for ten cents, Bill and I would have our dessert– and depending how close to payday it was, our evening meal.

Those are love moments– times that a couple shares together that are special to them and that would not have the same meaning for anybody else.  Most couples have lots of love moments because those are what build the framework of the relationship. When we were dating, Bill and I used to go to the Denny’s by my apartment and order french fries and a chocolate shake. We had the same waitress every time, and she always thought that was the weirdest thing to order, but it made perfect sense to us (and still does actually!)

So I can really identify with the Bennett character in Patterson’s book because I can see that Patterson, too, understands the concept of love moments. Occasionally Bill and I relive those love moments by running through the drive through at McDonald’s and ordering ice cream cones. Although they cost more than a nickel now, they are still a pretty good bargain– and nowadays they come dipped in chocolate too!

The First Law by John Lescoart August 31, 2009

Posted by Bill in Audio Books, Books, Mystery Books.
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Right now I’m listening to The First Law by John Lescoart on audio. If I’m listening to something on audio, it needs to be REALLY riveting to keep my attention. I’m finally getting into this one, but it took me about 2 hours of listening to get to the riveting part, which is too long. And I find the reader to be a distraction- he sounds like Barney Rubble with a cold. But now that I’m into it, I’m enjoying the book enough that I would read another one of the Dismas Hardy/Abe Glitzky series. Don’t know if I would LISTEN to it though.

Later: I’m really getting into the book now– I’ve gotten to the stage where I carry my audio player around and listen to the book whenever I get a chance. It’s very intricately plotted and frustrating as hell. The question it asks is how do you trust the system when the system doesn’t work?


It takes place in San Francisco where a private security agency has started a protection racket, in the course of which they kill somebody and frame someone else for the murder. They then guide the police investigation into the murder, so the police unwittingly end up protecting the killers. Attorney Dismas Hardy and his friend, Police Lieutenant Abe Glitzky try to find the real killers but are hampered by the police department, the district attorney- in fact, by the system that is supposed to make sure justice is served. So far, they’ve been playing by the book, but what do you do when your opponent tosses the book out the window?

Right now they are in hiding because the baddies have threatened their families. I’m betting they are going to step outside the law as their only recourse, since staying within the law hasn’t done much for them. It’s very exciting at this point, so much so that I almost don’t notice the annoying reader any more. I’ll definitely read another book in this series– but I’ll probably get the print version.

Still Later: Okay, I’ve finished the book. I found the ending to be disappointing, and sad. Some characters that I liked died and the situation was not resolved into a neat little package. I know that it is a more realistic ending, but I wanted the satisfaction of seeing all the people within the police department and the DA’s office who refused to listen to Glitzky and Hardy admit that they were wrong and that they should have listened to the two of them. The families are still in danger because the big bad guy is still loose and is madder than ever.

I’d still read another book by Lescoart. He says in his notes at the end that this is different from the type of book he normally writes. I liked this one okay so I have hopes that I will like the other books in the series even more.