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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.


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!