Is the “Chinese mother” a superior model?

Amy Chua at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Aust...
Author Amy Chua ((CC) Larry D. Moore.)

Forget the Chinese stealth fighter, and make way for the Chinese mother!

I am going to post this link without much comment (I will leave that to all of you), but I have to say that it grabbed my attention!  Refreshing in ways, startling in others, eyebrow raising in most…  If the article was meant to provoke interest in the author’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, it worked for me.  (And after grabbing the URL for that link, I’m a little interested in the author’s World on Fire, as well, the author of both being Yale professor and “Chinese mother” Amy Chua.)

I couldn’t help but think of a proverb when I read this passage in the article:

“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.”

Which proverb?  “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him” (Proverbs 22:15).  How many parents cave to that foolishness?  And how many today would find the idea that a parent must “override” their child’s “preferences” absolutely horrifying?  (Regardless of where you draw the line, you would have to agree that some parents today have refused to manage their children’s “preferences” resulting in absolutely horrific consequences.)

The passage on being called “garbage” and repeating the act with her own daughter (and what sort of childhood crime would result in such a designation) makes for interesting reading, as well.

Oh–the whole article is interesting reading…  Whether it will make you happy, sad, or horrified, you should check it out: “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” (One of the tabs on the page contains a video of two moms descended from “Chinese mothers” who are taking a different path, for those who would like to see another point of view.)

5 thoughts on “Is the “Chinese mother” a superior model?

  1. Just reading’s description of the book is horrifying. The author’s method of child-raising is just as bad as Western permissiveness, only in another direction. Oh yes, Mr. Smith, I can and will argue with her results. Loudly. Clearly. Academic achievement isn’t everything, and especially if it comes at the price of denial of a child’s unfolding nature as created.

    If my mother were still alive I’d beg her to write a book called BATTLE HYMN OF THE DIXIE MOTHER and show the world that “even if I was no more perfect than the Chinese mother, in my way I was no less perfectionist, and I raised wunderkind twins, a boy and a girl, who didn’t have to overcome the things her children, inevitably, will have to overcome. (They have had to overcome other things I imposed on them, alas!)”

    It seems no culture of this world can strike the balance between letting its children be who they truly are individually and letting them become an integrated part of society contributing to it with their utmost. At this stage of my life I’m devoting an enormous amoung to time to learning how, in the Kingdom of God, we can redress that balance once and for all. But here’s one of the things I’ve learned toward that end, and it didn’t come from a Chinese mother, it came from Laurie Riley, a renowed performer and teacher of the Celtic harp:

    “If you never let yourself be a true beginner, you will never become a true master.”

    Fun, I submit, comes from recognizing that fact. So does recognizing individual learning styles. Not everyone responds as well to rote memorization. I never did. I simply photographed the page with my mind and went on. 🙂

  2. Steve

    I thought that she had a good point. When you’re dealing with a small child, for example, you have to repeat things (over and over). It’s not because they’re being rebellious. It’s simply because their little brains aren’t fully developed. Their attention span is very short. Constant reinforcement actually helps those little neurons to connect.

    And it’s a progressive development over time. “No, son, you can’t watch TV; we have to go over these math problems that you missed.” He might not like it at the time, but it’ll pay dividends in the future.

    Train a child in the way that he should go, and he’ll follow it the rest of his life. And whatever your hands finds to, then do it with all your might. Structure, training and discipline are not dirty words.

    And it doesn’t mean that you smother you kid, either.

    We resolved early that little Jonny would get involved in organized sports. For the socialization, learning to work as a team, and so on. But which sport? We let Jonny pick that. How? We played basketball, soccer, and baseball with him as a toddler. He kept gravitating towards baseball. So there it was. His natural instinct was baseball.

    And it went like that through the years. Find out the kid’s natural instincts, then help him make it flower.

    Today? Jonny is a junior in highschool. Takes nothing but honors classes. Has a 4.56 grade point average. Is the lead pitcher for the baseball team. Has three or four pro scouts tracking him. Recently received a letter of interest from one of the top five colleges in the country.

    And best of all? He is a really, really good kid. When he was small, we taught him the concept of faith, trust, and never breaking your word; and he’s never, ever broken that.

    Sorry, I know this sounds like I’m bragging. But that’s the thing, you know? Discipline, structure, and training; then helping the kid flower according to his own natural abilities at the same time.

    We got a lot that stuff from the Bible.

