Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Dad’s Perspective on the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Originally posted in BookDads
by TimeOutDad

On the cover, it reads, “This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs.” Immediately, I thought, "What about the father?" After reading this book, I firmly believe that it’s also about the “Unsung Hymn of the Tiger Mother’s Husband.” One might think Jed Rubenfeld (Tiger Dad) sat around and did nothing, while Tiger Mom ruled and dictated her two daughters’ lives.

I admired how he didn’t take sides. He respected and loved his wife and his daughters. No matter how much he disagreed with her teachings or philosophy, he never made her the “fall guy.” He backed her up, but then disagreed with her when the kids weren’t around. He created balance and harmony for his family. When she ruled with an iron fist, he made up for it by a loving hand. That’s one of the big reasons why I think the family was able to stay strong and together.

One thing that Amy Chua fails to mention her book is the importance of harmony in Chinese culture. Harmony is about balance and unity and diversity. It’s about appreciation and acceptance. Interestingly, in music, the harmony is played behind the melody. It can go unnoticed, if one isn’t paying attention, yet it’s essential.

So, from one Dad to another, here’s to the unsung hero, Jed Rubenfeld!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bolar for Dollars

If you ask me to choose between a struggling single mother wanting to provide better opportunities for her children and a school district whose sole concern is its bank account, I’m going to go with the former. As an Asian American parent of modest means, my allegiances are with Kelley Williams-Bolar, the single mother from Akron, Ohio who was jailed for sending her daughters to a school in the Copley-Fairlawn School District (outside of her zone) -- 

And who stalwartly stated she would do it all over again to provide her children with the advantages she believes – and I believe -- they deserve.

Copley-Fairlawn’s mission statement is an exercise in hypocrisy:

The Copley-Fairlawn City School District will provide a quality education for all students in a challenging, secure environment, maximizing the academic and personal development of each student. Our students will be knowledgeable, critical thinkers who can succeed as life-long learners.

The AFT Exposed site’s likening of Kelley Williams-Bolar to modern day Rosa Parks is very accurate. Both were punished for disobeying the law of the day. Neither were career criminals nor posed any immediate danger to their communities or neighboring communities (discounting the threat they presented to the status quo). Both sought basic rights. Parks: the right to sit in her seat of choice on a bus, and Williams-Bolar: the right to protect her children’s welfare and prepare them for future success as active participants in civic dialogue.

Kyle Olson, Executive Director of National School Choice Week states (as quoted in the AFT Exposed post):

The irony is that this episode all occurred during National School Choice Week, when thousands of people from around the country are rallying for greater school options… Parents shouldn’t have to break the law to ensure their kids get into a better school – it should be the rule, not the exception. Parents ought to be able to send their child to any school they damn well please.

An aroma of pre-Brown v. Board of Education “Separate but Equal” sentiment wafts through the Copley-Fairlawn decision. Karoli at Odd Time Signature provides an informative post exposing the inequities of the situation. She provides a comparison of the Copley-Fairlawn schools Kelley’s daughters attend and the Akron schools that were her “choices.” Kelley’s daughters would have attended schools that  “did not meet the benchmarks for adequate yearly progress.” Kelley went to jail for sending them to schools whose report cards showed them to be “Excellent.”

As someone who is descended – and whose children are descended -- from a people the US government aggressively legislated against, Kelley William-Bolar’s conviction and sentencing is a test of my abilities as a parent to prepare my children for the inequities of “freedom” without sullying their limitless faith in their neighbors and peers.

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.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Dear Asian America: Forget Chua’s Book, This is Our “It Gets Better” Moment

Guest post by Cynthia Liu, originally published at K-12 News Network

Dear Asian America,

As so many have pointed out through gut-wrenching personal testimony and the horrible statistics surrounding high suicide rates among young APA women–and a high rate of untreated mental illness in our community overall–Amy Chua‘s book hit a nerve. Big time.

But, let’s make this flood of commentary and outrage NOT about Chua’s book, but about the damage a certain kind of patriarchal, homophobic, and authoritarian, high-stakes parenting can do.

