Why American Mothers are Superior

I really did not have time to write this today, but two articles I read made me drop what I was doing. First was the Wall Street Journal article by a Yale law professor who says Chinese mothers are superior because they produce more mathematical and musical prodigies.

The reason, she says, is because none of them accept a grade less than an “A”, all insist their child be number one in the class, they don’t let their children be in school plays, play any instrument other than piano or violin, etc.

She says that this whole thing about people being individuals is a lot of crap (I’m paraphrasing a bit) and gives an example of how she spent hours getting her seven-year-old to play a very difficult piece on the piano. She uses the fact that the older daughter could do the same piece at that age as proof this was reasonable.

There are a few areas I would take exception with her article. First is her grasp of mathematics and logic. It is clearly impossible that every child in China is number one in the class, unless every classroom in the country has a thirty-way tie for first. Second, as my daughter asked, “There are 1.3 billion people in China. None of them ever got a B?” Third is the issue of claiming your parenting is such a great success when your children are not yet out of high school.

I don’t teach at Yale, but I do have a Ph.D., have published several articles in academic journals, founded two companies, and won a gold medal in the world judo championships. I raised three kids to adulthood. As for the companies, they paid enough to support the kids in what they wanted to do. That individualism crap?

Well, the first one went to NYU at age 17, graduated at 20 and if you google Maria Burns Ortiz you’ll find everything from her acceptance speech as Emerging Journalist of the Year to her stories on Major League Baseball investments in Venezuela for ESPN to Fox News Latino. Plus, she has a good husband and she is a wonderful mother.

She never took piano lessons but she is an amazing writer.

The second daughter, the Perfect Jennifer, received her Masters and teaching credential from USC at 24, after taking a couple years off after her B.A. in History. She teaches at an inner city school in Los Angeles. This isn’t her fall back plan in a bad economy. This was her first choice profession and her first choice school. They are lucky to have her and she’s happy to have them.

My third daughter was in the last two Olympics, won a bronze medal in Beijing and has now gone professional as a fighter in Mixed Martial Arts. Ironically, she was the one that played bassoon and attended a science magnet. She volunteers at a school in Watts where her older sister did her student teaching.

And STILL, I would not venture to lecture other people on how superior my parenting skills are because a) there have been times when I could cheerfully have smacked each one of them with a two by four and only my maturity, Catholic faith and felony assault laws of the state of California stayed my hand and b) as Erma Bombeck said, no mother is arrogant because she knows that, regardless of her other accomplishments in life, at any moment she may get a call from the school principal saying that her child rode a motorcycle through the auditorium.

If I got a call like that, I wouldn’t even be surprised. I would just reach for my credit card to give the principal the number over the phone and go searching the house for my two by four.

The second article I read was by Vivek Wadhwa, in Business Week, who said that Chinese and Indian engineering programs graduate several times MORE students than the U.S. but the quality of these students is generally much poorer than American students.

When I was in graduate school, I used to think arguments such as Wadhwa’s were just sour grapes from American students who couldn’t cut it, and their teachers who let them slack.

Then, I graduated, became a professor for many years and an employer. I see exactly the differences Vivek describes between American and many international students.

When I ask the latter questions such as,

“If you were going to redesign programming language X, what would you do?”

They will tell me what X does in great detail but not answer the question.

American students are more likely to jump in with ideas about how to change X, replete with statements like “X sucks because…”

My twenty-five years of experience, agrees with Wadhwa’s research findings in that the international students I have met are far less likely to question results. Of course this isn’t true of all of them. It’s silly to generalize to every member of a nation of a billion or half-billion people.

American students remind me of the nursery rhyme:

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
And when she was good
She was very, very good
And when she was bad
She was horrid

My husband is brilliant. This is why I married him. He went to UCLA on a National Merit Scholarship, double majored in math and physics and then went on to graduate work in physics. He taught himself Calculus in elementary school and then taught himself as much physics as he could before going to college. His parents pretty much let him do what he wanted to do, which was read physics books.

My older brother has a degree in Computer Science from Washington University in St. Louis. Like most of his friends, he majored in computer science because he was really interested in math and computers. When we were in college, around 1975, I saw my first “personal computer”. One of my brother’s friends had built it from parts.

I’m a statistician because I really love statistics and fortunately for me, it pays money.

In America, people in math, computer science and other sciences generally chose those fields because that is what they want to do. They have a genuine interest, to the point of passion, and will often spend crazy hours working in their labs.

Chinese and other international students often spend crazy hours, too, but not as often for the same reasons. A lot of times it’s because of a language barrier – and they have my respect. I spent a year as a student in Japan. As a professor, I once taught a Directed Studies in Psychological Research course in Spanish. Functioning in a second language is damn hard.

The international scholars I know, far more often than American ones, chose their field for practical reasons. They could get a job. The salaries were good. Their parents really wanted them to become a doctor/ engineer.

