Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Pushing Kids Toward Individual vs. Social Excellence

David Brooks has an interesting reply to Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother." Chua wrote that she pushes her kids hard to master skills such as mathematical calculation and musical performance, harder than other American mothers do. Brooks notes that there has been some fussing against her for being too hard on her kids. He, by contrast, is critical because she does not push her kids enough to learn the harder, social skills.

The book read by all first-year students at Centre this year was John Pomfret's Chinese Lessons. Pomfret first studied in China in the early 1980s. His fellows students remembered the worst days of the communist terror of the Cultural Revolution, and the long gray years of forced collective action afterwards. Pomfret was surprised to find that Chinese people were not inclined to do things collectively - they were much more individualistic than the supposedly individualist Americans, whenever the government let them be.

Putting these two stories together, I see Chua's fascinating piece differently than I did at first. I read her willingness to push her children to strenuous individual achievement as a feature of being closer to the immigrant generation than most Americans are. Now, though, I think Chua's particular kind of achievement push is more Chinese-American than it is just immigrant. She pushes her kids to individual effort, where other upper-middle class American parents push their kids to team achievement.

And the great ecology of America benefits from both kinds of skills, and both kinds of parental pressure.


Victoria Wheeler said...

Could we get an example of team-driven excellence, or the American way? I'm not entirely sure what you mean.

Caity said...

I'm glad you posted on this, Dr. Weston. My dad and I have been trading these articles back and forth and find it to be an interesting discussion. Ultimately, I thought that Chua explained all the ways that the Chinese Mother is indeed different from the Western mother, but to say she is 'better' is ridiculous. She didn't make that case, in my opinion. And I like the David Brooks follow-up article saying that social skills are the harder skills to have. However, I've known several people that grew up with the Chinese mother (although they were Indian) and despite the fact that they weren't allowed to attend sleep-overs, still turned out to be VERY social, very successful doctors. :)

Gruntled said...

Victoria: Chua's examples, to which Brooks responds, are sleepovers and team sports. Chua also includes plays among the things banned.

Caitlin: I thought Chua's original article had a self-mocking undertone. I have heard that Chua says the Wall Street Journal article took the harshest examples from the book. The other theme of the book is that she was not able or willing to pull off the full Chinese mother drill, as her mother did, especially with her less-compliant second child. And that that is OK.