How do you say, “You want fries with that?” in Mandarin?
A new child-raising rage
is off and running. No. Off and soaring. In the ten days since the publication
of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger
Mother newspapers and talk radio have become obsessed with the Chinese
Mother (CM) approach to getting our children ready to do battle out there in
the dangerous world.
The prophet of this new
approach is a Chinese-American mother of two apparently accomplished teenage
daughters. She is also a Yale University law professor. Her method boils down
to all-work-and-no-play-makes-Jack-and-Jill Ivy League shoo-ins. Forget dull! Operationally,
the CM Method means a parental full-court attack on the prevailing world of
childhood. For instance, in the CM Method, children are allowed no TV, no
videogames, no sleepovers, no playdates, no school grades below A, no frothy
deviations, like being in a school play or on a sports team. On the other hand,
they must play either the piano or violin, and practice a minimum of three
hours a day without complaint.
Amy Chua’s method is
based on a number of core differences with our Western style of child rising. First,
Western mothers (WMs) have been seduced by the self-esteem movement. On the
other hand, CMs only care about accomplishments. Second, WMs believe their job
is to uncover their child’s hidden talents. CMs believe in study-study,
practice-practice. Third, WMs want their children to be free and autonomous adults.
CMs believe in their own authority and that children owe them a debt and must be
prepared to repay it later on. Fourth, WMs are present-oriented and want happy,
independent children. CMs are future-oriented and want discipline and tangible
The fact that Professor
Chua’s book has rocketed up the best-seller list and her approach has become
the talk of talk radio says more about the current way we in the West are
raising our children than about the value of her method. Particularly in the US,
which has been the great Dewey-eyed apostle of child-centred education, there
has been a growing realization that we are on the wrong course. The alarm bells
have been sounding for two or three decades, as one set after another of scores
on international assessment test of math and science have revealed
students to be mediocre or worse. Then there is US youth’s world leadership in out-of-wedlock
birth rate and the rate of STD infection, in obesity, anorexia, drug and
video-game addictions, cheating and in what will surely be tomorrow’s
The handwringing about
American kids has been going on for some time, however. What has caused the CM
approach to touch the parental nerve is the US’s uncertain economy and the
worry that American children will soon be working for the Chinese. (How do you
say, “Fries with that?” in Mandarin?) It is rather doubtful that if a Hispanic
woman had written Battle Hymn of the
Mexican Madre, it would have a similar impact.
We will have to wait to
see whether the CM phenomenon will have a lasting impact on Western children
raising practices. Clearly, though, Professor Chua’s message challenges current
practices and surfaces several questions. Is she correct that self-discipline,
which is at the heart of her method, is a better predictor of success than IQ? Are
Western children getting too much of a diet of escapist pleasure in the form of
movies and television? Are our schools making serious demands on their time and
energies? Is the prevailing method of early freedom of choice and stress on individuality
in children’s long-term best interest?
One other quite
uncomfortable and politically incorrect question which the CM method raises is,
“Can one be a part-time mom or dad?” This is particularly focused on what has
been a 50-year social experiment in the US of the working wife and mother: “Can
she have it all?”
Although Amy Chua seems
to be able to be a very hands-on parent and have a successful career, does
child-raising in the modern world require a level of supervision and attention
that few career-oriented, Western families are ready to give?
founded the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston
University, where he is professor emeritus. He has written and edited 20 books.
He has appeared on CBS's "This Morning", ABC's "Good Morning
America", "The O’Reilly Factor", CNN and the Public Broadcasting
System speaking on character education. He can be reached at [email protected].
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