Sometimes these Chinese (and other) students change while in America. Not always. Lots of middle managers like people to do exactly what they’re told. Not always the best thing for business but perhaps best for the comfort and convenience of that manager.

Schools really like people to do what they are told, and universities just love having graduate students who will pay high out-of-state tuition, teach for low wages, or even work in the lab for free. Hey, don’t blame us if 30% of the students we admit are from other countries, they did the best on the tests AND had a 4.0 GPA. You should have studied more, you lazy slackers!

Someone ought to ask WHY we are measuring what we measure. These tests we give, and the other admissions criteria were not handed down by God. (I know because I did my dissertation on intelligence testing. Most of these tests come from The Psychological Corporation, Pearson Education and the Educational Testing Service. God doesn’t work at any of those places. If you don’t believe me, call their switchboard and ask for God’s extension.)

Why does it matter if your child is a musical prodigy? What the hell difference does it make if your child can play some complicated piece on the piano at age seven?

My youngest daughter, the world’s most spoiled twelve-year-old, plays drums. She practices about an hour a week. She likes the drums. I want my daughter to play an instrument, if she is interested, because it might be something that brings her joy as an adult.

She is on the student council and, this last report card, she brought home her first B+ in a year. We kind of grumbled about it, but that’s all. High achievement is important in life, but it is not all of life.

WHY does it matter so much if you have a 4.0 GPA? I did not have the best behavior or GPA as either a high school student or undergraduate. Looking back, I wonder whatever possessed the admissions staff at Washington University in St. Louis to look at my SAT scores and overlook everything else, but I will be forever grateful that they did. I doubt many universities would admit a student like me today, particularly not at age 16.

What I did have was an intense desire to learn about the world.

As an undergraduate, I took a graduate course in economics because it sounded really interesting and asked the professor’s permission to enroll.
He happened to have been chair of the Council of Economic Advisers (under Richard Nixon, but he was still a great professor nonetheless). I also took courses on Urban and Regional Economics where I got to see real-life applications of matrix algebra.

My point (and by now you may have despaired of my ever having one) is that my undergraduate education gave me the gift of professors willing to respond to my interests, enough time not to interfere with my relationship with the library, and classmates I argued with for the pure intellectual exercise.

When my youngest child is ready for college, I will look for a school that will give that to her. If it is an Ivy League school, that’s fine.

Dr. Chua is raising her children to fit into the Ivy League mold.

Me, I’m raising my children to be themselves and to mold the world to fit.

How is that working out ….

There isn’t a day goes by that I don’t think several times, “I love my life.”

So, it works well for me, and for my family, all the way down to the two-year-old granddaughter whose latest favorite saying is,

“I a lucky kid!”
(Well, right after, “Grandma, buy me an iPad for Chrissmas!” )

Dr. Chua’s definition of success is to have children who are musical and mathematical prodigies.

Mine is to have children who learn well, live well and love well.

She’s a success by her standards as I am by mine.

(But I still won’t be surprised if I get that call from the principal. )


My day job :

Games that make you smarter. Don’t let your kids get dumber over the summer. We have three games that run on Mac and Windows. Check them out here.

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  1. I much prefer your philosophy to the child-prodigy-musician one. I have (usually subconsciously) tried to follow the same. However inadequately, the results have exceeded my wildest expectations.

    I have (only) three daughters. They never once thought they couldn’t do whatever they wanted. Without direction from us (but with encouragement) they have been decent athletes and/or good to awesome musicians, but this was always secondary to their learning. We never had to state our expectations or harangue them about it, but they’ve done well, gotten into good colleges (one’s graduated and got a good job in her chosen career within 3 months of graduation), and balanced their classes with their other interests.

    I admire you for what you’ve done and for what your kids have done. Raising happy, competent, contributing members of society is a lofty goal, and not often met.

  2. AnnMaria,very touching and brilliant post. You are completely right — you need to let children be themselves and find their own paths to success.



  3. When the Chinese Mothers article came out, my partner and I had a conversation with roughly the same points you bring up. We’ve got a three month old who we’re figuring out how to raise (we’re acting as if planning matters, which is probably hilarious). It’s encouraging to see someone reiterating the importance of individualism. Thanks for posting this.

    (Also, you’ll probably be proud that my email said “about the Chinese Mothers thing, by the crazy foul-mouthed stats lady.” I quote your blog not irregularly lately, so she knows exactly who I’m talking about…)

  4. Crazy foul-mouthed stats lady? I am shocked, shocked I say!

    Yes, the rumors are true, this blog is written with no adult supervision.

    As for planning being hilarious, yes, I’ve always been puzzled by those students who seem to have their lives all planned out. “I’m going to graduate school and then we’re planning to have our first child while I’m writing my dissertation.”

    When I went to the doctor and he said, “Ma’am, you’re pregnant,” then I planned on having a baby. This is the Catholic version of family planning.

