Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mommy Wars Take No Prisoners: "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"

Yale Law School Professor Amy Chua has decided to step outside her profession and training, and offer a parenting manual based on the extensive data set and broad longitudinal studies of . . . herself.  We here at Chez Evil are cackling in glee and issuing an invitation to join our club.

We extend this invitation based on the article printed in Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal last Saturday, titled "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior."  This is an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, which is itself titled "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,"  which we here at Chez Evil look forward to reading.  Here are some juicy tidbits from the WSJ article:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

 As an Evil Fairy, I look forward to reading the thoughts of such a obviously like minded individual.  I do have some concerns, however, and so I offer Professor Chua some advice for some changes that should be in the next edition.

The title must be changed.  Compare the strength and hostile offensiveness of the WSJ title--"Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"--to the weak and near literary metaphor of the book title.  Sure, maybe tiger mothers are fierce, or something, but who can get immediately insulted and angry about that?  It lacks the open aggressiveness of the article's claim of superiority, coupled with the racial and ethnic stereotyping inherent in limiting that superiority to the mothers of only one nation.  Sure, Chua pretends that there are other, not-strictly-from-China mothers who "qualify," but that's just giving up the high ground.  The book should just go for the jugular and call itself  "Why Your Kids Are Genetically Inferior And You Suck At Parenting."

Correct the nomenclature.  Chua calls Sophia and Louisa her "daughters."  The correct term is "minions."

Drop the euphemisms.  Chua offers this anecdotal definition of "strictness:"

[M]y Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough.
 Can we do away with the pussyfooting around the term "practice their instruments?"  The proper term is "enhanced interrogation," also known as "waterboarding."

Expand the principles outside schooling. Chua has missed the opportunity to apply her principles outside the limited scope of raising children in an environment where education has a positive value.  Take what she says about the value of repetition:

What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

This is precisely the principle I use to run my successful Evil Enterprises. How do they expect to get any better and shoveling coal if they don't keep working at it?  Whiners.

Once this little girl is good at shoveling coal, she will enjoy it and I can make her work harder.

Apply these principles to adult work.  Look, it's obvious--what works for kids should also work for adults. Chua clearly sees how things like "union-mandated work breaks" are just caving in and creating failure.  When her minion daughter had trouble learning a piano piece, Chua knew that the only solution was to bear down.

Lulu couldn't do it. We worked on it nonstop for a week, drilling each of her hands separately, over and over. But whenever we tried putting the hands together, one always morphed into the other, and everything fell apart. Finally, the day before her lesson, Lulu announced in exasperation that she was giving up and stomped off.
"Get back to the piano now," I ordered.
"You can't make me."
"Oh yes, I can."

This is why I just go ahead and chain my minions to their workstations--it cuts down on the backtalk.  Chua continues:

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom.

Because nothing fosters a successful business like dehydrated and urine-soaked workers.

Chua has simply failed to lift her sights high enough with this book.  Because isn't it obvious?  We are the ones who know what is best for those little people, and we don't need to put up with their complaints.  They owe us because of all we have done for them--the spying, the interrogation, the abusive personal relationships.  We don't do that for our own satisfaction!  Absolutely not!  We do it because it is for their own good, so they can be successful and get into law schools, where they can come out to a paucity of jobs and crippling debt, because that's success, baby!


Amy Robertson said...

When I first read about this book, I thought it was a parody. Can you imagine how much fun it would be to have her for a professor???

Cate Ross said...

The book cannot possibly sustain this level of unambiguous certainty, can it? She's got to have some sort of change of heart over the course of the book, or who would put their real name onto it?

I am also imagining how long her final exams must be, with no water or bathroom breaks allowed.