Tiger Mom controversy: Be pushed to excel and excel, that was a secret?

January 22, 2011

It should really be no secret and no scandal that those who put more effort into something and those who are driven, pushed by someone else, often get ahead — although it may not always work out that way.

But as we wonder why Asian students seem to do so well in school, we really should have known the answer all along: they work harder and their parents make them do that.

I write this to add my two cents into the current “Tiger Mom” controversy, and I haven’t even read the book or article that started it. And I’ll stop right here and note that of course the whole thing is kind of manufactured, something they used to call a publicity stunt (Frank Sinatra Jr. kidnapped) and nowadays call marketing.

But anyway, a first-generation American-Chinese woman, and Yale law professor, by the name of Amy Chua wrote a book called “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother”. In it she describes the tough love approach Chinese mothers (well both parents) take with their kids — basically all work and no play. But they do it with love. It’s a cruel world out there — you have to be prepared (I could have used that, but then I would have never survived childhood). One commentator I heard said it was something like the old Johnny Cash song “A boy Named Sue”. In that ballad the boy’s father who knew he would not be around named his son Sue so he would either have to get tough or die.

(In an interview Chua pointed out that the Asian immigrants she descried are of a certain class of people, ones who came over here with skills already. I just put that in here in case you might have wondered why all Asian immigrants do not do better.)

Chua is quick to explain that she found this approach was not totally successful with her younger daughter so she had to pull back. And she said she was not writing a “how to” book but instead mostly a memoir.

While she has received much hate mail from people suggesting what a horrible person she is and even some death threats, reportedly, one thing she has proven is that she or her marketers know how to sell a book; it was number five on the New York Times book list, at last report I saw.  And Chua is attractive and dresses nice, that helps with the promotion.

But when you get past the hype, it’s the same old story. It’s all about extremes and what you really want out of life and what you are willing to sacrifice to get it.

The best of both worlds would be the drive of the Asians and the ability to lay back and enjoy life, like Americans or like some Americans, or like the French, oh, heck I don’t know.

But it’s like healthy eating. If you ate as healthy as you possibly could you might starve yourself to death. You have to enjoy yourself some time.

American society has grown kind of weak because not much is expected of the individual. A lot of jobs have been dumbed down both because it’s hard to find people who can think or who are skilled and in turn it’s cheaper to pay unskilled and dumb workers.

And then there is our welfare system, although not as bad as it may often be portrayed to be, it does seem to have the effect of perpetuating generational idleness.

I think the closest some Americans come to the Asian push-your-kids hard approach is sports. I’ve seen some parents pushing their kids (well actually heard about it more than I‘ve personally witnessed it), and it is ugly. But then again, in cases where the kid is really into sports — hey, winning IS everything. Losers don’t get multi-million-dollar contracts.

But of course outright abuse is indefensible.

Some groups who think they do not fare as well in society — and out of politeness today I won’t name names — as others might look toward those who do and emulate at least some aspects of the more successful behaviors, while retaining the best parts of their own culture.

So you might look back on your growing up and say: “it was hell but it was worth it”.

Or you might say: “We was por but we was happy”.

Somehow I don’t think either one of those work. It’s the extremes that get in the way.


Sometimes people who are driven to perform are dull. I think Chua said or implied that she suffers from that to some extent. Well at least until she wrote her book.

P.s. P.s.

The following article was the source of the idea for this blog: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/fashion/16Cultural.html

The remaking of an ex-president…

May 5, 2010

I was reading an article that noted those who write novels that take place in the past or who do memoirs depend upon the passage of time. It would be hard to make sense of things in real time, but over the years thoughts coalesce and perspective changes.

And then in the same day I watch Laura Bush on Oprah hawking her new book. I don’t think she needs the money, but she is doing her best to lay the ground work for a Bush legacy.

And there was the charming and gracious and even a bit modest Laura Bush and then the twin Bush daughters, once portrayed in the popular media as wild out-of-control college girls (girls just want to have fun), now two rich girls who are dedicating their lives to do good.

And the one daughter, the one who looks just like her daddy (well if her daddy was a young girl), makes the case, one she said was made to the Obama girls in a letter by her and her twin sister, that those who criticize the president (be he George W. or Barack) don’t know the real man who is a father and who is lovable.

And while I don’t think they (the Bushes) are particularly bad people (I do not really know), I come away almost thinking, gosh how could I or anyone else not love em. They’re so all-American — rich, never have to do real work or even fix their own meals, any of them, but lovable nonetheless.

I almost feel ashamed for every doubting them.

But I also recall my folks telling me that when Harry S Truman was president (I was only a few years old at the time), one heck of a lot of people did not like him. But a couple decades after he left office he becomes a folk hero — “the buck stops here” and “give em Hell Harry” and so on. He was a Democrat, but for some reason Republicans often use his name favorably, vowing to act the way he would.

So now the project to create a folk hero out of George W. Bush has begun. Laura has her book in the stores now and George is working on one (probably has to have Laura look up the big words).


Actually in that article about waiting for the passage of time, a novelist had apparently written about the past when it was the present. It was about the writings of the late Irene Nemirovsky, who died in a Nazi concentration camp. He writings, found by family in a journal, were published a few years ago in a book called “Suite Francaise”. (The reference I read to the book was in the May 3 Roger Cohen column in the New York Times.)