  5. Let’s look at inventions. Which cultures have made more substantial discoveries and inventions in the last 300 years (or 400, or 500, etc)? Dr. Chua’s method is a creativity killer.

    The Chinese arguably invented/discovered gun powder, paper, the concept of printing and the compass, but this was 1000+ of years ago. Their creative days have long passed.

  6. “WHY does it matter so much if you have a 4.0 GPA?”

    Because no GPA sucks more than a 3.975.

  7. Curious, did you read the actual book the WSJ article was based on? Take a look at this article:

    The book is about a journey a mother goes on. From the article, “The book climaxes with a wrenching confrontation between Chua and her indomitable younger daughter, Lulu, who has resisted Tiger Parenting throughout her childhood. It’s she who ultimately makes Chua accept that she’s gone too far, and vow to change. And, as it turns out, letting Lulu make her own choices doesn’t prove to be the disaster that Chua fears.”

    The WSJ was doing its _typical_ race baiting. The real story is a nuanced story about cultural differences, and the story of one mother who happens to find a happy place in the middle.

    And lastly a quote from Chau, “The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model”

  8. Thank you For your response.

    You remind me of my mother and all the loving intelligent women who participated in my youth.

    I am grateful for both (all) types of mothering and discussion on the subject.

  9. No, Ken, I did not read the book, although I did this morning read the SF article where she said they misrepresented her views. That may be true but I also read that her book is now #7 on Amazon. The original article had her by-line. It was NOT a book review.

    Every article I have ever published was written by me and then sent to an editor. The article is returned with edits. I can either accept all, some or none of the edits. I generally accept nearly all because usually the editor and reviewers have helpful suggestions I had not considered or spot errors I made. Sometimes I do dispute the edits because I think they misrepresent my views or the data. If I don’t accept the edits, the editor has the option to publish my piece or not.

    I think the Wall Street Journal got a huge amount of hits on its site and discussion from this article, many from people who don’t normally read WSJ. I’m sure they expected that and knew full well what they were doing. It was an intelligent business move on her part.

    As an academic, I would think Dr. Chua would stand fully behind anything published with her name on it. She no doubt expected a spike in book sales from the WSJ article and she got that.

    I do believe she was probably surprised by the quantity and intensity of visceral and sometimes vicious reactions she no doubt received. That happens on every topic because using the comments section doesn’t require intelligence, sanity or civility. It just requires an Internet connection.

  10. I’m a Chinese male who just graduated from school and is working full time as a programmer because my parents pushed me to do something “practical.” From my experience, I’ve realized that what Asian parents want is success for their child, to be able to achieve and do something that makes them stand out or remain ahead of the pack or set them up for success. But there’s a difference between success and happiness. Success in this case has to do with comparing one’s self to others and teaching a child to win by beating others. In contrast, parents who focus on happiness will be okay with the child’s decisions and actions, and the parent behaves more like a guiding light, giving the child much more freedom and definitely much more happiness.

    Chinese parents are obsessed with turning their kids into machines because the whole thing has become a competitive game. Which parent was the most successful through their kid being the most successful? The parents know all the mistakes that can be made, so they save the child those mistakes and pave the road FOR them. And of course they don’t know if they’re doing well until they compare against than the national average and the school average and grades and numbers and colleges and subjects and AP classes and blah blah blah blah!!! They’re just NUMBERS AND GRADES that are based off of someone else’s curriculum and ideas. How do you control that? Chinese parents can either program their kids to follow all rules and reach crazy expectations, or they can learn to let go and separate their lives from their children’s lives. I think America has a better understanding of the “individual” vs the “collective” and I am very grateful today that I don’t have to live with and support my parents just because it is how they were brought up.

  11. AnnMariaStat, my understanding is she wrote all of it, yet none of it 🙂

    These were excerpts of her book. Just cut and pasted from the book as a preview. She didn’t actually choose the excerpts nor the title. This is common practice in the book publishing world, especially for non-fiction books. Attribution goes to the author, and permission is usually granted by the publisher.

    From what I can tell, she did’t control the actual selection of content, although she did write it all.

    I’ve only written one book, and it was technical book, but I’m sure if you copy and pasted pieces strategically enough you could make me seem as crazy or deranged as you’d like.

    Again, I’d just suggest reading the actual book before casting aspersions on the author. As PhD’s we both know that you don’t cite source info w/o reading it first. A blog is certainly less formal, but I think its worth the time in any case.

  12. Ken,

    I’ve never had an article published with my by-line on it that I didn’t have the authority to approve or reject edits. In some cases rejecting any rewrite might mean that the article wasn’t published but if the article is as much of a hatchet job as you state then she shouldn’t have put her by-line on it and left it as a review of the book if the Journal was to publish it w/o her by-line.

    Sorry but you comments are making me think the whole thing article was designed solely to sell more coppies of her book.

