Saturday, December 17, 2011

Tiger Mother - I finally read it

- by Lily

While I was reading my friend's blog on kids education, an idea came to my mind that maybe we should write a book to counter the views of "Tiger Mother". Of course I'm talking about Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", a book on her view of why Chinese way of education is so much superior. At that time I had not read the book, but had heard a lot about it, mainly how extreme her methods of education are and how offensive it is to many Chinese parents.

I figured if we want to counter her view, I'd better read her book first. So I picked up a copy from the library. Much to my surprise, I found the book much more enjoyable than I had imagined. Maybe because I've heard too much, I didn't feel offended by her book, to me the book is more about Amy Chua herself, her views of child education, and her path of educating her daughters. Amy Chua is hot tempered, strong willed, dedicated, determined, and unapologetic for the ideals she champions. It doesn't matter whether her method works (for her older daughter) or not (the younger rebel), she charges on despite disapproval from family members. She is brutally honest about herself, right or wrong she brags them all. She is neurotically competitive, it is rather hilarious to see her charge on everything and boss around everywhere, and even her dog has to be the smartest and the best. I just can't stop laughing at that passage.

To her credit, at the beginning of her book she did emphasize that she's using "Chinese parents" and "westerners" on loose terms; although later in the book she abused the words, even her family members told her to stop labeling everything either "Chinese" or "western". I have to say that she did capture some of the characteristics of the "Chinese" way of education; actually I wouldn't call it "Chinese" way, I've seen many parents of various ethnicities who care about kids education using similar "techniques". I know parents who sign up all sorts of classes for their kids without the consent from the kids. I've heard parents comparing their kids to each other and to other people's kids. A lot of us have "bullied" our kids one way or another out of anger or shouted out empty "threats" when we are out of wits. The only difference is that Amy Chua pushed everything to the extreme and persevered with a vengeance.

I do think she's right about one thing, setting higher goals for the kids does help them achieve more, and pointing out their shortcomings does help them improve faster. There are many ways to do this though, be it strict rules or gentle persuasion. As parents we want to bring the best out of our kids and I think we have the right to demand them to do their best in every way they can. Kids are just kids, immature in many ways, sometimes they need a reminder to do better, and that’s part of our job.

However, the dreams we have for our kids have to be realistic, the goals we set need to match their talents and interests. What Amy Chua didn't give enough credit is her daughters' natural talents. Being able to read alphabet is not something an ordinary 18-month old can do. Both girls' music teachers recognized their unusual talent right away. It is because of her kids' inborn talents that her method yielded quick and early success, which only fueled her engine of determination. I can imagine her method will fail miserably when applied to many other kids, in fact, it didn't even work well for her younger daughter. Another important element that's missing from Amy Chua's "drill" method is to instill a love of learning in kids. She was too busy competing; too busy being number 1 on everything. What is the long term result? Take her as an example, she grew up being the best student in high school, graduated from Harvard, but went to Harvard Law only because she didn't want to go to medical school. She even made it to Harvard Law review, but found herself had no interest in litigation, no interest in any legal issues, those are her own words from the book, although she did find her niche eventually.

All being said, there is no fixed model for kids education. As the famous story goes, Confucius answered the same question from two of his students differently according to their personalities and helped both of them. This is why education is such a hard task, we as parents need to really know about our kids rather than trying to fit them into a mold. It is a lifelong learning experience for all of us.

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