Friday, January 21, 2011

Friday Links: Tiger Moms and Pseudoscience Rants

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.)


  1. Hey - it's Tim Minchin! He's originally from Perth (I'm pretty sure I saw him in some university dramatic society production when I was at uni) He's pretty generally amusing - loved the beat poem. Thanks for putting the link up.

    Yeah, homeopathy. Load of bollocks in my opinion.

  2. Yesterday on Ask Moxie was the first time I had heard about this Tiger Mom phenomenon. I'm embarrassed that I'm so out of touch! Anyway, my quick take on it, without having actually read the book, is that right now the cultural zeitgeist seems to be to applaud parents who are very aggressive and have a combative, take-no-prisoners style. We saw it in the "Blind Side" movie with the Sandra Bullock character who threatened gang bangers who were harassing her son. This seems to reflect what is "cool" right now for parents to act like - to come after somebody with proverbial guns blazing, and to believe your child's account of events 100% of the time, unquestioningly, and to meddle in their affairs unapologetically. It just seems so childish, so about having poor boundaries, and oh so out of touch with the actual reality of how people tend to respond IRL to being yelled at by a stranger.

    I know personally that every time (maybe 4 times) someone has raised their voice to me in a professional situation that I have responded by passive-aggressively making things very hard for them - losing paperwork on purpose, not taking phone messages for them, etc etc. And I know that in a school environment, I would never want to be the child of a parent "like that," because at least karmically even nice people would be wishing for the parent and or their poor kid to fail. Harsh but true.

    And I cringe at the problematic "Dragon Lady" stereotyping this book is certainly going to encourage. Ugh.

    I think it is cool that Pumpkin is learning Chinese - certainly quite a plus in a wonderfully-diverse place like California. Glad you are seeing the anti-China hysteria for what it is (says the woman who speaks Japanese because everyone was so sure about their future dominance.)

  3. Oh, good, now I don't have to write on this because you did :)

    Brooks' piece really spoke to me. Because my mom was not at all a "Chinese mom"--she wanted me to excel, but in things of my choosing--although she was a very, very firm advocate for me all the way through school. However, all the book smarts in the world could not save me from a very rough junior adolesence (5-6th grade). I'm sure she would have helped me if she could have, but of course I didn't tell her half of what was going on. Raising your kids in a little rarified bubble of academics and music isn't going to help them negotiate the world of jr high, high school, college, work, etc.


Sorry for the CAPTCHA, folks. The spammers were stealing too much of my time.