Yes, I said homophobic. The narrowness and rigidity of what makes for the Right School, the Right (Ethnicity) Mate, the Right Job…you don’t think it ends there, do you?

Let’s face it, if a parent feels no limits on yelling, belittling, and coercing a kid into high achievement because the ends justify the means, what’s to stop that parent from issuing beatings in the name of the greater good? Because many who harshly discipline their kids say they use corporal punishment for the same reasons–out of love. I’m not saying everyone who experienced corporal punishment is permanently psychically damaged. No. But I am saying that as with any parenting method that is harsh to begin with, extremes of emotional and physical abuse cannot be far behind.

And let’s also face this fact: many in our community may be book smart, but many also have a low Emotional Intelligence Quotient. This ranges from a lack of expressiveness, to parenting that is bullying and insensitive, to social awkwardness and a failure to know how to shmooze.

There’s a dark side to Asian Pacific America. The intensity of immigrant aspiration can feed it just as much as it feeds our other sides.

And there’s also a highly functional, balanced, warm, demanding, and nurturing kind of enlightened APA parenting. One that focuses on each child as a unique person and that is lovingly demanding of that’s child’s best, whether it’s at school, at a sport, in the arts, or as an ethical, caring human being.

Many of us, having had tough adolescences or periods in college where it took a while to sort things out, are now parents. And we’re resolved to improve upon the good and the bad that we inherited. So what does that enlightened APA parenting look like?

I’ll tell you a secret: I agree with Amy Chua on a couple of things. We don’t watch tv in our household. (Dvds, yes, but no tv.) Homework comes first. Pay attention to what the teacher asks for, because you will have to deliver according to the standards they set. You WILL learn a second language. But otherwise? Have fun. Read for pleasure. Go outside and climb a tree, or something. Enjoy traveling when we go to new places, because whiny kids can just as easily sit at home. Don’t you want to draw or paint? Stick with the guitar for at least a year–you’ll thank me when you’re 15. Pick something and excel at it. Pick something you love, and do it regardless of how good you are at it.

If Amy Chua’s failed experiment in implementing 1960s Confucian parenting methods isn’t the way, what is?

I’ve been blogging about this since 2003, when my son was born. At that time, after lots of discussion with my spouse, also Asian Pacific American, we decided that we would try non-violent parenting. So far, it’s worked out well for us. Our son is extremely close to the both of us. There’s a tremendous sense of trust. All our physical contact (including my husband with my son, of course) is hugging, kissing, and other warm expressions of affection. And I really like this. Hands are for Hugging, don’t you know? (Granted, he’s 7 and the teen years are ahead of us yet, so I’ll let you know how that goes.)

But I’m asking you–affluent parents plotting how to get your kindergartener into Stanford, working class parents wondering how to get your kid into Bronx Science–how will we all encourage our kids to excel at being themselves? And do it without breaking them?

We’ve all heard President Obama’s warning that the country that out-educates us tomorrow will out-perform us tomorrow. (I’ve always maintained he’s the first Asian American president, much in the same way that Bill Clinton was the first black president.)

But let’s not go nuts trying to respond to President Obama’s observation.

Here’s our chance to raise our Emotional Intelligence Quotients. This is our “It Gets Better” moment, so to speak. How can we widen what we understand as excellence? Achievement? And happiness? And still equip our kids with whatever skills they need to not only survive, but thrive in an unpredictable and fast-changing world?

Go. (You don’t have to be Asian American to leave a comment.)

Other APA blogs on this subject:

Betty Ming Liu

Rice Daddies: Keith Chow

Big WoWo

Ray Kwong

Christine Lu

Shanghaiist and here

Resist Racism



Monday, January 10, 2011

I'm a Chinese Parent, Raised by Chinese Parents...

...and I think Amy Chua's book is full of crap.

Wow! There are so many things I want to comment on after reading that excerpt... I'll just do it stream of consciousness because there are so many things to unpack in Chua's book and in the reactions of the APA blogosphere over the weekend.

