Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Amy Chua's "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" in the Wall Street Journal

Here, and NPR's take here. A quote:

Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable — even legally actionable — to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty — lose some weight." By contrast, Western parents have to tiptoe around the issue, talking in terms of "health" and never ever mentioning the f-word, and their kids still end up in therapy for eating disorders and negative self-image. ... Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently

"In Disney movies," she says, the [studious kid] always has to have a breakdown and realize that life is not all about following rules and winning prizes, and then take off her clothes and run into the ocean or something like that. But that's just Disney's way of appealing to all the people who never win any prizes. Winning prizes gives you opportunities, and that's freedom — not running into the ocean."

This style of parenting can backfire in modern day America. The education system here is conceived if not run by proggs. If children are held to concrete standards instead of airy-fairy fogbanks of cheap, meaningless praise, if they are required to respect their parents instead of regarding them as ATMs, servants, and maybe sometimes tolerable companions, if they are taught that their opinions are not epiphanies, that they are *very* like other people, that actions have consequences, hard work has rewards, that adolescence is not the same as adulthood and adulthood is not optional--then they might not grow up to be proggs. Can't have that, can we? The education system will find a way to keep these kids down, like denying them entrance to top universities, by way of racial admission quotas.

But another variable to keep in mind is that it's immigrants vs natives. Immigrants are a highly motivated fraction of the population of their old culture, whereas the natives are a top to bottom mix of the new. Not exactly an even comparison, here.

Yet another issue, which I've seen remarked upon in Korean blogs which I frequent, is that this Stakhanovite approach to schoolwork does not enhance critical thinking skills. Leave aside for a moment that "critical thinking skills" is often American wackademic-speak for leftwing goodthink. What compensates for the unimaginative testing--in Korea I've heard that the college entrance exams are mostly multiple choice--is that the sheer volume of work builds academic "muscle" and a fearsome work ethic, which is put to good use later in life. If they don't crack first.

America is a big, free country, unlike most Asian countries. There are plenty of opportunities for the outstanding, and lots of cushion for the mediocre. So ramrodding children like this is probably not necessary for them to have an adequate life. But, few parents I know wish mere adequacy for their children, out loud at least.

An interesting article, and an interesting-sounding book, and an interesting round of reactions in the blogosphere.