  13. Cheryl, as you probably know this varies from one contract to the next. It is usually referred to as Excerpt Rights.
    It is not uncommon for the publisher to own these — they’ve effectively purchased them from you (that’s in part because excerpts sometimes can make as much money as the book itself).

    Recall Bill Clinton’s memoirs from years past had a big excerpt right fight in the US because the publisher didn’t grant rights in the US. Bill had nothing to do with the struggle — it was his publishers fight.

    I don’t know the details here, but from reading what Mrs Chua has said in interviews and from the fact that the WSJ article was an excerpt piece, I have little reason to doubt that the publisher sold the WSJ the rights to print these excerpts under Chua’s name. Chua gets the byline and they only have to say, “Excerpted from the book XYZ by author ABC” (usually that’s part of the excerpt rights).

    If you know differently, I’d love to know.

  14. While I do not agree with everything Ms Chu writes, American mothering techniques are certainly not superior. Americans (in general) seem to have lost the ability to require excellence from their children and settle for mediocrity as long as the said children are “happy”.

    Continuation of this strategy will lead to a lower middle class of Americans (blue collar workers, low-level white collar employees), with Chinese/Indians/Jews taking the more lucrative jobs that actually require one to persevere. You are beginning to see this already in the more prestigious professions like medicine, science, engineering and teaching faculties where these minorities are vastly over-represented.

    While you personally may have required at least one of your kids to excel (at sports), and reach adequate, if unspectacular, levels at their professions, this is certainly above the American norm.

  15. One thing I noticed is Amy Chua’s article was satirical and thought provoking vs. this one which’s more like an angry rant. Perhaps Amy’s teaching at Yale does seem to make a difference. I agree with some of what Amy Chua says. Kids don’t like a lot of things in school. Like math or science or for some music or sports. It’s the responsibility of parents and teachers to get them interested in what kids fall behind. Saying that kids will all learn by themselves causes problems like the weak American School System that gives kids a sub standard education. Having said that American universities are still ranked the best in the world and that’s what attracts foreign students. Most of the foreign students don’t pay for masters or Phds. Their GPAs are so good that they win scholarships/teaching or research grants.

    So why do American kids don’t seem like they achieve that well during education? Many go to bad public schools. They don’t get compensatory education from their parents because parents either don’t care much or they are not well educated themselves. For lucky few who study well at schools, the bachelors education turns out to be hugely expensive. They work part time to stay fed and achieve poor scores.

    So do all Indians and Chinese come to US for studies/work? Do all kids in India and China go to college? NO. Only 6% of Indian kids go to college. For the few state funded scholarships, most would battle the world’s toughest entrance examinations. Once they get through the bachelor’s, may be 1% of them write GRE and apply for higher education in US. The case for China should be similar. These people are truly talented people and cannot be compared with the general population of American kids. They should be compared with their peers in the top universities/ top companies in US. May be some of them can’t add features to a programming language, some of them don’t have the “wide” interests that American kids develop. However some of these people are specialists and in their selected areas, they are they may be the best.

    And you bet, they’ll teach their kids to be as successful as themselves. Some people have take up the hard task of raising their kids to go to teach at Yale and Harvard and MIT or work in Google, NASA or Facebook. It’s hard and some Americans and some people outside of America succeed. These people in a way contribute to the progress of human beings as a species.

  16. Absolutely it is true that most kids in China, India (and the U.S., for that matter) don’t go to college.

    That was exactly my point in saying that it can’t be true that all children are number one.

    And no, I’m not particularly angry. I’m always like this.

  17. God, that was annoying to read. From the title I expected an interesting argument here, but you just bragged about yourself, your family, and your family’s friends for 10 paragraphs. I think the Wall Street Journal’s implication that you aren’t as good of a parent as you could be uprooted some significant insecurities for you. Thus, you felt the need to explain how awesome you are us. Well done. You are arrogant and you wasted my time. +2

  18. You are completely right. Not all children can be number one. In fact, as of 2009, the US ranks number fifteen among industrialized nations for the academic abilities of its children (reading, math and science, 15 year olds, PISA 2009). To be fair the poor showing is due in part to the a now systemic inequalities and “achievement gap” that plague the education of minority children in the US (with Asian children leading the pack). The US has historically benefited from a steady flow of highly educated immigrants to sustain its economic growth and scientific innovation. As other countries are catching up economically, this flow could very well dry up, which will make the US even more vulnerable to these deficiencies. Now, it would not be fair the blame US mothers for this dire state of affairs but I do think that we need to come to the realization that our children are NOT receiving the education they deserve whether from family, school, or the media. In that respect, I found your long tirade against the WSJ article, which did point to some solutions to some problems, was quite unproductive.

  19. I almost never comment on articles or anything I read, but I simply must thank you for writing this. You basically summed up my thoughts exactly.

