January 17, 2011
The Selling of Amy Chua
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Like many Glommers, I've been following with interest the debate sparked by Amy Chua's Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior piece.  See here to get up to speed via the WSJ's Law Blog which gives a shout out to our own Christine Hurt's post.  I'd read the original article with interest.  A child of Indian parents raised in the West (thank you, Fulbright), I felt a guilty thrill at Chua's criticism of overly permissive Western parents.  But I held off from blogging about it.  Did the blogosphere really need yet another tale of immigrant parental virtue?  Probably not, especially since my parents practiced a kind of benign neglect approach to parenting: send your child to an all-girls Catholic school, and as long as she's bringing home As, what's to worry?  Still, I was in awe of Chua's willingness to tell Western parents to take their child-self-esteem-centric parenting and shove it.

But this weekend's Journal has spurred me to blog.  The WSJ is clearly alive to a good thing it's got going, and this weekend it featured a response from Ayelet Wardman (ironic, given her current role as child-champion is that Waldman is infamous in the mommy wars for declaring that she loved her husband more than her children).  It also offered a few of the more than 5,700 comments the article had generated. Finally, in The Tiger Mother Talks Back, Chua revealed:

1. "I don’t believe, by the way, that Chinese parenting is superior—a splashy headline, but I didn’t choose it."

2. "It doesn’t come through in the excerpt, but my actual book is not a how-to guide; it’s a memoir, the story of our family’s journey in two cultures, and my own eventual transformation as a mother."

3. "I certainly made mistakes and have regrets—my book is a kind of coming-of-age book (for the mom!), and the person at the beginning of the book, whose voice is reflected in the Journal excerpt, is not exactly the same person at the end of book. In a nutshell, I get my comeuppance; much of the book is about my decision to retreat (but only partially) from the strict immigrant model."

I'm left wondering if Chua is extremely savvy or naive.  I'm leaning towards the former. She's a Yale Law professor, after all.  Even if she didn't choose the combative title to the original piece, she agreed to it.  I'm  left feeling puzzled and cheated by her response of: "no, I don't really think this anymore." Well, why did you sign your name to it, then?  Stridency and extremism sell, of course, and her new book will obviously profit from the controversy.  But Chua seems to want to have her cake (controversy) and eat it too (of course I'm not that strict!  What am I, crazy?).  The WSJ is clearly happy with the debate it's sparked, but much of the bite of the original polemic seems to have been manufactured.   And that makes me like it, and Chua, a little bit less.

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