First off and full disclosure, while my parents were first gen immigrants, my upbringing was decidedly not the result of stereotypical "Chinese parenting." My parents always encouraged me to get good grades, but they never discouraged me from choosing my own activities. For instance, I never even touched a piano or a violin growing up. In fact, when it was time to pick an instrument in a fifth grade music class, I went for the drums so I didn't have to learn to read sheet music!

The first thing that struck me after reading the excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal was that Chua seems to have a whole lot of time on her hands if she's spending all those hours being such a hardass. My parents worked such long hours everyday that, even if they wanted to chain me to a piano, there was no way 1) we could afford a piano, and 2) that they had enough free time to worry about me practicing the piano.

See, I grew up in a small rural town in the south and my parents worked 14 hours a day, six days a week at the family restaurant. So I grew up in a working-lower-middle-class home. My memories of parental pressure didn't involve hours practicing scales or memorizing elements of the periodic table. Instead, their expectations primarily revolved around me helping out at the restaurant if I had any free time. This isn't to say that I was a bad student. I was an okay student. In elementary school, I was part of the Gifted and Talented program, and I took honors and AP courses throughout high school, but I was also encouraged to play sports, make friends and enjoy life as well. I even brought home the occasional C (mostly in math and science, go figure) and the house didn't crack in two.

I actually look back on my childhood warmly and fondly. I was surrounded by uncles and cousins and grandparents who all had a hand in helping to raise me. I remember sitting in the restaurant's back office watching "Wheel of Fortune" with my grandmother and great grandmother (neither knew a lick of English, but loved watching the contestants react to winning or losing on the TV), play basketball with my uncles and football with my cousins on the weekends, even, god forbid, had sleepovers at friends' houses! In fact, the first time I encountered the stereotype of the overbearing Chinese parents--probably in something written by Amy Tan, I couldn't relate at all. The idea was foreign and exotic to me. Which is probably why people love reading about it so much.

So, three-and-a-half years ago, I became my own "Chinese" parent when my daughter was born. Early on, my wife--who came to America from Japan when she was a high school freshman--agreed that we would provide our daughter opportunities to be successful, but that we'd never force them on her. And in her first three years of life, she's already taken more "lessons" than I did my whole childhood! Most recently, she's been enrolled in a Developmental Dance class for toddlers at the university where my wife works; she takes soccer lessons at her daycare, and took infant swimming lessons her first two summers. A few months ago, her daycare started giving her homework--which usually involves coloring something or tracing a letter or two--once or twice a week, and occasionally my wife attempts to help her recognize hiragana. All of these activities do not come at the expense of playtime, or trips to the library, or eating meals as a family, or just spending quality time together.

Ironically, I was having dinner with my father a few weeks ago and the topic of my parenting skills came up. Believe it or not, my dad thought that I was a little too strict. His reasoning? I didn't let her watch television. "That's not exactly true," I told him. My dad was basing his conclusion on the fact that the television is usually off when they come over to visit. And to be honest, what's the point of visiting your grandkids if they're preoccupied with the tube the whole time?

Even when YeYe and GaGa (that's what my daughter calls her grandmother. It has nothing to do with the meat-dressing pop star) don't visit, it's true that we limit the amount of TV she watches, because trust me, she could definitely stare at Kai-Lan or Dora for hours if we let her. Heck, that would probably make it easier on us too. Ya know, Nick Jr. is a heckuva babysitter. Instead, we have a pretty standard routine: after she gets picked up from school, she usually spends the early part of the evening playing with her toys with one of us while the other gets dinner ready. Then, when dinner's served, we all sit together and talk about her day. After dinner, she picks up her toys before we sit on the couch and fire up an episode of Dora the Explorer or Micky Mouse Clubhouse (thank god for DVRs). After that, and a discussion about what she just watched--usually facilitated by her--it's upstairs for a bath, a book (actually two), and bedtime. Plus, hugs, kisses, and "I love yous" before lights out.

See, my Chinese mom and dad think that's "strict." And "Chinese mother" Amy Chua probably thinks that I'm incompetent. I like to think that it works. Our daughter's healthy and happy. What more could we ask for?

FYI, this is cross-posted at my own site.