I had the pleasure of hearing in person, Professor Amy Chua, author of the bestselling book: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, at the spring Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) Conference, held in Philadelphia, PA, May 6, 2011.
Her presentation was not what I expected. Having just finished reading her book while traveling to Philadelphia, I expected a professional defense of her child rearing methods and an explanation of what she called the "Chinese Way" of raising children. Instead, what we got was a mom, talking about her parenting memoir of raising her two daughters the "Chinese Way" in an American Culture. She was very personable, very human, with a lot of observations and few definitive answers. Several others in the audience said they attended prepared to dislike her, and by the end of the presentation had warmed to her sincerity.
She recognizes that any generalization is an over-generalization and in both countries there will be wide spread variations of child rearing methodologies. However, in general, what she refers to as the "Chinese Way" is an almost single minded focus and preparation for success, and coming in at any rank other than number one in any important activity, is cause for concern. The basis for that thinking is that discipline and concentration are required for success. On the other hand, the "American Way" she sees as very permissive and motivation is largely up to the child to choose his or her own way. Her "memoir" was a personal story of the clash of those two philosophies in her own family. She is parenting the "Chinese Way", attempting to raise her daughters as she was raised by her immigrant parents, but with the influence of the "American Way", which is creating a conflict within her family by strongly influencing her Americanized daughters.
The story played out with significant different reactions between the two girls to her mother's methods. Sophia, the older, said later that she choose to go along with her mother and approved of her mother's methods. Louisa, the younger daughter, had always been rather stubborn and resistant, and at the age of 13 totally rebelled to the extent that the mother gave up and said she had been humbled by a 13 year old. Louisa then chose her own priority, and showed the same determination at tennis as the mother had been attempting to instill in her for the violin.
It seems the popularity of this book is due to both being a touching human story, and being published about the time the country seems to be on the verge of another national debate over how to raise children. We have had these public debates before. For example, in the 1950's Dr. Spock was criticized as being too permissive, helping change attitudes away from the common methods of strict discipline and "children should be seen and not heard," along with the attitude "spare the rod and spoil the child." (Hmmm, doesn't that traditional American attitude of our grandparents sound more like the "Chinese Way" than the "American Way"?). Currently, the volume is increasing about why so many of our young people are doing so poorly. Problems ranging from frequent drug abuse, to high teen pregnancy, and frequent failure-to-launch of young adults are among problems being debated and are causing people to ask if we need to change the ways we raise children. This book and her presentations come at a perfect time to inform our national public debate.
Professor Chua's book and presentations provide material to help explore several important questions:
- How children are different in their needs and each need a different kind of parenting.
- How too much structure can backfire, even with loving children.
- How mixing cultural assumptions can create confusion and conflict if not properly handled.
- What is the role of a parent?
- Is there a best way to parent, or do parents need to learn different parenting styles depending on the inclinations of each child?
Professor Chua, in an article published in USA TODAY shortly after the IECA presentation, presented the mix between the "Chinese Way" and the "American Way" that she sees might be the solution in blending the best of both worlds.
The "Chinese Way" is good at teaching discipline and concentration through rote learning, but is weak on teaching creativity and individual leadership.
The "American Way" is good at encouraging creativity and individual leadership, but weak on teaching discipline and concentration.
Her suggested solution is to emphasize the rote learning in the primary grades to teach discipline and concentration. In other words, take from the "Chinese Way" at that age.
However, in secondary school and college, parents and teachers back off some and encourage the students to "find their own way" more. Thus, with a foundation based on discipline and the ability to concentrate, the students are ready to accomplish great things following more their own creativity and learn individual leadership.
Sounds like a plan to me!