Thursday, February 10, 2011

Battle Hym of the Tiger Mother - a Review

Amy Chua and her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has been everywhere. You can't get away from this graduate of Harvard Law School and current Professor at the Yale Law School. Over the last few weeks she has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the topic of an opinion piece in The New York Times by David Brooks, an article I found at the Huffington Post War Cry of the Values-Based Parent by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, in the Economist, and has been on the Colbert Report.  I have finished the book for a week, but I couldn't deal with writing my overall thoughts on the book. You see, I've have overdosed on Amy Chua. How can I tell? Well, I have launched into two drunken tirades about the woman when her name has been brought up amongst friends. Every once in a while I've had to write a post in response to something that is in the book.

I decided a timeout was in order.

A time to reflect on Battle Hymn as well as think about the stir the book has caused in the zeitgeist.

I am now ready.

A Quick Synopsis

 Amy is ethnically Chinese and her parents brought her up in a traditional Chinese household. Upon having children with her husband, Jed, she vowed not to raise the children as typical Americans. That would not happen on "her watch". What follows is a story of how Amy brings up her children in a strict, goal oriented, take no prisoner, manner. The children are told what instruments they are going to play (Sophia plays piano and Lulu plays violin), and how many hours a day they will practice said instrument. Academic excellence is mandatory - meaning nothing less than an A. When the girls resist Amy, Professor Chua resorts to calling them garbage, lazy, and selfish, for bringing shame to the family. Sophia becomes a world class pianist. Lulu, however, successfully resists Darth Mom and takes up tennis instead of dedicating her adolescence to the violin. At the end of the book Amy jokes about how she has softened her parenting approach over the years. Ha! Ha!

Funny. Let's go over the basics.

It isn't funny when you joke about abusing kids.

Period. Professionally speaking, I am what's called a mandated reporter. If I hear about the abuse of a minor, someone with a disability, or a person who is elderly, I need to call the proper state agency. If I don't then I can get into trouble. Does Amy do anything that would be considered abuse? Let's see what happened when Amy introduced three year old Lulu to the piano. Oddly enough the three year old resisted. Here's what happened next.
Dodging her blows, I dragged the screeching demon to out back porch door, and threw it open.
The wind chill was twenty degrees, and my own face hurt from just a few seconds' exposure to the icy air. But I was determined to raise an obedient Chinese child ..."You can't stay in the house if you don't listen to Mommy," I said sternly. "Now , are you ready to be a good girl? Or do you want to go outside?"
Lulu stepped outside. She faced me, defiant. - p 12
Amy tried to talk her daughter into the house. Lulu wasn't going back in. Somehow, (Amy doesn't say how long Lulu was outside for) Lulu reenters the house. Her husband returns from work and finds Lulu steaming in a hot bath happily eating marshmallows. Abuse? Let's look at other cases.

Sophia was learning the piano piece The Little White Donkey. She wasn't "getting it."
I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic. - p61
After offering Sophia some of that Chua brand of inspiration on the piano Jed noticed some marks on the instrument.
Jed crouched down and examined them [the marks] more closely. "Sophia," he said slowly, "could these possibly be teeth marks?"
It turned out they were. After some questioning, Sophia, who was perhaps six at the time, confessed that she often gnawed on the piano.When Jed explained that the piano was the most expensive piece of furniture we owned, Sophia promised not to do it again. - p 58
As an aside, I'd be a bit more concerned that my child was gnawing on furniture to begin with. Why? Because gnawing on the freakin' furniture is not a sign of good mental health!

Believe me, I could go on. The book is full of morsels like this.

Amy Chua is being disingenuous when she says she doesn't know what the hubbub is all about.

I saw her on the Colbert Report and Amy played the Glen Beck/AM Hate Radio tactic. I will go over this stratagem in one fell swoop.

I will say and/or write outrageously controversial things and then say that they were misunderstood, taken out of context, or say I was kinda wrong while at the same time stating I am 100% right.

Here is a link to that interview. For some reason the video wouldn't embed properly.

While reading the book I felt manipulated by Amy, and her reactions to the controversy exacerbated that feeling. This seems to be Amy's game. On one hand this is a memoir and not a parenting manual. On the other hand, I will intentionally make every parent anxious when they are reading this book by telling them that they are doing their job wrong. I will say at the end of the book that I had to change my tactics, but there is no reflection on what I would have done differently.

She definitely gives the impression that she thinks all was fine in her family until Lulu acted out as a teenager. All the while the drumbeat is heard: traditional Chinese parenting is basically superior to the Western method.

This book is irrespnsible.

This book chronicles abuse.

This book chronicles Amy Chua's ego while parenting.


Other reflections

As always the moral is clear: beware anecdotal evidence. Amy has a N (number of subjects in her parenting experiment) of 2. On the site Parenting Science I found an article on traditional Chinese parenting: What research says about Chinese kids and why they succeed that dives into the data a bit. A few interesting points from the site.
When compared with authoritative parenting, authoritarian parenting is linked with lower levels of self-control, more emotional problems, and lower academic performance. These links have been documented for Western kids raised in North America. They have also been documented for Chinese kids living in Beijing and Taiwan. But there are some exceptions. Studies Hong Kong Chinese (Leung et al 1998) and of Chinese immigrants to North America (Chao 2001) have linked authoritarian parenting with higher school achievement.
Traditional Chinese parenting has one clear advantage over contemporary Western parenting: Chinese parents--like many other Asian parents--are more likely to emphasize effort over innate talent. Experiments show that people learn more when they believe that effort, not innate intelligence, is the key to achievement. And other research suggests that Westerners are more likely to assume that a child fails because he lacks innate ability (Stevenson and Lee 1990).
Chinese-American kids tend to have peer groups that support achievement. Studies of adolescents in the United States suggest that some kids pay a “nerd penalty” for studying hard. When these kids perform well at school, they get rejected by their peers. Chinese-Americans are less likely to face this choice between scholastic success and social success. Lawrence Steinberg and his colleagues (1992) wonder if “pro-achievement” peer pressure protects Chinese kids from some of the negative effects of authoritarian parenting.
A list of the studies referenced can be found at the article on Parenting Science.

Me? I'm trying not to raise my kids as the stereotyped Americans. My son Will, who is eight,  is a caring and introspective 8 year old. I bought a new pair of glasses over a week ago and he was there. He told me they were nerd glasses and I, of course, reminded him of thinking before he spoke. I picked them up yesterday and he saw them on me (I'm not making this up, either). He said this from out of the blue,
You know, Dad, those glasses look good on you. I'm sorry for calling them nerd glasses.

We spent an hour and half on homework tonight. He has two quizzes tomorrow and we (I agree with Amy this kind of work is a "we thing") went over the material and did some practice tests. He does well in school.

I'm proud of him.


A few other posts about Tiger Mothering.
Amy Chua - Blame the Husband Too
Amy Chua vs the Enlightenment
Amy Chua - Do Parents Own Their Children?

Image by Larry D. Moore, used under a Creative Commons ShareAlike License.


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