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Tiger Mom – Let’s get the facts first……..

Jan 25, 2011 - 7 comments





Chinese mothers are superior


Amy Chua

        The morning after Amy Chua’s article “Why Chinese mothers are superior” I received a barrage of emails and phone calls asking if I had read the article and what I thought about it. On the surface of it I wasn’t sure why they were so interested in what I thought as I’m neither Chinese nor a mother. Filled with curiosity I pulled up the article and read it and quickly saw what was brewing - my friends thought of me as a Chinese mom!
I’ll get back to my thoughts on the article but first let me make my perspective (read agenda) clear. I live in the US and have a vested interest in ensuring that the US remains competitive in the global economy. I'm concerned that we may be losing our edge and want to do my part to help us succeed long term. I agree with President Obama's comments that countries who out-educate us today will out-compete us tomorrow.
         As I read the debate about the article there are two levels in which you can approach it; a micro-level about Amy and her parenting style or a macro one about what the US needs to do to stay competitive in a global economy. I'm going to tackle the latter in this post.
        Education, just like healthcare, is universally relevant, evokes visceral reactions and can be polarizing. To understand the issue I think it is important to look at some of the commonly held misconceptions I read in the comments and what the data tells us and just like many others I will use “Chinese” very liberally.
- Chinese kids are good at rote memorization but really poor when it comes to application of that knowledge to practical problems. In the US we value understanding and not memorization. The data doesn’t support this. The PISA exam which tests this sort of understanding showed that we are about average and that China is at the top of the table. Take a look at the NYT article Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators. If you look at the table you will find the US in the middle of the pack. On a side note, I’m surprised educators were stunned at the results as I could have rather easily predicted it.
- In the US we are great at innovation and creativity. Well in 2011, China is projected to outpace the US and Japan in patent activity. You can read more about it in the article China patent filings could overtake US, Japan in 2011.
- Chinese kids do not learn the leadership and other soft skills to lead organizations. They will be relegated to middle management. Asians (not just Chinese and Indian) make up 20% of the bay area population but start and lead about 30% of all startup companies in the area.
- China’s communist system will stifle creativity and prevent them from being successful. Women in particular are not given equal opportunities. Of the 14 self-made billionaire females in the world 7 are Chinese. Good article in Forbes about why china is an incubator for billionaire females.

.      The data should be a wake up call to the fact the Chinese are out-educating their children and that if we don't do something we'll be at a competitive disadvantage. Now you may be wondering what this has to do with Amy Chua's article but I view it as a proxy for how we educate our children. Sure there are things that we can do to refine the tactics she uses but strategically there is a lot of value in where she is heading.


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221999 tn?1292970838
by itsallwaves, Jan 26, 2011
Great post.

It's sad how little focus there is on education in the U.S., and discouraging that there is a false perception about education abroad. The culture in the U.S. is focused monetary success, not about true learning. Unfortunately, I don't see any clear solutions that could radically shift this mindset.

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by swampcritter, Jan 26, 2011
Swampy also noticed this article on the news.

China has three times the population of the US, so all things being equal, you should expect 3 times as many Chinese represented. Even more interesting is if the goal is numerical equality, China only has to do 1/3 as well!

For test scores, it makes the assumption that the tests are administered in an equal manner at an equal point in the educational process. So a US 3rd grader might not be expected to perform as a Chinese 8 year old.

There is the problem of opportunity. Chinese students face a 8% minimum growth economy with seemingly boundless opportunity. Growth in the US is much lower. The result is that economically education makes sense to a Chinese student, as they have very high upward mobility.

It is difficult to persuade US students, for whom good education is available through their life, that education is worthwhile. As a very low level example, an inner city kid who can sell drugs for $500 / day on the street (albeit, such a career is likely to be short lived), is not going to want to study their algebra.

Nevertheless, it is true that a child with a high degree of parental involvement in their education -- which includes time spent with the child and attention to their activities -- statistically results in a better educated person. An oldest child on average has a higher IQ than their younger siblings.

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by bluebutterfly2222, Jan 26, 2011
Hi John,

I don't think all the flap is so much about whether Chinese Tiger Mother's approach to child-rearing  will lead to high achievement, but rather the question, "At what cost?"

