Are Chinese Moms Better than American Moms?

CJ Westerberg, January 14, 2011 9:33 PM


Orig. Publ. The Daily Riff 1/11/10

"The parents reading this article in the Wall Street Journal are more likely to be the ones
having their their children tutored, equally-scheduled, and possibly kinda cheating,
and/or privately schooled, and legacy-guaranteed to some
marquee-name university, so they can agree with Chua's so called superior- parenting techniques . . . .
-C.J. Westerberg

Where is Stephen Colbert when you need him?

by C.J. Westerberg

Of course, the headline grabbed us.  It is, after all, the #1 post running in The Wall Street Journal.  And, oh yeah, it's attached to selling a book.  Glad we got that out of the way.  Wish I had a Colbert tape for this one . . . Stephen - where are you?

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior by Amy Chua is quite the journey - spinning sweeping generalizations about sex, race and culture laced with an "us vs. them"  straw man-like  argument.   We didn't quite know whether to laugh or sigh at the creation of extreme caricatures of east/west parenting, or more specifically, Momhood. 

Chua cuts to chase and essentially says that Chinese students are learning machines, taught to squelch all possible distractions of humanity and play, in pursuit of earning praise and being better prepared for the future, by their superior unforgiving moms (dads come later).

Westernized parenting, according to Chua, promote the values of soft westernized-students (aka American, Canadian, Europeans, Aussie's, Kiwi's, not sure the line here - borne/living/parent percentage of what constitutes the demarcation line of a child - how do we decide if they are . . . " A Mixture!" ) who are lazy beyond the point of submission, coddled and dis-interested in their futures, doomed because of the soft-pad landing give to them by their Moms.   Pursuing their interests are equated with these low-life endeavors.  Maybe she should consult with other "minor" cultural and economic leaders with lessons learned from the likes of  Steve JobsWalt Disney, JK RowlingMichael Jordan to Lebron James, and  President  Harry S. Truman.  (links to The Daily Riff posts).  

Chua attempts to eliminate possible accusations of extreme stereotyping by addressing it early on in the article, beginning with  "Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes . . ."  

We get it already.  Missing an opportunity to remind us that our global world is fast becoming a melting pot (no kumbaya moment here, just the reality that the global world has collided), we again find another master of the universe claiming that if something isn't working, just yell louder and do more of it (see Ministers Of Education, Howard Gardner, point #6).  Yes, let's conjure images of Miley Cyrus mall-rats and mindless video-glazed boys, yet those parents are probably not reading the WSJ, nor will buy Chua's book.

" . . .let's conjure images of Miley Cyrus mall-rats and
mindless video-glazed boys, yet those parents are probably
not reading the WSJ, nor will buy Chua's book."

The parents reading this article in the WSJ are more likely to be the ones having their their children tutored, equally-scheduled, and possibly kinda cheating,  and/or privately schooled, and legacy-guaranteed to some marquee-name university, so they can agree with Chua's so- called superior- parenting techniques that all the other great unwashed American Moms* seemed to have missed . . .  

Since for every yin, there is a yang,  we want to share a few yin excerpts in quotes, with our yang response in italics with an extra indent w/bullet:

"A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids."
  • Stereotypical?  Successful kids?  Okay, test taking abilities are on the rise and . . . not sure there is a "a lot" of wonderment.

"They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too."
  • Are we wondering again?   No, we also are reading Yong Zhao and watched Race to Nowhere , and have done/still doing the research on the flawed nature of standardized test scores as the supreme measurement of success  (links below).  We saw Two Million Minutes awhile back and get the idea that $30 million gyms and coaches w/the highest salaries at the expense of academics are out of whack.  A broad brush-stroke does not work in America, where some don't have a brush or a musical instrument. 
  • As far as music goes, guess we also shouldn't listen to Gustavo Dudamel - 29-year old uber- conductor and musical master in the world - who tells Tavis Smiley in this video clip that his parents did not pressure him in any direction, and was thankful they let him pursue his passion.   

"I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:" 
 (Ed note:  Excerpts are in bolditalics The Daily Riff response)

  1. attend a sleepover  
Who needs friends when you have $300 kindergarten test prep?

2.  have a playdate       

Over-rated. Who needs play and interaction with others?

be in a school play   

Rafe Esquith has it all wrong.

4. complain about not being in a school play    

Maybe you should talk with 12 year old Adora Stivak.

watch TV or play computer games      

All TV and computer games are created equal.

6.    choose their own extracurricular activities     

Sports and arts must be painful to be of value.

7.  get any grade less than an A     

You must be equally good at all things or else - the tallest tree gets cut down!

8.  not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama  

 Obesity and depression are okay, as long as the scores are working.   Drama and sports have nothing to do w/discipline, teamwork and creativity.  Gym, drama and any less than No. 1 are for wussies.

9.     play any instrument other than the piano or violin    

The concept of a  symphony is flawed.  Consult our friend, Gustavo Dudamel or listen to Louis Armstong.

not play the piano or violin.    What else would do with one's free time?

"What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it.   To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences."
  • We get the idea of Mastery and the "10,000 hour rule", but really, nothing is fun until you're good at it?

What is the Father's Role?

"Chinese parents can get away with things that Western parents can't. Once when I was young - maybe more than once - when I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father angrily called me "garbage" in our native Hokkien dialect. It worked really well. I felt terrible and deeply ashamed of what I had done. But it didn't damage my self-esteem or anything like that."
  • Not sure how to respond to this one

The piece de resistance may be the straw man Journal survey question within the article:

Which style of parenting if best for children?
A.  Permissive Western Parenting
B.  Demanding Eastern Parenting

A lose-lose polarizing question for parents AND children - defining us as Eastern or Western.
What if you are neither or both?
Let us know what you think --

Regarding Amy Chua's book, I found "Hymn" highly entertaining and a brave move on her part in many ways.
I did lambaste her in this previous post below, based upon the immediately viral Wall Street Journal article that lit everyone's fire.  Yet, after reading the book, I didn't feel quite as vitriolic.   She has a Lucille Ball quality to her incredible antics, being so over the top.
- C.J. Westerberg

*School Would Be Great if It Weren't for Those Damn Kids - Alfie Kohn  

Related posts by the Daily Riff:
The Chinese Curse:  Is America Next?
Fires of the Mind: Youth Motivation and Mastery
Teachers Doing "the Flip" to Help Students Become Learners - Learning for Mastery
Famous Failures
Why Other Countries Do Better in Math
Olympian Apolo Ohno: On-Line Learning Gave Him the 10,000 Hours
The 10,000 Hour Rule: Roger Federer at Play

Standardized Testing:
Three Great Reads on Standardized Testing
Why Testing Fails: How Numbers Deceive Us All
Saying No to Standardized Testing for College?
The Underground Guide:  Outsmarting the SAT Test

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