By Kanika Sethi for
In the last week, there has been a publicity blast for a new memoir, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” written by Amy Chua, a professor at Yale Law School and first generation Chinese-American. Her somewhat provocative article, and excerpt from the book, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” has been making the rounds on the internet and has sparked responses and rebuttals from many. My poor Chinese-American sister-in-law has now decided she’s going to hold off on buying the book, possibly because the buzz generated by the article has turned her off. She told me the article has been forwarded to her at least a dozen times! (I happen to think she’s a pretty superior woman — and a great mother too!) In today’s usual style, Chua is using semi-controversial stories to draw attention to herself and her latest book.

Of course, there is a major (and partially valid) fear in the U.S. that our children are being “left behind”. And in so many ways, parents here in the U.S. are worried about keeping up with the Chinese. Chinese students have topped world rankings in the areas of Reading, Math and Science (Wall Street Journal, 1/8/11). We all know about the Mandarin craze – not only do a large number of preschoolers I know (including non-Chinese-Americans) take Mandarin as a second language, but it’s replaced Latin and French as an elective language in many high schools as well. The Chinese have the world’s fastest trains….and now are working on creating the stealthiest planes…We have already accepted world of Chinese dominance and seem to be preparing our children for the new paradigm.
If we are simply comparing how much Americans and Chinese value children’s education as a whole, let’s look at the straight facts. In the U.S., we allocate total budget allocate 17% of a total budget on education vs. 12.1% by the Chinese. In our country a primary education is mandatory, but 1 out of 4 Chinese children do not attend school (, a statistic the Chinese government is aiming to better. Where the Chinese have neglected their rural poor, the US is still struggling to understand how to address the particularly notable gaps in performance by White / Asian-Americans and Black / Hispanics. In fact, Asian-Americans do outrank all other Americans in every category in which they’re tested. Bottom line is still that in both China and America, Asian parents seem to have placed their children atop the rankings in achievement.
However, I’m not sure we all need to rush to embrace Chua’s stereotype of the typical Chinese parent…in fact, let’s first try to see things as they really are. Chua is not Chinese. Like my sister in law and me, she is a first generation Asian-American immigrant. Lucky for us, we Asian-Americans seemed been blessed with the fantastic reputation (and the test scores to back this) of being highly academic, overachievers who value education, hard work and mastery of subjects over the “pursuit of happiness” (Chua would like to have us believe that all “American” parents believe this is the only important thing to instill in our children.) Chua herself admits that she refuses to let her children participate in sports or school plays, but violin and piano and straight As are mandatory. She also doesn’t believe in play dates, sleepovers or pretty much, as it seems, having much fun unless you count fun as the feeling you get from being perfect.
One of the most salient things that is sure to emerge from Chua’s writings is that high expectations for children are beneficial. As a teacher and a mother, I think it’s vital to have only the highest of expectations for children – and to do everything in your power to create the right environment for them to thrive in. However, I also think that it’s quite alright for children to fail, and experience failure – and a great deal can be learned from these experiences.
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