Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother"

I just finished this book, which is the full book version of the "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" article in the WSJ.

The book by itself is quite entertaining, with a lot of humorous stories of Amy Chua's struggles to balance the Eastern vs. Western styles of raising children in America.  She does bring up several good points in the book about how it's a good idea to be tough on kids (I won't elaborate on them, the main points are in the original article and a previous blog post).  There are also some fun interjections on the issues of raising children in a mixed-cultural environment (as Amy's husband is Jewish) and combating the temptations of TV and Facebook.

I came upon an article that Larry Summers (President of Harvard) began debating Amy Chua on this issue at the World Economic Forum.  I liked this quote in particular:

“It is not entirely clear that your veneration of traditional academic achievement is exactly well placed,” he said to Ms. Chua. “Which two freshmen at Harvard have arguably been most transformative of the world in the last 25 years?” he asked. “You can make a reasonable case for Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, neither of whom graduated.” Demanding tiger moms, he said, might not be very supportive of their kids dropping out of school.

It's a good point. Personally, I've always viewed the upbringing more as a question of risk vs. reward. If you raise children more carefree, you'll sometimes get a Bill Gates, Ernest Hemingway, or John Lennon. That's really good. If you raise children the tough and strict academic way, you may not get as many Mark Zuckerbergs, Paul Simons, or Steven Chus, but you'll have a lot more good accountants and scientists. In other words, the Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world are the exception. Statistically, dropping out of college is not a good idea.

As a person who's done a lot of CS recruiting during his career, I can say that there are definitely not enough good computer scientists to go around. Every CS recruiter at virtually every tech company I know of has had trouble finding good candidates.

As a non-parent, I'm not sure what the best thing to do is. Some balanced approach is probably best.

Update (2/1/11)

Saw this editorial from one of Amy Chua's daughters in the NYpost. An interesting read.

Update (2/13/11)

This topic just want die in the blogosphere. A comment ...

I can't remember who said it or where I read it (I'm sure it's been quoted many times), but there was a quote that goes something like "The reason this has generated so much press is that many people consider this an attack on the way "Western Mothers" have raised their children. They subsequently feel the need to defend themselves and their parenting methods. However, deep down inside, many of those parents know Amy Chua is right."

I think it's a great point. I think many people are taken aback from the comment that we might be "doing something wrong." We want to believe we've been doing things the "right way" for a long time and naturally wish to defend that idea. However, when we see other countries education test scores go up or the economies of other countries growing faster than ours, deep down we probably are a little scared that maybe we have been "doing something wrong" for awhile.

Add in the fact that Amy Chua regular calls her parenting a "Chinese Mother" style is another factor. If Amy Chua had been a "Korean Mother" or "Thai Mother", most probably wouldn't have cared. By calling herself a "Chinese Mother", Amy Chua is (in)directly commenting on the reasons for China's rise in economic might, and many people are scared of it.

I've been thinking about how I might eventually raise my child someday, wanting to give my child creative freedom (e.g. be a "Western Mother") but not go "Tiger Mother" on them. I don't think eliminating TV is a good idea for a child (pop culture by itself is interesting). But perhaps, I could make my child write a "TV report" (like a book report) after watching a TV show. Or perhaps make my child write an episode of the TV show. In other words, you can watch TV, but you can't watch TV just to be lazy.

1 comment: