Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers are Superior: Is it an accurate depiction?

By now, most of you have probably read the article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior by Amy Chua. Being Chinese myself, I'll be the first to admit that I did laugh in recognition of some of its details. However, it generated a lot of mixed feelings. First of all, I don't believe that it is an accurate depiction of all Chinese Mothers. I believe that it is quite an extreme version of discipline and teaching that takes place in a Chinese/Asian household. We'll delve more into that in a little bit.  I also didn't like how proud she sounded to decimating her children to nothing but worthless if they didn't perform well enough for her standards. However, I will support her ideals of promoting realism and discipline in your child, as well as to push them to the best of their potential to a certain extent.

I spent a good amount of my childhood in Asia. There, I attended local schools. Academic emphasis was the utmost importance and the stress and pressure given by parents, teachers, and myself was certainly high. As much as I appreciated how much more advanced subjects I was being taught, I definitely did not agree with certain methods of teaching used. I remember being punished during my elementary school days galore by "mad"...can I emphasize "MAD" teachers for really the smallest things ever. I remember when I somehow forgot to do the very last page of my math homework packet once, my crazy teacher wrote on my uniform in chalk "I will not forget to do my homework" and made me stand outside of her classroom for the entire duration of her class. Talking during class and helping a classmate try to understand a concept the teacher was teaching often landed me in the same spot. That little nook outside my classroom and the back of my uniform became fast friends very quickly. I hated school but thank goodness about the perfectionist part of mine that was lingering somewhere in that little girl's body! I just had to prove to myself that I was smart enough to get good grades. I aced the most important exam and went on to one of the top high schools. Imagine if I didn't have that in me though. Would I have allowed those teachers to just trod over me and believe that I was truly worthless? I have actually seen that happen to fellow peers. I'm just glad that didn't happen to me. As I thought about my personal experience, I believe strongly that had the teachers been more positive in their teaching methods, it would have yielded the same results - Getting good grades and entering into a good school while allowing me to truly enjoy learning. This is not to say that every Asian teacher was exactly miserably abusive this way. I had some wonderful teachers who taught amazing things while using positive reinforcement but being firm about getting us to do the best we could at the same time.  

That being said, I do believe there is a difference between a Western and Asian household. Of course, this is not true of every household....only a good number of them. I do see that in Asian households, nothing short of an A is expected while homework is usually detested in a Western household. For that, I do like the concept of the Asian household. I truly believe that children are extremely intelligent and they can do almost anything if they put their minds to it. I believe that we need to foster a feeling of confidence and sense of achievement by showing them they can do things they often think they can't. Of course, I do not agree with extreme methods of scolding or beating in order to get the child to excel in something. I believe often when a child does not excel, it is because either the problem in question is not explained well enough for them to grasp the bigger concept or their parents or themselves are impatient and give up easily. Perhaps what we should teach our children instead are the qualities of perseverance and diligence and the results that can be yielded if we put our whole hearts into achieving them. I once had someone tell me "I don't know how to do it" when I asked him why he wasn't putting more effort into the project. I was taken aback by his answer. I paused for a moment and then replied: "look, I don't know how to do it either. But I will do all the research possible to try and find as many answers as I possibly can." I did the research and became quite familiar with what the project required. My partner never bothered to put in that extra effort. Needless to say, he was never an expert or close to being one of our project. Teach your kids to do all they can do and help supplement their efforts with advice, tips and encouragement. Do that and you will find a child that will one day be disciplined and a achiever in all areas.

Being a Chinese mother myself, I seek to instill qualities of hard work, paying your dues, and being successful academically. For that, I am proud of my heritage and all the fine values that come with it. However, I also want to find the balance of allowing my child to be a child. He needs to learn to be creative and street-smart in addition to simply being book-smart. I will teach him all I know about it but at the end of the day, such qualities must be found by the child him/herself. As delicate as that balance is, I believe it to be possible. I believe that a parent can teach realism to a child and not take away from his/her self-confidence. That can be done by building a strong relationship with your child and being open and candid about discussions with your child. Those discussions must be 2-way. For example, instead of simply telling your child he/she is "FAT", perhaps teaching them the importance of healthy eating, physical activity, and then incorporating those ideals into your family as well is really what is needed. 

A look at actual current preschools/kindergartens (Japanese early education and Korean early education) in Asian countries only shows us that the Asian culture is also giving way to a different teaching approach. I don't think such fun and innovative methods of teaching were employed 20 years ago. Perhaps it's time for Amy Chua to look into what's being changed now and how this is helping children succeed better instead of simply arrogantly displaying her own methods of teaching to the whole world. After all, one of the greatest quality of teaching comes from the teacher's ability to be taught him/herself first. What do you think? 

CAU cover
Erin Patrice O'Brien for The Wall Street Journal
Amy Chua with her daughters, Louisa and Sophia, at their home in New Haven, Conn.

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