  3. Teresa

    There must be a method to that type of child rearing that doesn’t turn the child against the parent nor foster insecurities. I notice that Ms. Chua didn’t just order the practice time & result, but stayed with her child until the goal was accomplished. Afterwards there was the healing time of snuggling.
    I was raised in a family where a B was not good enough, although an A- was accepted. I was also constantly teased my mother about being overweight until no matter what my weight has been over the years, I always look fat to myself in the mirror. My dad did tutor me in math because it was not a strong subject for me, but everything else was just left to me to perfect. I have recently found out that I have ADHD, so the brain is wired differently than some. Could it be that ADHD is not common in Asia, so the acceptance by children of the tactics used by parents like Ms. Chua comes easier? It is believed that countries like the United States and Australia tend to have a fairly large populations with ADHD.
    I guess my feeling after being raised in a way that expected perfection was similar to Rakkav’s in that I just didn’t want to put that same pressure on my own children although I always wanted them to do all to the best of their abilities and to learn to work diligently and hard.

  4. Hi Steve!

    Recently I read in PLEASE UNDERSTAND ME by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates about different learning styles. Taking how he described the four temperaments: SJs respond by far the best to rote memorization, regardless of age; SPs (we think, yours) almost as well, if memory serves. NTs and NFs? Not so well. NTs think it an inefficient waste of time (because for them, it is) and NFs find it just plain boring (they respond much, much better to narrative, for example). NFs and NTs have a strong photographic memory by and large (if on different things) and they don’t need everything drilled by rote into their head even when very young. Help them understand a subject intuitively and they’ll “get it”. The S types are concrete thinkers, and they need the rote training on academic subjects more (especially SJs).

    But rote training on behavior in righteousness – which is what Solomon’s Proverb about “training up a child in the way he should go” was talking about, no more, no less – is needful for everyone across the board, equally. And despite Dr. Keirsey’s interesting weasel-words about not imposing corporal punishment on any of the temperaments, the fact is children of all temperaments need it if they become rebellious morally. They need to learn that despising government isn’t a solution to whatever other issues they’re facing. And while each temperament will be humiliated in a different way if so punished, that can be overcome if love is shown in the process.

    And as for acquiring a skill such as playing a violin: there is no substitute for repetition to develop the motor intelligence, but again, if the student isn’t permitted to be a true beginner, she’ll never be a true master – or if she becomes one on the outside, it will be at the price of needless distortion on the inside. Music students should be taught to have fun as a beginner; it helps them endure the inevitable rote study required to master their instrument.

  5. Steve

    Well, I’ll have to reply to Rakkav’s second comment indirectly.

    I certainly agree that some parents can be overly strict with their children. There’s a passage in the Bible warning parents not to exasperate their kids. It also warns the children not to provoke their parents. In other words, you can ride a kid so hard that he starts to rebel. And the rebellion makes the parent ride the kid even harder. It can become a vicious circle. That’s not good.

    I don’t necessarily agree that parenting is an issue of being too strict or too permissive. That suggests a one dimensional scale, in which you’re suppose to find some kind of balance between the two. I view it from a completely different perspective. I don’t know how to explain that without launching into a five page dissertation.

    Sometimes you tighten the reins. Sometimes you let the reins go. The two are not incompatible. It depends. That’s the best way I can put it, right now.

    Learning styles? Well, if you’re involved with your kid, then you automatically know what his learning style is. That means sitting down with him, going over his tests or homework, and discovering any problem areas. Working with him teaches you his learning style.

    Moral training? Yeah, there are rules to learn, but there’s more to it than that. One time, I jumped on little Jonny for something that he didn’t do. When I discovered my mistake, I apologized to the boy. I literally sat below his eye level, apologized, and told him that “grown ups are wrong sometimes.” Some people would have a problem with that, but I wasn’t ashamed of it. It was the truth.

    Relief washed over that little boy like cool water on a hot Summer day. Then we made a promise to one another. If he told me something, then I would believe him. That’s where the whole thing about trust and faith came from. And even though he’s a teenager now, he’s never broken trust.

    It’s all about love. Just as Rakkav said. If you care about your kids, then you train and discipline them, because they’re going to be adults some day. If you care about them, then you let them spread their wings, and try things according to their own interests or inclinations.

    Jonny announced that he’s going to quit baseball after highschool. He’s being tracked by pro scouts, with a potential future in the big league, but he’s going to quit baseball.
    Why? He loves baseball; he loves standing on the mound and striking people out. But it’s just a game to him. He does it for fun, nothing more. He wants to pursue his academic interests, and “get a real job.”

    That comes from him, not us. He’s turning into a young man, and he’s learning to make his own decisions in life. Whatever he decides, we back him one hundred percent. In fact, we’re proud of him.

    And this comment turned out much longer than I expected. Sorry, Mr Smith!

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