January 14, 2011
Law Professor Mom Sparks National Parenting Debate
Posted by Christine Hurt

Wow.  Nothing gets people's dander up like talking in normative terms about parenting.  Everyone parents differently, and everyone is convinced their way is the right way, or they wouldn't do it that way. 

So, you may have caught part or all of the controversy started by Yale Professor Amy Chua's essay "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" in the weekend WSJ.  (Note the thousands of comments to the piece.)The piece is part of an upcoming book titled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," so the essay title may have been added by the WSJ.  The NYT has collected some rebuttals here.

Read the whole essay.  I think I may surprise some folks (I certainly surprised my colleagues) by saying I loved it.  Prof. Chua is my hero.  I would love to be, as she has coined the persona, a "Chinese Mother."  I am the spineless "Western Mother" who would love to incentivize her extremely bright and capable children to new heights, but constantly wimps out for fear of "putting pressure on them."  I have no fortitude.  I wimp out because I don't want my kids to hate me, and I don't want them to "get a complex."  I have no idea what that means, but I do not want to be the kind of mom that gives kids a complex.  However, Prof. Chua has no qualms.  She believes in her children, and believes that her strictness will bring about success and her children's pride in their accomplishments.  She thinks this is a better outcome than letting kids lead lives of mediocrity with no pressure.  (I believe in Reviving Ophelia, the author has to admit that the daughters she studied in the homes with the most love and the most rules seemed to be very well-adjusted.)  So, to the over 5000 commenters to this essay, I say that I think my children would do better if I were a little more Tiger Mother-like.

Also, I think she's hilarious and an exceptional writer.  If you didn't catch the humor, then re-read please.  This part made me laugh out loud.

Third, Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children's own desires and preferences. That's why Chinese daughters can't have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can't go to sleepaway camp. It's also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, "I got a part in the school play! I'm Villager Number Six. I'll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I'll also need a ride on weekends." God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.

As a mom who has spent two summers chauffering 2/20 of the community theater ensemble, I hear ya.

I will say I have one point to ponder.  Chua's anecdote about forcing her younger daughter to practice a piano piece over and over for hours and hours until it was perfect has a happy ending.  However, if that same anecdote was about a father forcing his child to shoot baskets until he/she got 25, 50 or 100 in a row, wouldn't that be creepy?  Tim McGraw in Friday Night Lights creepy?  Wouldn't we say that the dad was not only abusive but also sort of backwater in thinking that shooting baskets was an important skill?  Is it different because we think that making music is of higher utility than basketball?  But aren't the odds of having a career as a concert pianist and a basketball player similarly slim?  OK, just thought I would throw that out there, knowing that my own child has not practiced the piano since Monday's lesson.

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