Lay Off Amy Chua

Last week the whole e-Parenting world was abuzz and ablaze after an excerpt of Amy Chau’s book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother was printed by the WSJ under the title “Why Chinese Mothers Superior.” In it, Ms. Chua describes how she would make her children practice piano and violin for hours on end every day, would not allow them to have sleepovers or play dates, no TV or computer games, participate in drama productions in school, OR complain about not being able to participate in drama or having to practice piano for hours on end.

She describes the difference between Chinese and Western parenting styles, saying:

Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight As. Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best. Chinese parents can say, “You’re lazy. All your classmates are getting ahead of you.” By contrast, Western parents have to struggle with their own conflicted feelings about achievement, and try to persuade themselves that they’re not disappointed about how their kids turned out.

She also says that Western parents are obsessed with the American concept of individuality and the average American mother considers herself ‘strict’ if she forces her child to practice a discipline, any discipline, for 30 minutes a day. You’ll have to read the article yourself (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html)  to judge how you feel about the ‘Chinese method’. After this article was published, Ms Chua’s in-box was flooded with angry emails and even some death threats. Really? She was raising musical prodigies born of her own womb, not the imbecilic inbred offspring who I AM SURE are the issue of the only boneheads who would make death threats to a woman discussing her child rearing choices.

The bad thing about the American media is that everyone forms an opinion and spouts it as gospel without ever doing their due diligence. The WSJ chose the headline and most likely the most controversial excerpt of the book. They may have even piecemealed several excerpts together to arrive at the final column – who knows? True to form, other bottom feeding bloggers took excerpts of THAT piece and assailed Ms. Chua for calling her children garbage and asserting that she routinely insulted them to get results. Clearly that is not the case, but it makes for more sensational reading, doesn’t it? One blogger proudly espoused that she makes sure that her children are well rounded and enjoy all types of activities, particularly drama.

“My son was even cast in an improve sketch in a local theater”, she wrote.

A witty commenter on her page shot back:

“Sounds to me like you would have benefitted from Ms. Chua’s parenting style yourself. Perhaps you meant ‘improv’? Try reading over your work.”

For my own part, I see the value in Amy Chua’s strict parenting style and instilling a sense of discipline in her children. While I myself could never go so far because I simply don’t have the TIME to hawk over my daughter for 3 hours while she clumsily played Chopin, I have taken a portion of her method in not allowing my children to give up and to do their personal best.

My daughter 4 year old Aya is a weepy, sensitive child. At the slightest challenge, she bursts into tears and proclaims that she “CAN’T DO IT!” – whatever ‘it’ is at the moment. In the past, I would tell her it’s okay, pat her head and tell her to lay down and watch TV. ‘It’ could wait.

That was before we went to Ghana (where we all learned a thing or two about real hardship) and before I read the WSJ article the other night.

That evening, unfortunately for Aya, I saw her whole life flash in front of her. It was mediocre at best, because I had never encouraged her to push herself. Uh-uh. Malaka was not having it. She stood in front of me, sobbing because she could not write the number ‘2’.  

“Yes you can, Aya. You CAN write the number 2.”

“No I caaaaan’t,” she sobbed.

“You can sit down and cry about it if you like, but when you’re done, you’re going to get up and write the number ‘2’. Understand?” I was firm and getting little pissed.

She stood there crying and I kept changing Liya’s diaper, giving her minimal eye contact. After sobbing a bit more, she sat at the table and wrote the number ‘2’ again and again until it was perfect. The child can write all her numbers up to 20. That’s why I was pissed that she was crying over the number 2!

This parent is grateful to Amy Chua for sharing her experiences and thoughts as mother. As she said, her book is not a ‘how to’ on parenting. She is merely sharing her insights with a clearly very sensitive American public who cannot STAND to hear that they’re not the best at everything. That data is there folks. The US falls last in the rankings for math and science amongst all the industrial nations. A report came out yesterday that the majority of universities in this country do not teach college students critical thinking and most of them have never written a paper over 20 pages long in their first 3 years. Instead of blasting Chua, why don’t we try taking the meat from the bones, actually read her book without paraphrasing,  and see if it holds any insights into helping our children succeed? I’ve already begun.

Photo source: Assoc. Press

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13 thoughts on “Lay Off Amy Chua

  1. runrettarun

    You know I’m Vietnamese but those the comparison among classmates were used often. It’s tough. And I hate to say it, it worked. While we were Americanized, I saw my Asian classmates succeed and my parents were ok w/ me making Bs & Cs. It’s tough to balance the Eastern and Western in me. But I have to say, Asian bitches be cah-razy.

  2. Khadija

    Well said. Take notes and stop being overly sensative America! Children need structure and discipline and they pay off in the long run. Somebody was shocked when I told them my children attend school seven days per week. Every now and then I let them skip a Sunday or Saturday, but their little asses must get up and go to Makaranta on the weekends! Momma Khadija don’t play that!!!

