Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tiger Mom Review

I came across this Atlantic Magazine article on the controversial book that has ignited a tornado of heated Internet discussion on parenting, Western/Eastern culture differences, and definitions of success.  Writer Sandra Tsing Loh critiques Chua for boasting meritocratic principles but neglecting to recognize the "blind spot" of the privileged and affluent.  She points out that although Chua's tiger mom skills might have instilled hardcore work ethic in her kids, Chua under-emphasizes the connections and resources that her own Yale law professor position made available. Basically, she's saying, her kids would have probably turned out pretty successful anyway.


Some quotes from the article:

But of course, sometimes children—particularly those from cultures in which children are not routinely given names such as “Harvard Wong”—fail in spite of their parents’ diligent efforts. Amid the debate within elite motherdom about Chua’s book, it’s far too easily forgotten that the professional class tends to have a blind spot. Clearly, Yale law professors who write books on economies in developing-world nations do not often ride the bus in America’s cities, for there they might see, as I once did, a Guatemalan maid earnestly working with her son on his math homework and, heartbreakingly, giving him all the wrong answers. (But, my Credit Suisse tablemate would say, he won’t go to Harvard, because she didn’t READ to him! She didn’t READ to him!)

But being half-Chinese herself, Loh also offers her own sympathetic take on this book, describing the complex emotions, wistfulness, and nostalgia she felt as she reflected on and related to Chua's own parental yearnings.

And Loh's conclusion could very well have been written about Korean parents as well: 

I read Tiger Mother as a kind of Amadeus, a story of not-quite-requited love for classical music, told by a somewhat monstrous narrator who can understand Mozart only in terms of notes and competition. Maniacally driving Chinese parents are like Salieri—they can name the notes, but they do not have the magic. And as such, I think of my own formerly hard-driving Chinese father, now 89, in his weekly singing classes for the elderly. It seems all his fellow Americans are effortlessly charming, pleasurably singing “Misty,” “Cabaret,” “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” Meanwhile, my father, the former Shanghai genius, insists on singing opera, in six flats, not in his range, and not in his language. The lyrics are in Russian, and I mean the Cyrillic alphabet. He believes anyone can sing in English, so he sings in Russian. But my father cannot carry a tune in any language. He sounds like a braying donkey.
One of the most painful things about being us is how we ache to be as beloved as Mozart, but are stunted. When I think of Chinese parents, I think of people who weep upon hearing Beethoven, but who can’t necessarily bring that joy to others. Perhaps we can do so fleetingly, through our children, while they are still young, decades before they, like me, will sit at a piano, Fallen Prodigies in their 40s, their own kids squalling, dogs barking—once-perfect dolls who berate themselves for losing their youthful technique.
In the end, art isn’t about numbers. In the end, there was only one Mozart, and he wasn’t Chinese. So don’t hate us because we’re hardworking and successful: in a century, no one will be humming us.

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