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Memoir broadens cultural gap


March 24, 2011

Growing up, I assumed all kids were raised like me with curfews, bed times, no TVs in bedrooms and reading at night. Also we didn’t have a computer or video games. We played outside rather than watching TV. The golden rule was expected to be nice to everyone. We sat down to dinner as a family every night.

Well, once I hit high school I learned that not all kids’ parents were so strict with them. I knew my parents were strict and we never crossed them, knowing love was never an issue.

When I first learned about Amy Chua’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” I thought her parenting style was a bit much; however my opinion has slightly changed since researching and reviewing the book.

Chua is the John M. Duff professor of Law at Yale Law School and mother of two, Sophia and Lulu. She is the author of bestselling “World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability” (2003) and “Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance - and Why They Fall” (2007).

The Tiger Mom book was released in early 2011 to criticism in the mainstream media for telling American parents how to raise their kids.

First, Chua’s book is a memoir not parenting a book, which is why she received some criticism, because Americans thought her styles were harsh.

On the cover of her book it states the following:
This is a story about a mother, two daughters, and two dogs
This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones.
But instead, it’s a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a 13-year-old.

In the book you learn the following word for word: the Chinese believe that the best way to protect their children is by preparing them for the future and arming with skills, strong work habits and inner confidence.

Some may disagree with the confidence portion since the harsh name calling, such as “garbage” or threaten to burn stuffed animals, when the child does not fulfill the highest grade or award.

“I think that is ridiculous,” said Katie Mahoney, CSU Early Childhood Education graduate and third grade teacher at Apex Academy in East Cleveland. “She is taking it way too far, and could possibly hurt a child’s self esteem and perhaps hurt their child’s overall school performance.”

Teachers are an important source for young children and parents as well. They are with the children during the day and teach them the fundamentals for an education.

Children learn in different ways based on their individuality since no one person is the same. One thing Chua did not agree with.

Not every child is capable of getting all A’s nor should they be expected to. Sometimes a “C” is the absolute best that a child can do and there is nothing wrong with that, explained Jeannine Pilch, fourth grade teacher at Denison Elementary School in Cleveland.

“Give me a student who tries their best any day over a student who doesn’t try at all,” she said.

Chua mentions one study of 50 American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70 percent of the American mothers either that “stressing academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea that learning is fun.”

In contrast, roughly zero percent of the Chinese mothers felt the same way.
This study may not be 100 percent accurate since teachers do notice a difference in students that have parents active in their education.

“Students who have parents that are positively involved in their lives tend to do better in school and have more self confidence,” said Pilch.

Another study she cites compared American parents; Chinese parents spend approximately 10 times as long every day drilling academic activities with children. Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.

“The Chinese culture may be strict, but their children’s performance in school is definitely much higher than that of American schools,” Mahoney said. “Perhaps this is the missing link.”

Though some of her parenting practice are extreme and could be toned down, but knowing that her daughters were capable of being their absolute best and pushing to help achieve those that terrible?

In the first chapter defining a tiger mom, Chua provides data that Chinese mothers believe their children can be “the best” students and “academic achievements reflects successful parenting” and if they don’t excel at school then there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.”

As a parent being involved in your child’s education and supporting educators is important because without them, one cannot understand the importance of a good education.

“[There] are the parents that don’t need me to tell them what their child needs, their parents come to me and ask if they could get extra work, to practice with their child,” Mahoney said. “These parents also hold their child accountable which is a great trait to have.”

One thing that needs to be noted from this book is that Chua uses both Chinese mothers and American mothers loosely because she knows Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents that qualify as “tiger moms”.

She also knows Chinese mothers by heritage, born to the West, who aren’t “tiger moms.”
American parents come in many varieties and some can be just as strict.

In her recent interview with Charlie Rose, Chua mention some ideas that she said aren’t just Chinese parenting ideas such as striving to be excellent, which she explains is an American value. Her parenting style may be strict, but she explained that teaching her daughter self reliance and to not blame others was important.

“Looking back I wish I would have made them take more responsibility for their school work, our household and their own personal needs,” said Mary Ann Zubarev, mother of two adult children.

It does sometimes seem that horrible when you realize Chua knows her kids have the capabilities to be the best. It just takes hard work, practice and not giving up.

“Kids are amazing, they want to please, and if you set the bar high, you will be surprised as to what they can achieve,” said Mahoney. “If students strive to be successful, they can accomplish it. I do not think many parents set high expectations for their children.”

By the end of the book, Chua caved to youngest daughter Lulu and her will to succeed on her own. Lulu was tired of Chua riding and pushing her in violin lessons that the joy was gone and she rebelled.

Lulu eventually talked her mom into letting her try tennis, which was something Chua thought was not a worthwhile hobby but later realized Lulu worked just as hard to be a good player and turned out to be a winning player.

Lulu taught her mom to trust and respect the decision to play tennis. She showed Chua she was dedicated and worked just as hard doing something she enjoyed.

This is something some American moms agree to as well.

“I think respect is also the most important thing you can teach your children, when I tell my kids something, they know I mean it, I’ve always followed through, good or bad,” said Michelle Hunt, mother of two.

“I think being strict is great, as long as you allow the kids to grow they way they need to grow. I always pick my battles.”

My parents had an active role in my educational learning, of which I credit them for me becoming the woman I am today. A good person that has a strong work ethic and I believe that if I work hard enough I can truly achieve my dreams. I would say as parents they succeeded.

The United States is known as a melting pot. With all the different cultures, we could learn from them.

Chua mentions bringing back traditional values in her interview with Rose. Stating the question “have we lost something?”

There are American mothers that believe traditional values are lost and it can effect a child as they grow up.

“I agree with the traditional values to a point,” said Hunt. She also thinks it’s healthy that her kids see that they are her number one priority, but that she is an independent, working mom, who has a good work ethic.

We live in a society where children and adults do not take responsibility for their behavior and actions, explained Zubarev. Simple human kindness and cutesy are not practiced. Work ethic seems to be lost. People all tend to cut corners, want to work less and make more. Everyone wants something for nothing.

Chua might have a strict parenting style, but her thought process that her children are the best they can be with support, hard work and love is what parents should do to teach their children.