Several years ago, a tall, beautiful, Chinese teenager, let’s call her Rosie, walked into my office. Rosie was struggling in a prestigious New England prep school with limited English language fluency. It was no surprise that she was having academic and social difficulties.
Rosie was polite and proper. Soft spoken with eyes so sad they betrayed her striking appearance. Since the task at hand was to communicate, we had our work cut out for us. I don’t speak Chinese but we were able to establish a real bond through a hilarious game of charades, drawings, and broken English. Rosie thankfully understood more than she could speak. I learned that she had been sent here because she had not passed the qualifying exams to be on the elite academic path in China. Rosie had scored just below the cut off point. This experience was traumatic for her, and she was withdrawing from the world.
I could not help but think back to those moments in my office when Rosie finally was heard and understood. Her eyes lit up, she gained confidence, and now she is successfully attending college in the United States.
I consider that a success.
Would controversial lawyer and author Amy Chua consider that a success? I doubt it. Emotions do not play a part in her program of excellence. Nor does she recognize that different people have their own level of success. Thankfully the Tiger Mom’s children were able to keep up with her demands. But at what cost? Lack of individuality? Stunted emotional growth? Perpetual fearfulness?
The one striking thing that does not play a big part in her program is the two parent family. Her husband, who is not Chinese, seems to balance out her harsh discipline. Yet there is no mention of his effect on the children. In her book ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,’ she sets rules for children based upon not who they are, but on a tradition of perfection at all costs. Her rules include ‘no sleepovers, no grade less than an A, no school plays…’ With rules so strict, most children would be driven to lie, sneak out, and escape the rigidity of their parents, especially as teenagers. And heaven forbid she should have a child with a learning disability!
That said, I will give Ms. Chua credit for highlighting some valuable lessons to be learned. Consistency, discipline and structure are essential to raising healthy successful children. So are persistence and hard work. But believing that all children are capable of perfection is bound to lead to disappointment. Children learn by example, and many moms and dads do not live a life of perfection as Ms. Chua seems to. And what about life’s lessons learned through messy emotions. Could the same great works of art, creative activity, and innovative thinking emerge from a society in which emotion and passion were not valued?
Ms. Chua defends herself by saying that her book is a memoir based upon her own experiences. It is also a shrewd piece of marketing, preying on parent’s insecurities. Maybe we should look at it as just that. A clever marketing memoir. As for me, I’ll gladly deal with the emotions.