[Chua] "Superior"

This part of several posts in response to Amy Chua’s article “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” in the Wall Street Journal. Posts on this topic are tagged as [Chua].

Chua didn’t pick the headline (“Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”), but she did lead with:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.

Whenever I see something like this, clearly advocating a point of view I don’t agree with (especially with a sensationalist headline like that), my debating arguing brain comes into play, searching for the holes in the other person’s argument. Where’s the flaw in the logic? What’s the problem?

And this one actually took a while. If your goals are to get your kid to be great at piano, academics, etc., then it’s entirely possible that this will work. So that’s not the flaw. This reasoning is sound.

The problem really comes back to the word “superior” (which, again, Chua didn’t choose). “Superior”, says who? Says tiger mothers! Says stereotypical Chinese parents. Admittedly, American education isn’t great, but this idea that every kid is supposed to ace everything, and be a piano/violin genius, and whatever, is all part of that same value system that ends up doing this stuff to their kids.

Okay, so the tiger mom value system is messed up. But what is that “stereotypically successful” bit? Tiger mothers don’t really constitute the mainstream in the US; if they did, Chua probably wouldn’t have been able to write a book about it.

The truth is that Western parents also have “musically skilled”, “academically talented”, and such in their value systems. And it’d be hard to argue that these things themselves are bad. I mean, really. Getting good grades and being able to play violin, a detriment? Not in and of themselves.

(Again, like Chua, I’m just using “Western parents” in contrast to “Chinese mothers”, which I’m calling “tiger mothers” after her book. Perhaps I should be saying “monkey parents” instead, but “monkey” has too many negative connotations in English.)

The problem is that Western parents probably have a lot more values in their system that they also want for their kids. “Social skills”. “Contentment”. And, probably, “choice”. This varies, but I think a number of parents would agree it’s good to give children choices in order for them to learn and prove responsibility. And I bet the percentage of Western-style parents who think that’s important is higher than the percentage of tiger parents.

(I picked “contentment” because I don’t think American tiger mothers don’t care about their kid’s happiness or self-esteem. They just don’t think that focusing directly on either one is productive. At least, that’s how I read Chua.)

You can’t have everything, though. When Western parents wonder why their kids can’t be everything a…tiger kitten?…is, it’s because they put value on other things. Life isn’t a zero-sum game or anything, but clearly there are tradeoffs. Which is pretty much what Chua said at the beginning of the article.

And of course, sometimes kids are just plain spoiled. That probably happens less when you don’t care so much about whether a kid is happy with you or not.

Okay, so there’s the answer. Chinese mothers are only “superior” in a Chinese mother value system. Western parents who think tiger parenting is “superior” need to remember why they haven’t been tiger parenting all along. It’s not just because you’re weak–it’s because you have some additional/different values for your child.

Argument destroyed. I gain 750 XP.

Except…that wasn’t so satisfactory at all. Apart from being relatively light on Chua (as I was in my review of Twilight), it didn’t actually talk about anything substantial. I “won” on a technicality. But there are some stronger points in this article even if you take away the value system issue…

…to be discussed next time.