An audible gasp was heard on every playground across America as parents debated Yale Professor and self-professed “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua’s recent article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.” Chua described what recipe creates the stereotypically successful Asian child, and it’s diametrically opposed to what she calls the soft model of Western parenting. Where a Western parent lets her children have a say in their extracurricular activities, encouraging them to play sports and instilling in them that learning is fun, Tiger moms, who can come in all races and from any background, never let their children choose their own activities or play team sports. Instead they have a single-minded focus on academics. Tiger Cubs must be the No. 1 student in all subjects except gym or drama, always.
While I was at first shocked by many of the anecdotes of hyper-parenting Chua relayed, once calling her daughter “garbage” when she’d been disrespectful, or forcing her other daughter to practice the piano for hours on end until she’d mastered a certain piece, I couldn’t help but go back to the idea that children rise or fall to our expectations. While as a nation our education system has declined and student learning continues to plummet, parents like Ms. Chua have very high academic standards for their kids and it seems their kids by and large meet them. Yet we must also have high expectations for our kids in other areas, namely that they are responsible human beings.
Being with 150 teenagers each day during my time as a high school teacher was the best parenting class I could’ve ever taken. I had many students who came from Tiger Mom families. They were focused, driven and they valued school. They seemed to enjoy learning and they were also very respectful. If they didn’t receive stellar grades the parents worked tirelessly with them at home.
I had just as many students whose parents swooped in to rescue them at every turn. The students from these homes expected easy A’s. Several times these parents came to me and demanded to know why their child didn’t receive an A on a test or assignment. One accused me of running my class like an Honors English class, when it was supposed to be college prep. A few of these students, with full parental support, transferred to another English class where the teacher was legendary for showing movies everyday. Students sat in the dark, throwing paper airplanes, while he napped. These parents wanted their children to get guaranteed A’s on their transcripts. At what cost?
Having my own kids reinforced the idea that whether kids are 2, 8 or 16 they need reigning in and guidance. If we expect and model that they are to speak to others with dignity and respect they will do that. If we yank them from the playground after a warning to not push others, and do that every single time, they probably won’t be the school bullies later on. If we expect a child can learn to read before kindergarten and we are consistent as their first teachers, they will indeed be early readers.
One of Ms. Chua’s daughters recently published an open letter in the New York Post not only defending her mother, but also thanking her. “If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I’ve lived my whole life at 110 percent. And for that, Tiger Mom, thank you,” she said.
Both Chua’s now teenage daughters seem successful by many measures, but they also seem genuinely happy, their self-esteem gained from hard work, proving Chua’s point that mastery takes practice, and with that comes pain. With this sequence of events, though, pride and happiness are the return. So when we also do the hard work as parents, teachers and communities, modeling to our children to do the same, the rewards are immeasurable.
Julie is the mother of four small children. She writes and lives in El Dorado Hills. You can write to her at [email protected].