    I’m from a Indian family, and I’ve seen firsthand how our take on education can be effective. At the same time I’ve seen the lost chances, the years of repressed sadness, children crying themselves to sleep at the hopelessness of it all, burning out at age 12, and all sorts of other damage my cultural style of raising children causes. It’s frankly heartbreaking to watch; so many good people literally broken on the alter of grades.

    I know some (thankfully only some) of this firsthand; I graduated high school at 14, dual majors in college at 18, and finished masters at 21. I’m proud of my accomplishments, but I can say that the India/Asia style of child raising ends up becoming a additional burden for the child to try to live though. The discipline helps but the desire to learn and know is far more important than tests.

    I won’t say the US has the perfect system either, but for the real world, for living a actual life, the US is well ahead. Thank you so much for writing this article; people need to know that these so called “better” ways of raising kids isn’t the only way nor the best way.

  20. Thank you for writing this.

    I’m a American who went to college at 16, graduated with Bachelors in Computer Science at 22 (yes, six years, I was ‘horrid’), and now at 36 own and run a software company here in Beijing. My older brother went to West Point, was decorated for valor during one of his three tours in Iraq, and today is a Major in the US Army.

    Mom did fine.

    She and Dad are both teachers who valued education, but encouraged our passions more. For that I am thankful.

    As for China, it’s far from perfect. But there are amazing people here. And, unlike Amy Chua’s ideal daughters, they aren’t the ones who made straight A’s, played the piano, and are probably bores at dinner. Though she need not worry, in this country of 1.3 billion people, there are people just like that, too.

    While Mom takes pride in my and my brother’s adventures, she has always said that the important thing to her is that her boys (now men) are happy.

    I’m not going to read Amy Chua’s book, but, I do hope she comes to the same conclusion as my American mother.

    And good job with your kids. They sound amazing!

  21. In response to those who posted that I missed the point of Amy Chua’s book, I was not commenting on her book. I was commenting on the article in the Wall Street Journal.

    It seems an amazingly great marketing ploy to say, “That has my name on it but I didn’t write it. Buy my book and read it.”

    You can say
    I wrote it and stand by it
    I wrote it and changed my mind
    I wrote it and was just joking or exaggerating (I do that a lot, personally, and people take it seriously).

    I think having your name on something you had nothing to do with writing is not usual for professors. Politicians and athletes may have ghost writers but even they usually give attribution, for example, Lance Armstrong’s books.

    To have an article with your by-line, and no one else, and claim it completely misrepresents your view is just odd, to me.

  22. Yes!

    sounds like a great family.

    personally i was insulted by the article on why chinese mothers are superior. glad someone wrote a reply to it!

  23. 1. I agree with you that you while you can force a child to get good grades, you can’t force them to develop intellectual curiosity. Ultimately, the latter is vastly more important.

    2. You should not conflate Asians in Asia and Asians in America. It is sad that we are still considered “other” when some of us have been here our whole lives.

    3. As a statistician, I’m surprised you’re using your own life and family to make the counterargument. Saying all Chinese mothers are like Ms. Chua’s is like saying all American mothers are like yours, which they most certainly are not. You are far and above the average. That said, your words do sound somewhat defensive and insecure, like you need some amount of validation. I realize it’s a blog, but you should let your accomplishments speak for themselves.

  24. I enjoyed reading your article. I, too, think individuality should be praised. But why generalize the Chinese and not generalize Americans? Saying something about the whole nation of China and following it up with a statement saying you don’t want to generalize is, after all, generalizing (and slightly racist).

    I am quite certain you are an exception to the rule. While I certainly disagree with Chua’s philosophy and agree with yours, I think it is something you should have accounted for.

  25. Some points of feedback: Whether they are positive or negetive depends on how you view them.

    1) Why would you name your blog post ‘Why American Mothers are Superior” and not say anything much about the topic? American mothers have produced wonderful children and some general observations backed by your personal experience would have been nice.

    2) Why was the general impression that you are more interested in trying to prove to yourself and others that the Dr.Chua is wrong. Her approach may be alien to you. But isn’t parenting itself very subjective?

    3) Another general impression is that you have a great family and wonderful daughters.
    Yay! Wonderful. Good for you. But what would have made it nice if you could mention any general principles which you take away from your parenting experience. Which approaches worked for you and which didnt?

    4) You also mention the general approach taken by american vs non-american employees with respect to potential language features they would like to see in a programming language. Coming from a statistics background, i am sure you would agree that the sample size is too limited. That and the fact that programming language design is a bit of an esoteric topic.

    Bottomline: You are an intelligent lady and have done a great job as a mother. Some thought on your posting, some reflection. Maybe reading Dr.Chua’s book, and a humbleness to admit to mistakes could go a long way. Just my 2 cents. Feel free to ignore this.

  26. Screw you. That title has no place on the internet. Just because you’re american doesn’t mean you’re the best.

  27. It may be a great marketing ploy, but its disappointing that you, a self proclaimed PhD, didn’t do the research to neither read the book, nor understand excerpts and publishing.

