Saturday, January 15, 2011

Paper Tiger Mom


It’s easy to hate Amy Chua right now. If her intention was to garner publicity for her book by writing a controversial article for the Wall Street Journal, she has succeeded.

Her article has spawned several follow up WSJ articles. From “Western mothers” like Ayelet Waldman and Hanna Rosin to interviews with mothers in Hong Kong, the response has been negative to gently understanding. Amy has also ignited the blogosphere (Asian American and beyond) through heated posts and comments about her article and book. Cynthia Liu’s post at Rice Daddies lists some of the other bloggers with something to say about Amy’s article.

Like Cynthia I’ve been writing about “this” for some time now. While I am not a fan of “free range” parenting as advocated by educator Alfie Kohn, I am also not a fan of what has been stereotypically depicted – and widely accepted – even by Asians - as “Asian parenting” by people like Amy Chua and the Kim sisters. Bullying and denigrating your children are not acts exclusive to Asian parents - Just as academic success is not exclusive to their children (or are they immune to academic failure).

I shudder when I am reminded of how close I was to becoming “Chua Chinese” (Please Note: I am using Chinese as defined by Amy) – a Chinese parent so obsessed with controlling the ends there is no thought given to the consequences of the means. Despite my background as an educator and having actual classroom teaching experience, once my eldest entered Pre-K I fell easily in line with what I perceived as the tenets of being a “proper” parent molding “proper” and successful children.

I would be a full Chua Chinese parent if I hadn’t just by chance seen Jack Neo’s movies: I Not Stupid and I Not Stupid Too. There is a scene in the former where a mother on the advice of her coworkers beats her son with a switch because he failed to score to her satisfaction on a test. The crying boy begs, “Please mommy don’t hit me anymore…” The scene is particularly poignant because the actress playing the mother does a good job of conveying her confusion at her actions. She is not sure it is the right way to parent but her peers seem so confident and judge her poorly for not doing it (so she does it).

The latter film is poignant because it begins by putting the following question up on the screen: When was the last time you told your kids you loved them? I read that Jack Neo, the film’s writer, director, and actor, was deeply affected by Zhou Hong’s philosophy of Appreciation Education when he was writing the sequel’s script. It shows. It overtly restates Hong’s descriptions of Appreciation Education.

What Chua Chinese parents don’t tell you is the fate of those children whose wills prove too hard to break. I Not Stupid Too touches upon it but it is Royston Tan’s 15 that explores it. Royston Tan’s 15 takes a close (though overly stylistic) look at gang life in Singapore, a country that identifies the cognitive capacity of its citizens as its greatest natural resource.

There are Chinese who exist and thrive outside of the harsh world of the Chua Chinese. Asian students whose wills may have been broken by their parents but who as a result did not fall into the next buckets their parents have set out. Instead these broken wills found healing ointment in street gangs and other subcultures.

The "Chinese" that Chua refers to no longer exists as she understood them. China is changing. The Chinese are changing! And that impacts both Chua Chinese parents and "loser" (Chua's words) Chinese parents like me who seek a connection with an ethnic heritage from which to build and evolve our children’s sense of themselves.

It’s easy for me to point fingers. It’s easy for me to blame Chua and her disciples for perpetuating social stereotypes and ignoring the truth of the matter. But it is not right. I have confessed to my own “coercion." Like Ayelet I feel guilty about it sometimes but that doesn’t always stop me. When all is said and done, I'd like to believe that all parents want what's best for their children. The challenge is putting our egos aside and getting out of our comfort zones to really understand why we tell our children what we do. Parenting is like teaching – to excel and become successful at it means you - like your children - do not stop learning.

3 comments:

G said...

"When all is said and done, I'd like to believe that all parents want what's best for their children. The challenge is putting our egos aside and getting out of our comfort zones to really understand why we tell our children what we do. Parenting is like teaching – to excel and become successful at it means you - like your children - do not stop learning."

Word!

jasechong said...

Yep, we are all learning as parents. And we do make mistakes. There's no classes and I suspect many parents base their parenting on how they were brought up - and making adjustments as they see fit. But I agree with others, I'm sure Amy loves her children.

Problem with the WSJ article. The title and the article imply that all Chinese parenting is like this, that if you're Chinese and not parenting like this then you're doing it wrong, and the reverse - that all non-Chinese Mothers are inferior. Very dangerous...

Theresa Ip Froehlich said...

If parents, including myself, understand parenting as nurturing leadership and collaborative partnership, we would be less inclined toward manipulation and coercion. In the end, these tactics work only when the child is young enough to cower in the face of the parent. This approach is very short-sighted and short-circuts the longerm development of the child.
Please see my article on Amy Chua's claim that "Chinese mothers are superior." http://bit.ly/ibh12o