  3. Morocco

    Okay, I only read a the first two paragraphs and the lady CLEARLY says she is using the terms “loosely.” I’ll come back after I read it in its entirety.

  4. Malaka Post author

    Retta, I can’t even lie – I thought of you when I read this article and wondered HOW in the world your parents let you skate along and not be good at math! My classmate Hanako (from Japan) was awesome at math. Why not you? 😉

    Fab and Khadijah – I know what you mean. Not only did my parents call me ‘useless’ at certain subjects, but my teachers did as well. While Ghanaians are not as strict as this woman (I don’t think) our methods make us far more competitive in the Western world than Westerners themselves. As a culture, we like to be the best academically- or at least talk loud enough to lead others to believe that we know what we’re talking about.
    All of this also begs the question: Do Western parents celebrate/allow for pervasive mediocrity and merely cloak it as “individuality” so that it appears more palatable? Sometimes I think so.

  5. Nana Afoah

    Well said Malaka. My husband and I have been arguing about how to raise the children. I believe in being strict with children and he believes otherwise so needless to say, we have lots of arguments on this point! I will most certainly get her book and see what I can learn from it.

  6. Davida

    This is quite an insightful read, Malaka. I often wonder what sort of parent I’ll be, and since I would ideally like to have six – I reserve the right to reduce the number subject to my experiences with baby number one of course haha – something tells me I better get Ms Chua’s book and keep it handy!

  7. runrettarun

    I think it’s b/c I just didn’t care and they were like, ok so you’re good at English. Let’s roll w/ that and go ahead and drop out of Calc k? HAHAHA

  8. Morocco

    I felt that Amy was just describing her experience and choices as a mother pertaining to her culture. There is a difference between Western and Eastern parenting. While I can’t say that I will adapt any of her practices if it works for her I’m cool with that. She didn’t offend me in the least.

    Coincidentally, my grandmother was from Forrest City, AK and she had a lot of characteristics of the Asian style of parenting, lol

  9. David S.

    Unless one of her kids just won the nobel prize for physics, or wrote a classical piece that made Mozart jump up from the grave to clap, if I were a parent would not duplicate her methods point for point. The mother that makes a kid practice an instrument for hours is as bad as the Dad who makes his kid throw a basketball for hours each day because he believes he’s raising the next Jordan. It’s too focused. A good musician, like a good writer has to actually like their craft not be pushed into it.

    Obviously Amy has a point though. I know something about having parents with high standards, and if I ever have kids, when it comes to their academic development, I will follow the example of my own father. He took 4 of the laziest kids you will ever find anywhere and put them through tough degree programs at competitive universities. Thanks to him, none of us will ever have to worry about being unemployed in our life. He did it, by sometimes knowing more about our curriculum, and what we were studying in school than we did. He also did it by somehow employing espionage tactics that the CIA would do well to emulate. The whole time I was at Accra Aca and GIS, I never quite figured out how my dad would find out when I bombed a test before I told him, sometimes before I even got the test paper back. He made me scared to do poorly on tests, and scared to piss off any teachers in case they were the ones spying for him. I grew up as one of the few kids I knew whose parents spent more money on books for us than toys or clothes. We had a mini library in our room, and because our tv watching time was limited, I ended up reading a large number of those books. When other kids were out playing during vacations we were inside doing math problems, or writing book reports that we had to complete before he got home in the evening or there would be a caning. My dad did these things because he believes grades are more important than anything else in the life of a kid or teenager, more important than a social life, sports, clothes, and all the other crap that teenagers stress about. I used to hate the things my dad did when I was a teenager, but I’m grateful now, because my life today is much easier and happier because I was pushed so hard.

    I hear a lot of parents these days say “Grades aren’t everything” and I think that mentality is hurting a lot of kids everywhere. Grades may not be everything, but having strong academic background gives you options. You might not become an engineer, or a physicist, or a lawyer, or a great writer, or an economist, or a doctor, but if you push as hard as you can when it matters, at least you have the option of exploring these fields. If the pro football thing, or the acting thing doesn’t work out for you, you could at least explore marine biology and see if that makes you happy. Especially in the course of tutoring, I ran into a lot of people who had a poor math background or poor reading background that automatically shut them out of a range of fields before they could even ask themselves if they could have been happy doing those things. I think that a lot of parents, American and non-American have forgotten the importance of academics, and although the little I’ve read about Amy Chau makes me think she’s nuts, She’s saying things that perhaps more people need to start saying.

  10. Malaka Post author

    I was all applause until you called Amy nuts! LOL! That was cruel, son. Your dad sounds hard core. I would love to emulate his tactics, but I’m personally too lazy to put in that level of effort. Perhaps my hubby will take up the slack?…Perhaps?

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