    Either of those would make things clearer to you. But I think you’ve insisted on taking a stand based on a past mistake you made and simply won’t budge. I guess Chinese and American mothers aren’t so different.

  28. Thank you for the counterbalance. I come from a culture more like Chua’s and sometimes wish I came from one more like yours. No culture is perfect, but I think one that fosters happiness over success is the better one.

  29. Chua is no doubt being disingenuous about the essay and how her book is being marketed, but I think this post is disingenuous too.

    You make it sound like you and all of your kids just grew up to be amazing people (and yes, it does come off as very braggy) without you having to set any limits or goals whatsoever.

    What if a child doesn’t want to do anything exceptional with their lives. What if what they really want to do, what really makes them happy, is to play video games all day and never study? Because that is what most kids are like?

    Obviously you set some goals for your kids (You grumbled about a B+, right? Did you, gasp, say you were disappointed in her? You monster). Don’t kid yourself, you may not be a strict Chinese mom, but your kids are successful at least in part because you forced them to have some discipline.

    Obviously, the correct parenting style is somewhere in the middle between the all-regulating chinese and the permissive American style

  30. If you choose to play music, little earnings give u a comfortable secured life without debt and you are happy, gr8 go do it. All mothers want the exact same thing for their kids, a happy successful life. It is no ones mistake if the definition of “happy successful life” is different in US and in other nations just because of the circumstances you grew up.

    If the author of this article grew up watching the intense competition and the need to succeed in china, may be you would have been commenting down here with me than writing this article. (btw I am not from china)

  31. AnnMaria, Thank you for your perspective. Your article brought joy to me today. My wife and I are parents to eight kids, six adopted with various special needs. Perhaps parents have one major focus or goal that impacts many parenting decisions. Some may well want their child to be a stand-out genius and others want them to be happy (in the sense you shared above). My wife and I view our parenting as raising the parents of our grandchildren. I think a parent needs to empty themselves of their own ego so they can respond and encourage their child to do well in this life and the next, whatever that is for the child’s particular strengths, weaknesses and issues. We want to raise our children to live and have a life. Thanks again for post.

  32. Your daughters sound terrific. I was raised by Asian parents who had no involvement in our education except to expect mostly A’s. No piano lessons, tutors, SAT prep, reading at night, etc. We just watched TV 8 hours a day!! Nevertheless, we all earned PhDs in various sciences and are doing fine. So, doing nothing can also lead to “successful” kids.

  33. Ken,

    I’m a professional journalist that has worked for major publications the level of the Wall Street Journal. I have been involved in both writing “first-person” pieces and on the fact-checking side.

    My professional understanding is that publications may use excepts under certain rights agreements, but they do not have the free reign to simply cut and paste and create a new story as you suggest.

    Based on the description you give, they could pull together words in the way that Howard Stern pieces together various audio snippets to make prank phone calls. Given this scenario, any media outlet could come up with some really creative pieces using “excerpt rights.” They are more complex than that.

    Furthermore, Chua is a law professor at Yale. So are you saying she didn’t understand the specifics of the contract she signed? Or did she just blindly sign away all rights? A first-year law student would tell a person not to do that.

    Or how about the fact that she did a Q&A published in the Wall Street Journal (http://blogs.wsj.com/ideas-market/2011/01/13/the-tiger-mother-responds-to-readers/) that ran on the Thursday following the op-ed, where she further discussed the piece? That’s not really the kind of thing that a person horrified how her work had been taken out of context would do. Oh, and nowhere in the piece does she say, “I’m just appalled by how my story was really taken out of context.”

    Let’s credit her/her publisher for an amazing marketing move, but let’s not pretend she’s a victim of the some malicious WSJ editing.

    As for reading her book, why would someone who completely disagreed with everything she said waste the $20 or whatever it is to buy her entire book? I see a lot of ads for what look like incredibly stupid movies, so I don’t go and spend the $10 on a ticket and two hours of my life to verify it’s just as dumb as it looks.

  34. Projectshave – Watched TV 8 hours a day as a child and still earned a science Ph.D. ? I am so happy my twelve-year-old daughter does not read my blog because the next time I tell her to turn off the TV, I can just see her quoting you!

  35. “My professional understanding is that publications may use excepts under certain rights agreements, but they do not have the free reign to simply cut and paste and create a new story as you suggest. ”

    You are correct. They actually ususlly need approval, but it is usually approval from the publisher, not the author. The author doesn’t own the excerpt rights, in most cases.

    “Furthermore, Chua is a law professor at Yale. So are you saying she didn’t understand the specifics of the contract she signed? Or did she just blindly sign away all rights?”

    She likely sold the excerpt rights to the publisher. This is very common, if not the norm.

    As a journalist, you probably don’t own the rights to anything you’ve written, unless you’re Paul Krugman or Roger Ebert.

