Amy Chua is a law professor at Yale who’s been in the news a lot lately for writing a memoir detailing her fairly traditional Asian-American parenting style. The book, itself, apparently, has a sense of humor, and some balance, but the Washington Post article seem to cull only the most controversial passages from her book.*
I have mixed feelings about the publicity surrounding the book. On the one hand, it is what it is. On the other, we hardly need more caricatures of our race. On the other other, she seems to be writing a fairly true story, and it’s not her fault that we lump her narrative into a stereotype. It’s unfair to place the burden of an entire ethnic group on her shoulders, and, of course, we wouldn’t do it if she were a straight white man. By virtue of being Other, her narrative is automatically seized upon to demonstrate the veracity of Asian-American stereotypes, despite the fact that she seems to enjoy about as much cultural success and professional respect that any Other possibly ever could.
So, although I haven’t read the book, the furor seems like a good opportunity to blog on a somewhat-timely matter, for once. Although the article pulled more extreme examples, this draconian parenting style is nothing new in the Asian-American community. Moreover, anecdotally, said style doesn’t really seem to be limited to Asian parents, but to any parents who emigrated from second-world (and some third-world), somewhat authoritarian countries. Maybe something about growing up in a more communal culture, resenting the seeming homogeneity, and being rebellious enough to emigrate to the United States actually just breeds a sort of apolitical cultural libertarianism that manifests itself in zero-sum ambition. (However, interestingly enough, Ms. Chau actually was born in Champaign and is a first-generation Chinese-American.)
On an unrelated note, I do wonder what, exactly, your child needs to be like in order to actually maximize her potential under this type of parenting regime. Sure, Asian-Americans notoriously are successful academically, surpassing even Caucasians, despite a lack of vocabulary development at home.
However, a few things to consider:
-The Asian-American community is extremely ethnically, socially, political, financially, and educationally diverse, even if nobody else notices. You have Taiwanese and Japanese people who emigrated here in the early 80s, Hong Kong(ese?) especially in the mid-90s, mainland Chinese around the same time, Koreans who have steadily been trickling in for the past few decades, especially through church groups, etc. In general, most of the aforementioned were highly successful in their native countries, or would have been unable to secure the funds, paperwork, etc. to get here in the first place.
At the opposite end, a significant chunk of Vietnamese and Cambodians have been immigrating here since the Vietnam War and come from much more impoverished and poorly-educated backgrounds, because they truly are refugees. So, while Taiwanese-Americans may be overrepresented in elite academia, Southeast Asians certainly are underrepresented.
-Therefore, what percent of first-generation Asian-Americans’ success can we attribute not even to draconian parenting, but simply to great genes and significant material resources? Most who dream of moving to the United States never make it. I would argue that those who do probably already exhibit certain exceptional tendencies that they can pass on to their children through both nature and nurture.
-Nature v. nurture in general. This shit is hard to tell. I mean, sure, Ms. Chua’s kids seem really on top of their shit, but their parents are, oh, two fucking Yale law professors. It’s hardly like they’re starting with the innate capacity of the common man. The PC argument may be that all people are created equal, but that is simply fucking bullshit. IQ may be exceptionally flawed, but differences in talent are real, and yes, we often do observe that close relatives exhibit similar levels of inherent aptitude (regardless of whether they do anything with it).
-What happens when you push a kid who, quite simply, just isn’t A+ material? Nearly every girl in my freshman dorm suite bawled upon receiving her first midterm because she had never gotten a grade below an A before, and just didn’t know how to handle it. Some of them, of course, did learn how to cope with being less than the best, but how crushing is that?
When you present a child with the idea that she will only be good enough if she comes in first in everything she does, you have a couple of unintended consequences. First, of course, is that she may be more likely to quit some potentially cool activity as soon as she doesn’t come in first.
Second, and more important for real life: the fact of the matter is, nobody can come in first in everything, forever. There’s a lot of people in the world. If you really are trying to max out your awesomeness, you keep moving up in the world, trying to find more and more challenging/inspiring competitors. Eventually, you’re going to get beaten. If most of your identity is tied up in the requirement of always being first, what happens once you aren’t?
-Let’s say a kid does have the potential to be a supergenius, or maybe even Astronaut Mike Dexter. If we have two kids with the exact same potential, what makes one of them responsive to draconian parenting and the other one completely immune?
For example, my mother did pretty much everything listed in the overdramatized WSJ article. While I do think I turned out quite well, I certainly never did anything she asked of me. I got mediocre grades from Kindergarten through forever, going to Chinese School really did make my Chinese much worse, I hated tennis and golf, and I generally disliked, and refused to perform, virtually every significant thing she ever asked me to do. Meanwhile, plenty of others in the exact same situation react in the opposite way and do get those A+s.
So, I’m really curious as to what makes some of us react one way and others the opposite, especially given that this reactions start as soon as you’re a cogent human being. (For example, the earliest I can remember despising nearly everything my mother asked of me was the age of 4. So, why didn’t I just play along? And why do other four-year-olds choose to do the opposite?) (Again, maybe her parenting style worked out after all, because I think I’m the shit. However, I usually think that’s in spite of her, and not because of her. Double however, isn’t that just a matter of semantics? It seems grossly unjust to blame her for all my terrible traits and refuse to grant her credit for any of my good ones.)
-Significantly, to me, anyway: I despise my mother. I do love her. I do not like her. I have never liked her. Our relationship is terrible, and it’s unfortunate, and yet I have very little desire to make it better. I have, on many occasions, tried to make it better, as has she, but there’s just so much bad blood on my end that I truly am completely unsure if I will ever like her. I think that’s sad as fucking shit. So, why doesn’t this matter?
Ugh, this post is already 1127 words, so my bad, and I give up. I guess I may write more tomorrow.
P.S. In general, sorry for never editing. If something is confusing, however, please do let me know, and I’ll go back and clarify.
*I probably never will read this book. However, her books on international relations and trade seem way more interesting!