I suppose by now that just about everyone has heard about the Tiger Mother furor. (If you haven't, here is the book excerpt in the Wall Street Journal that started it all and a subsequent interview with Amy Chua, the author, which softens the excerpt a bit.) The reactions are all over the place-I even found a piece on it when I opened this week's Economist! That piece points out that this book (or really, the excerpt that everyone has read) is arriving on the scene at a time when we Americans are more than a little nervous about the rise of China- I can't tell you the number of people who tell us, upon hearing that Pumpkin is taking Chinese lessons, that we're smart to do that, since "we'll all be working for them someday".
What? Really? I actually don't think any one nationality is going to be "on top" in the future- I think we're moving toward a world in which there is a more level playing field. Some bosses will be Chinese, some will be Indian, and some will still be American, English, etc. We're giving Pumpkin (very low key) Chinese lessons because we wanted to give her a chance to learn a tonal language while she still can, and because she seems to really enjoy learning words in any language. We chose Chinese because I had a friend who had already arranged everything. We're happy with that choice because the size of the population speaking (and learning) Chinese means that there are a reasonable amount of materials available to help.
David Brooks has the best response I've seen to the "China is going to eat our lunch!" hysteria around the Amy Chua book. (I found his article via the interesting posts about the subject on HapaMama's blog.) Maybe it is the fact that I clearly remember a similar hysteria about Japan when I was in junior high and high school, but I can't get too worked up about this. I like Mr. Brooks' point about the importance of learning how to interact in groups, though. Maybe I should print it out to read to myself the next time I am freaking out about Pumpkin's interactions with her preschool classmates at day care.
I've read a lot of thoughtful responses to the parenting style aspect of Ms. Chua's writing. Perhaps my favorite of those is from Bad Mom, Good Mom. I really like her mother's interpretation of the Chinese adage that "when you raise a dragon, expect to get singed". I also liked this response, with an emphasis on some of the benefits of a more permissive parenting approach. The same author, who writes a blog about what science tells us about parenting, has a good round-up of what parenting styles and methods research says tend to work best.
According to a lot of the commentary, a lot of us "Western Moms" feel threatened by what Ms. Chua has written. I honestly don't think I am. I can't imagine parenting in the way Ms. Chua describes- it definitely wouldn't work for us, because I couldn't do it with any conviction. Maybe we have different goals. She is right that I don't place as much emphasis on the traditional indicators of success as she does. After all, I once shocked my more traditional classmates in college by turning down offers of graduate positions at Stanford and Caltech to go to a graduate school that was just starting out and was a bit of an unknown. (Full disclosure: it had excellent faculty and no one laughs at the source of my PhD now.) Beyond that, though, I wouldn't say that raising "successful" kids is my goal. My goal is raising kids who grow into happy adults, contributing to society in whatever way best suits them. Sure, I hope for a certain amount of success for them, but only because that will usually bring enough money to be comfortable and enough status to feel happy.
What makes me most sad about this discussion, though, is the charge I've seen raised on both sides, that the other type of parents just don't love their children as much. Wow. I doubt that is true. It is a very inflammatory comment, because implying that people in another culture or ethnicity don't love their children as much as "we" do makes it easier to demonize that other group of people. I think the truth is that almost all parents love their children with a force that is as strong as it is universal and difficult to describe. The world would be a much better place if we could all take a step back from the various conflicts that we're involved in and remind ourselves that the people on the other side love their kids just as much as we love ours.
That was a lot longer than I intended it to be when I sat down to post a few links!
Let's end with something fun. Well, unless you believe in homeopathy, in which case you probably won't like this. But I thought it was pretty funny and watched it all the way to the end, which I rarely do with videos I find on the internet, especially ones that run for 10 minutes:
(Huh. That is coming out very tiny. I think I need to mess with my template some more. Meanwhile, here is a link to watch it on YouTube. I found this via a post from Dr. Isis.)