    What Amy did is very normal and generally is problem free. The problem that she has though is she has a memoir with an arc in it. So snippets from the beginning are NOT representative of her at the end. It’s not hard to believe that someone like Amy would be blindsided by this. I could imagine this happening to even someone like Stephen King, if he did an autobiography, since he routinely sells his excerpt rights.

  36. Ken –
    As Maria noted, if what you say is true, Amy Chua had the opportunity to say “I am appalled by how this piece represented my views.”

    I do believe that most people would wonder how someone could say,

    “I am appalled by how this piece published in a prestigious newspaper, with my name on it, which was not written with any input from me, misrepresented my views.”

    I’m very curious to know whether if she indeed had no input in writing this article whether she includes it on her paperwork to tenure and review committees. Generally, universities are very precise about authorship and even order of authorship. To take credit for something you supposedly didn’t even read before it was published, but had your name on it would raise eyebrows in any committee.

    You say this is very common. Does it not strike you as at all dishonest to have a piece published with your name on it if you did not write it?

    So, what you are saying is that pieces in the Wall Street Journal are by ghost writers?

    Do you have any publishers who will verify what you say? Because it sounds extremely unlikely to me.

  37. You and your husband are clearly in the 135-145 IQ range and you have handed off this genetic benefit to your offspring. When you say – for example – that your husband read Physics books as a child and taught himself Calc in grade school, this ceases to be useful information for typical parents.

    If he just happened to be interested in comic books and huffing glue he would be an assistant manager in a warehouse and probably not married to a PhD…

    Your article does not help with the larger social issue that Chua discusses. It is anecdotal.

    The figures on American education are not anecdotal.


  39. I applaud you on this article. You have illustrated exactly what I think. I think I can speak for both cultures since I was raised in both Asian and American cultures.

    My mom is from Kazakhstan and my dad is from US. However, my whole family moved from America to China a few years ago. My mom does not expect me to have the highest GPA in the school and get a perfect 2400 SAT score. She doesn’t get angry when I get a B, she just calmly asks me what I’m not understanding in the subject. She knows that I’m going to school not for her, but for myself. It’s for my own good. Yet, I am taking three AP classes as an 11th grader and self studying three more. I still have a 4.0 GPA. I am the editor of the newspaper AND the yearbook. I am in the school play. I am the captain of my varsity volleyball team. And guess what, all of that I love doing. I get enjoyment out of it and I’m doing all that for myself. However, I still go out on weekends, I have boyfriends and I enjoy hanging out with my friends.

    Going to school in China, I get to experience a lot of the Asian culture. The international school I go to shares a field with a Chinese school. When I get to school every morning at 7:45AM, I hear loud nationalistic preaching as the Chinese students march and yell out on the field at -2 degrees. My Chinese teacher told our class that in a Chinese school, kids come home at 6PM (Saturday is a normal school day and Sunday is a half day). In addition to that, the whole entire school knows what scores you get on tests because they are publicly announced. To me, that is a waste of youth that you will never get back.

    In my international school, the majority of students are Korean. The divide between Asian and Western schooling is evident. The Koreans are irrevocably intelligent and smart. They study a lot. However, they lack creativity. They are not taught to think outside the box, they must just stick to what they learned. In other words, they are book smart but not street smart. In addition to that, they act like speaking out in class is a crime. The Western kids, on the other hand, are the opposite. It seems to me that there needs to exist a happy medium, not two extremities.

  40. Hi, Ashii –
    I agree with you there is a need for balance. Although I did not insist that my daughters never go on play dates, practice an instrument four hours a day, etc. they were all expected to make good grades and they knew it.

    My youngest daughter does her homework while watching TV, which I think is a bad idea. However, when I check her homework, it is all correct. When I ask her what she is studying, she can tell me that she is learning about phenotypes, genotypes and Punnett squares. So, if by some mechanism I cannot understand she can both watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer and figure out rational numbers, I don’t see any reason not to let her.

    There seems to be an assumption that if we don’t push kids they won’t do anything. I don’t see that. My youngest daughter brought home a permission slip yesterday to participate in a Saturday tutoring program to study for her high school admission tests she’ll take next year. No one told her that she had to sign up for this program. Her teacher mentioned there were only 19 slots for her school, and she signed up that day. Some kids may study an extra hour a night, with the TV off. She’d rather watch TV, get up early on Saturday morning and study with a tutor for five hours. Again, it’s not the way I would do it, but I think she is learning to make her own decisions and figure out what works for her.

    I know what you mean about speaking out in class – I went to university in Japan for a year and whenever I would ask the professor a question my classmates were horribly embarrassed.

