Reader reactions to Amy Chua’s memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherhave ranged from shell-shocked to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some have demanded Chua be brought up on charges. Others have branded her a social pariah. Chua’s response: Talk to me if and when your kid gets into Harvard. (Princeton doesn’t count.)
Chua’s thesis is that Chinese Americans are so terribly successful because Chinese mothers are so terribly strict. How successful are they? If you put one Chinese-American girl in a room with nine other girls and gave them each five dollars, in ten minutes the former would have $50 and the latter would have no money but a ton of self-worth.
Most of the reviewers of Chua’s book tend to dwell on the author’s “fascistic” parenting techniques. These include name calling, and threats to shape up or you’ll be locked outdoors in the rain, and your dollhouse will be given to some less fortunate girl who probably gets C’s and D’s on her geometry tests, (which begs the question, why shape up if girls who don’t study get free dollhouses?). Yes, Chua’s kids are unquestionably brilliant and successful, but at what cost?
What about their self-esteem?
Hogwash, says Chua. Self-esteem comes from hard-earned accomplishments, like being the number one student in every subject (excepting gym and drama) and playing Bach’s Cello Suites without getting a single note wrong (or else!), while all your underachieving classmates are out doing bong hits and getting acceptance letters to the University of Georgia. If they’re lucky.
Chua, a law professor at Yale, has two highly accomplished daughters. Both were denied a lot of things “normal” American kids’ experience. And not just STDs. Chua’s girls were never allowed to hang out at the drugstore soda fountain or go to the sock hop, or whatever it is kids do these days. They weren’t even allowed to go on a sleepover. All they got to do was study quantum physics and play the piano at Carnegie Hall.
NO QUESTION ASIAN-AMERICANS are extraordinarily successful as a group or cohort or whatever it is they are, and it’s largely due to tiger moms. A lot of Asian parents simply don’t think childhood is an appropriate time for having fun. In fact, there is never an appropriate time for having fun. Not even after you graduate from medical school, because then it’s time to begin having your own kids and torturing — I mean motivating them. So the time for having fun would be old age, and by then you’re too tired and your feet hurt.
Of course, getting into Harvard or — God forbid –Stanford, isn’t everything. Sometimes it’s not even a remote possibility. I should know. But one can still have a fulfilling and productive career with a liberal arts degree from a Midwest state university.
(Pause till laughter subsides.)
Besides, nobody knows for sure what it takes to get into an elite school. Straight A’s don’t mean a thing; every kid who fills out an application has straight A’s, and perfect ACT scores, and has published an award-winning novel, and started a nonprofit foundation to cure leprosy in Borneo. And, if he had a tiger mom, he has already debuted at Carnegie Hall and won the National Spelling Bee, too.
That’s all well and good, but I have plenty of friends who did not even attend college and who are likely as content with their lot in life as any tiger cub. Take my brother-in-law Mike. Mike was the only sibling in his family not to attend college. He builds cranes. He’s a 30-year-old bachelor and spends most evenings at Bunkers Bar and Grill. Mike would rather watch the Final Four at Bunkers than play Eine kleine Nachtmusik on the pianoforte, and I say good for him. It’s not that the Mikes of this world lack ambition or don’t care about our cultural institutions (okay, so they don’t care). They just have no desire to teach international law at Yale. Given the option, they would take cranes and Bunkers any day of the week.
I can’t help but wonder how much of this is about the tiger mom, and about how badly the failure of one of her cubs to attend an elite school — or to become a concert pianist — would reflect on her.
Helicopter moms, lawnmower moms, free-range moms, make way for the tiger moms. It’s normal to want our kids to succeed, even to do better than their parents. But all work and no play makes Amy Chua a dull girl. And that’s about the nicest thing a reviewer has said about her.