Saturday, June 18, 2011

Responding to the Tiger Mom

Amy Chua, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

This is a hard book to analyze.
Chua is right that her daughters could not have achieved the level of excellence that they did if she had not pushed them very hard. What she does not offer any real account of is why she chose those things – piano, violin, and schoolwork (content never addressed) – as the kinds of excellences to insist on. She says her acid test that Chinese parenting is best is the reverence that Chinese adults have for their parents. But she admits that this only works when it does.

Chinese motherhood works best when motherhood is the mother’s only job. How she sustained her demanding career while investing in these insane levels of watching and pushing her kids is hard to understand. I don’t know how she had enough hours.

She says what she likes about the violin and classical music is that is hard, has clear high standards, and offers control. It is not clear why she disdains sports, which is what most demanding Western parents focus on. It is not clear to me why it does not occur to her to focus the same attention on the intellectual subjects that any member of her family – herself, her husband, or her father, most obviously – made a career of. Her sister appears to have approached her career with full attention, which is a counterpart of her father’s career.

I think Chua does not take her own intellectual work with the same seriousness that she takes her daughter’s music. She only mentions her books as an angle for a successful career that would have her at the same place as her husband. She never mentions her teaching, and only barely mentions her students.

I think the hidden critical edge of this book is that she thinks brilliant Western academics – her peers, teachers, and competitors – fail if they merely succeed in their careers, but do not have hugely successful and obedient children. She seems to assume that Western kids will be lame. She gives us tantalizing hints that her career is, in fact, successful – which she passes off with admirable Western casualness – around the edges of how hard she works on her children.

This is why I want the tiger mom to make a case for why this content – any content – is worth that level of insane intensity and unpleasant social relations.

No comments: