12 December 2010

Amy Chua's Tiger Mother Parenting Curriculum

Amy Chua is a Yale Law professor and celebrated author of World on Fire and Day of Empire. More recently, Amy has written Battle Hym of the Tiger Mother, a look at her attempt to raise her American children by traditional Chinese methods.

Chua was raised by Chinese parents in the US -- her father Leon Chua is a UC Berkeley professor of Electrical Engineering and originator of many important concepts in non-linear electronics. Leon was raised in Manila, a member of an elite Chinese Filipino family. He rebelled against the traditional Chinese family business and tradition, in order to come to America and make his own way.

Amy Chua is married to a Jewish Yale Law professor -- not a traditional Chinese choice -- but appears intent on raising her daughters in the traditional Chinese manner. Here is a description of Chua's book:
All decent parents want to do what's best for their children. What Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reveals is that the Chinese just have a totally different idea of how to do that. Western parents try to respect their children's individuality, encouraging them to pursue their true passions and providing a nurturing environment. The Chinese believe that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother chronicles Chua's iron-willed decision to raise her daughters, Sophia and Lulu, her way-the Chinese way-and the remarkable results her choice inspires.

Here are some things Amy Chua would never allow her daughters to do:

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin

The truth is Lulu and Sophia would never have had time for a playdate. They were too busy practicing their instruments (two to three hours a day and double sessions on the weekend) and perfecting their Mandarin.

Of course no one is perfect, including Chua herself. Witness this scene:

"According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the piano as I supervised her practicing:

1. Oh my God, you're just getting worse and worse.

2. I'm going to count to three, then I want musicality.

3. If the next time's not PERFECT, I'm going to take all your stuffed animals and burn them!"

But Chua demands as much of herself as she does of her daughters. And in her sacrifices-the exacting attention spent studying her daughters' performances, the office hours lost shuttling the girls to lessons-the depth of her love for her children becomes clear. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an eye-opening exploration of the differences in Eastern and Western parenting- and the lessons parents and children everywhere teach one another. _GoogleBooks

This brief description is likely to apply to many East Asian traditions of child-raising, not only the Phillipines Chinese branch as represented by the Chua family. As you can see, it is a highly disciplined approach, oriented toward extracting the maximum possible achievement out of the child, in the areas that are emphasised.

If you look at other alternative parenting methods or alternative educational curricula which achieve above-the-ordinary results, you will likely find a similar undercurrent of high expectation and a guiding away from popular methods of time-wasting and peer dysfunction that leads a lot of affluent children into a rudderless adolescence and adulthood.

Amy Chua directed her children toward music -- specifically piano and violin. Does anyone doubt that Chua's daughters are likely to be highly proficient in these instruments, and probably other areas of interest? World-class mastery is another matter, and for that the child herself would need to have the fire inside her. But proficiency is very likely in the context of the Chua household as described.

Who would deserve the credit for high achievement by the girls? Chua's disciplined approach? Chinese tradition? The genetic giftedness bestowed on daughters of a Chinese law professor mother and a Jewish law professor father? Inherited drive and executive function?

Wait and see how things turn out first. Parenthetically, I wonder how often it happens that high-achieving East Asians marry and have children with high-achieving Jewish partners? This natural experimental joining of the genes of the two highest IQ test-scoring demographic populations known should provide researchers in the field of human intelligence with some genetic fodder, as gene sequencing and bioinformatics becomes cheaper and more sophisticated. Certainly the gene alleles which combined to give Ashkenazi Jews an average IQ of 110-115 are not likely to be the same exact gene variants which combined to give East Asians average IQs of 105-110. What will the combination yield?

Certainly Amy Chua herself, in World on Fire -- which looked at market dominant minorities around the world -- studiously avoided any discussion of differences in IQ between population groups. And yet, when choosing a mate for herself, there is no question that she took that quality into consideration. Still, for a good Chinese girl to marry outside the Han group suggests a bit of rebelliousness, which is a good sign in an intelligent, accomplished adult.

Children crave guidance, which is all too often denied them by parents whose time demands may stretch them to the breaking point. Child-raising trends in general are not encouraging, but there are rare foci of rationality, which may provide something of a nucleus for re-building afterward.

More about Amy Chua's background from Day of Empire's preface:
We were required to speak Chinese at home—the punishment was one whack of the chopsticks for every English word accidentally ut­tered. We drilled math and piano every afternoon, and we were never allowed to sleep over at our friends' houses. Every evening when my father came home from work, I took off his shoes and brought him his slippers. Our report cards had to be perfect; while our friends were rewarded for Bs, for us getting an A-minus was unthinkable.

Labels: , , , ,

Bookmark and Share


Blogger Politicus Incorrectus said...

At last something optimistic ;) You were getting a bit depressing lately, Al ;)

I totally agree with her. “Teenagehood” is one of the most useless, harmful modern American inventions - and hardly anyone realises how very recent it is. Before 1920's no one has ever heard of such absurd concept - a person was either a child, and had to do as was told, or was a young man or woman, and was forced to take responsibility for his or her actions. Now the most active, creative part of human life is wasted in idleness, when people are encouraged not to do what they should, but without facing the consequences.

However, I don't think it is particularly Chinese way, or that it can be opposed to traditional European way. The same principle were considered crucial in Europe only a century ago. I was still raised pretty much that way. The only difference was, that music was not forced, but it was a reward. I had to be outstanding in every subject, except gym (but even there I had to get an A), and when I brought home a glowing record, I got a new piano, or extra lessons as a reward. No excuses for A- were accepted.

Such way is also natural - “talents” are very much highly heritable traits. For my mathematician mother maths and science were priority – but she didn't have to force me, because that was my natural strength. So it was enough for her to tell me that I will get what I want if, and only if, I achieve a top result in a maths or physics contest, and point on which shelf the right books were.

Sunday, 12 December, 2010  
Blogger kurt9 said...

"World on Fire" is quite good. However, Amy Chua really squirms like crazy through out her book to avoid saying directly that differences in innate characteristics explains the difference between "market minorities" and "sons of the soil".

Sunday, 12 December, 2010  
Blogger Bruce Hall said...

Interesting. However, I think that a "traditional Chinese" method that overemphasizes overbearing parents is not necessarily a recipe for a successful and ambitious child.

While we insisted on piano lessons for our three sons during grade school, we allowed them to choose any instrument that they wished to play in high school. The two oldest played trombone for four years in band and orchestra while the youngest chose trumpet for one year before turning to sports.

I agree with the concept that music adds discipline and is an intellectual exercise for children, but rigid approaches to it are limiting.

What would Dr. Chua think of such activities as debate, various science clubs, and simply hanging out with other kids who have high IQs. My two oldest boys tested at 150 and 151; the youngest wasn't tested but exhibits the same level of intelligence. I think that they sought out activities and companions that had similar intellectual capabilities. The "Chinese method" would have gotten in their way.

... and all are quite successful.

Monday, 13 December, 2010  
Blogger Hell_Is_Like_Newark said...

Her description sounds in some ways how my parents (white) raised us.. or at least tried to raise us. All of us kids ended up rebelling. Too much structure and general misery from being forced into activities that we had no interest in. Mine being years of music lessons. The fact that as a little kid, I would disassemble the instruments out of shear boredom should have been a hint that my talents and interests were elsewhere.

Monday, 13 December, 2010  
Blogger PRCalDude said...

What part of Chinese culture should the West be immitating here? I mean, I'm not going to be packing up to move there even if the entire West is on fire. When they discover the next 1000 years of math and physics, I'll reconsider.

Let's hear more about the geniuses of our own tradition who've invented practically everything for the past 500 years I say. Asian children are notoriously introverted, uncreative, and unathletic. Their men don't do well here either in terms of reproducing.

Chinese helicopter parenting is the exact opposite of what you've been advocating on other posts regarding letting children experiment and take risks.

Monday, 13 December, 2010  
Blogger CarlBrannen said...

Newton's parents left him to his own devices as a youth. He didn't get any education in math until around age 16. He invented calculus a few years ago.

I don't think that filling your children's days with crap is going to make much difference. Maybe you can get "successful" adults but I bet they're not going to be the happiest people.

Monday, 13 December, 2010  
Blogger Jehu said...

Chua's kids are probably going to center around 3 standard deviations or so from the mean in intelligence, which I reckon to be the average IQ of their respective families. Kids in that range have zero business being in a public school. She should either homeschool them or get together with a similar family or two and hire a tutor to do it who is in the same IQ ballpark as her children. Some Indian friends of mine were considering precisely that (several families would split the @80K/year cost of the dedicated tutor) but decided on getting their children a private Catholic education instead. The 'outlier' children of hers will probably be pushing 4 sigma, a level that it is positively criminal to put into a public school where they have to be throttled down in speed to the lowest common denominator. Each sigma is, in my experience and supported by the research literature, effectively a factor of two or more in rate of learning new tasks.

Monday, 13 December, 2010  
Blogger Sword S said...

While academic discipline is to be commended, it is only up to a point. Youth need guidance, like when it comes to the pieces of a clock where more nonfunctional combinations exist, there are vastly more suboptimal paths in life, some may accidentally happen upon the better paths but it is good to increase the probability of this happening through guidance and discipline.

That said it is also true that there are some professors who may not teach too well, and may be too exigent, demanding vast quantities of repetitive and pointless assignments for their particular class. In that case it is not worth it to waste countless hours obliging the whims of a senile fool. Better to focus on classes with reasonable demands, use spare time for personal studies and merely get a passing grade on the few who demand the moon for an 'A'.

Monday, 13 December, 2010  
Blogger Black Sea said...

Sounds like a shitty way to raise kids, and a shitty way to grow up, an upbringing for intelligent drones, nothing more.

Tuesday, 14 December, 2010  
Blogger Isegoria said...

What makes that bit about not letting her kids be in the school play particularly amusing is that her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, studied theater in the Drama Division of the Juilliard School between 1980-1982.

Tuesday, 14 December, 2010  
Blogger Joseph said...

According to some theories, the right micronutrients can raise IQ. What's the effect of kosher Chinese food?

Wednesday, 15 December, 2010  
Blogger al fin said...

P. Incorrectus: Yes, traditions evolve for a reason. We abandon them at our own risk, and that of our children.

Kurt: I agree. She can be quite squirmy, which is cute in a way.

Bruce: The excerpts quoted were probably selected for their humour and "over the topness," to help sell the book. In real life, Chua is probably a bit more flexible than suggested by the short excerpt.

HILN: While Chua's girls are half Chinese and half Jewish, research suggests that East Asian children are more pliant than those of most other groups. It is no wonder that Chinese parents developed strict traditions -- their children are not as likely to disassemble the instruments.

PRCD: Try not to go overboard in downplaying the East Asian contribution to the ancient and modern worlds.

Carl: Newton was a one in a billion. Some children do need a lot of structure and external incentive to stay focused and to achieve high levels. Whether Chua was wise to use traditional Chinese methods on girls who are half-Jewish is another question.

Jehu: I don't know the particulars of the schools Chua sends her daughters to.

Potentate: I suspect Chua would do some things differently were she starting over again. The book would be worthless, after all, if it did not reveal some lessons learned.

B.S.: Your comment vocabulary is rather limited. Pleas attempt to learn some new words.

Isegoria: Very amusing indeed! Thanks.

Joseph: That would be out of my specialty, sorry.

Chinese and East Asian women can be incredibly sweet when they want to be, but as nags they can drive a man to despair or murder.

One can only hope that the Chua girls and the mother (and Jed) are able to survive the full extent of the relationship. ;-)

Thursday, 16 December, 2010  
Blogger LS said...

As a Chinese parent who was also brought up by the similar disciplines with a Mother who desperately trying to prove love by extreme control and a father who was only there for occasional treat - I grew up knowing this is not the way I want my children to be raised - I am thankful for what my parents have provided for me, but what I want to share from this growing up experience is:
1. Trust between parent and children is invaluable, it has to be built by showing love and reassurance; verbal threats and extreme orders such as burning toys etc are extremely immature behaviour, this is confusing for children at a very young age, may encourage them to follow later on in life;
2. When quoted to my mother the things she said out of anger (desperation), that why she said those hurtful things to a child - the answer was - "I did not know what else to do, and cannot accept the fact that my child is not the best in everything"
3. From a very young age, I knew I would go to college the furthest away from home and want to live a life without all those measures and comparisons and controls
4. The things I never talk to my parents - relationship, career decisions, friendship, emotions, and feelings
5. I grew up to an adult with an inner self my parents were never known of, and all my attempts of sharing my emotions failed miserably due to lack of foundation from earlier years
6. It took years for me to erase the seeds planted by my mother in my school years to understand it was okay to not be the best in everything, and honest to god that was a painful realisation that sometimes, despite the best of my effort, there is someone who can do better than me.
In conclusion, the controlled talent manufacturing measures can also be viewed as parents' incapability of handling relationships with their children, and their ignorance of the individualism in each child. Learning how to face and deal with failure and disappointment is equally important in a child’s upbringing.

Tuesday, 18 January, 2011  

Post a Comment

“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” _George Orwell

<< Home

Newer Posts Older Posts