  41. I totally disagree with both the arguments. I disagree with your argument with the example on redesigning a programming language, but as such to redesign anything one has to know what it is, in which case the international students would have done good enough based on what you say. The lateral thinking that the american students do exhibit might not necessarily be attributed to the parenting. The schooling here might also be good and something might be lacking in the system as such. How is it related to parenting per say? My second question is Dr. Chua too based her argument on just an example of her daughter learning piano. It can be extended to any sphere of life. Suppose none of the grad schools give a student X an admit, but still he is interested in studying further? Does it mean he is bad? His application might have been pathetic, his grades might have been bad for which he can re-take his SAT or GRE again. He might just have to re-write his admission essays again and come up with a better product. He still does have in interest to study. In such a case a Dr. Chua’s example works fine. Just keep trying if you really are passionate about it. May be that is what Dr. Chua was trying to inculcate in her daughter. Nothing is impossible, and just keep trying – eventually you will succeed. That being the case, one just have to keep encouraging their child in every possible manner. If the mother as an adult gives up thinking may be the child is not fit for it, where will the child have the motivation? Not just piano. As I said that example can be applied to all the spheres! May be a middling path would work coz the lines that both you and Dr. Chua are trying to fit are bound to have outliers! A least squares anyone?

  42. “As Maria noted, if what you say is true, Amy Chua had the opportunity to say “I am appalled by how this piece represented my views.””

    Hot off the presses comes Amy Chua’s response to the response to her piece. Eat your heart out, American Mother.


    Putting that aside, much has already been said, but your anecdotal evidence of how best to parent is absolutely useless. The fortunate few who are blessed with an encouraging environment and ample natural talent will certainly pursue their own interests, interests that often happen to be practical and useful. This is only the case for the fortunate few. This is why we don’t see American colleges flooded with 16 year old freshmen and Anglo-American math/science whiz kids.

    I am a Chinese – and I’m still in high school, to boot. I actually just finished most of my college applications. Because I was lucky enough to be born to a family of academics, I started reading Chinese texts at the age of two – but I completely forgot how to read Mandarin five years later, four years after my family immigrated to America. My parents didn’t have time to drill me in math and didn’t have the expertise to drill me in English, so I learned mostly on my own. Of course, they still expected A’s.

    For me, education in elementary school all the way until very recently amounted to nothing more than figuring out how to achieve my A’s with the least effort. I didn’t have the academic or artistic passions I have now, and I certainly didn’t feel any sort of drive to succeed. This was also the case for the vast majority of my peers, because I was “unlucky” enough not to be sorted into elite schools, surrounded by those with motivation. Stoners, slackers, and drop-outs made up the vast majority of the people around me. I found passion and motivation, but I know that most of my old friends and acquaintances didn’t. I, for one, wouldn’t have found my current passions either if my parents hadn’t expected a minimum level of achievement from me.

    Now, I DO have a drive to succeed – and I know for a fact that I value my passion and goals and dreams more because I found them myself, rather than having them forced on me by my parents. At the same time, I can tell you firsthand that a lack of parental emphasis on success leads to a crushing lack of drive and motivation in the majority of cases. You and your family are fortunate enough to be an exception, and you should be grateful that you are. I don’t mean that pejoratively. I think it’s fantastic that that’s the case. But you should recognize just how special your family is.

    I can also tell you that I regret the lack of drilling from my parents. It goes without saying that I wouldn’t have wanted to be browbeaten into submission – I’m currently applying to colleges as a fine arts major, and had my parents cleaved strictly to the Amy Chua Tiger Mom School of Parenting, I certainly wouldn’t be able to pursue what are now my passions. At the same time, I know that there’s plenty I’ve failed to extract from my time in school, and that had my parents worked me harder, I would’ve been able to do much better. I regret not having been drilled in the piano – I love the instrument, but I know that I’ll never be able to achieve the level of mastery I aspire to anymore. I regret not having been drilled in the Chinese language – there are so many books and poems I could’ve read, if I hadn’t been allowed to forget. I regret not being drilled in math and physics – I’m tremendously fascinated by the subjects but I know I could be learning at a much higher level and understanding the material much faster than I am now. In general, I try not to have many regrets, and yet…if I could change one thing about my childhood, I would like to have learned more. In my case, that would’ve meant feeling a stricter parental hand.

    Too much discipline IS a bad thing, yes, let’s all agree to that. Amy Chua comes to the same conclusion, regardless of what her supposed marketing ploy was or wasn’t. But most teenagers in America don’t fall into the same type as yours, ma’am. There are many people who would enjoy school and enjoy learning if only they found it easier – and they would find it easier if only they had been taught to keep at it, instead of being allowed to give up as soon as they discovered they didn’t excel. There are many others, myself included, who would simply collapse into a haze of apathy if given the chance – just look at the hikikomori phenomenon in Japan.

    In many ways, I’m thankful that my parents never had the time or energy to act the Parent. In the end, it’s brought me freedom and passion and so many other valuable things. But at the same time, I adamantly reject your model of parenting. Children need guidance. Given the freedom, almost every child will choose the easy and lazy choice. Everyone could use a mom with a bit more “tiger” in them – even yours.

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