I'm pasting below the comments of a well-known authority on parenting, who up until now, has been criticized mostly for being too strict and tough-love oriented...

Huntington Herald Dispatch 01/26/2011, Page C03

"Chinese Tiger Mother’s ego overrides her children’s needs

Over the years, I have been called every name in the book, all related to my admittedly tra­ditional parenting philosophy.

Draconian is a favorite slur. I am confident that these epithets are tossed by folks who have turned their children into gold­en calves, so I have no problem with harsh or evil or “parenting Hitler” or any of the rest.

But my reputation may be in store for rehabilitation, because according to Amy Chua, writ­ing in The Wall Street Journal (Jan. 11), my parenting malevo­lence is nothing compared to that of the Chinese Tiger Mother, of which she is one.

Consider that the CTM does not allow her children to attend sleepovers, have playdates, participate in school plays, watch television, play com­puter games, choose their own extracurricular activities, be less than the very best in every subject save drama and gym, attend sleepo ver camp, and play any instrument other than the piano or violin, of which they will play one or the other.

I conclude that future Chi­nese orchestras will be bereft of horn and percussion sections.

I also ponder the competitive chaos that must result if sev­eral children of CTMs wind up in the same classroom.        

Ms.Chua believes that one does not become proficient to the point of superior at a skill without hours and hours of forced practice.

Practice must, in fact, be forced because as she admits, “the child will resist.” Left to their own devices, she claims, children never want to work, which is why it is crucial for responsible (presumably) parents “to over­ride their preferences.”

Ms. Chua overrides her two daughters’ preferences by call­ing them names like “garbage” and threatening to throw away a favorite dollhouse unless the child in question learns a par­ticularly difficult piano piece within 24 hours. If one of her daughters ever came home with a B (something she says would never happen), there would be a “screaming, hair­-tearing explosion.” From her,
mind you, not the child.

The CTM believes her child is in debt to her because of the inordinate time and energy she devotes to making sure the child achieves total, unequivocal success in life. If the child does not repay the debt by being the best at everything, it is the CTM’s right and perhaps even duty to demonstrate, presumably by launching ballistic missiles at the child’s psyche, that she is ashamed of the child. This all seems like unmitigated, indefensible, emotional blackmail to me, but then I am a Westerner and therefore an unmitigated parenting wuss.

I do not understand what it takes for a child to achieve success in life. Is this cultural chauvinism or what? Ms. Chua describes her parenting style as if she is being totally unselfish, but I suggest that she is all about her. This CTM stuff is more about Ms. Chua’s ego than it is her kids’ success. She lives through her children. She even freely admits that she and her American husband do not agree on how to raise the kids, but when he objects, she simply argues him into submission. The Chinese Tiger Mother is also a Tiger Wife.

At the crux of my disagreement with Ms. Chua is her definition of success. She’s fixated on grades and other material accomplishments (one of her daughters played Carnegie Hall in 2007). I want a child to pretty much—with some coaching and correcting of course—find his or her own way in life. I’m all for the child learning through trial-and- error what path is right for her. Ms. Chua is about choosing the child’s path and keeping her on it no matter what. I think character is more important than material success. Ms. Chua believes character is forged in the struggle for material success. We agree on nothing.

In any case, I am indebted to Ms. Chua for inadvertently improving my public image. I am now a Western Parenting Wuss and proud of it."

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at

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by margypops, Jan 26, 2011
Me too , I abhor the teaching methods of Ms Chua  I cannot see that it is praiseworthy in any way whatsoever .......

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by sk123, Feb 02, 2011
I see a lot of Amy Chua in the way I was raised and I fully intend to raise my kids in a similar fashion. My mother never let me quit activities, expected A's in every class, and emphasized education over all other extracurricular activities. At the age of four, we did "homework" every night for an hour after dinner. There was no real homework, so we learned multiplication and advanced math or practiced Chinese characters.

As I grew older, I got to make more of my decisions, but this was well after all the Chinese principles were instilled in me. My parents were quietly supportive when I broke away from Chinese traditions and made decisions that they probably disapproved of: 1) dating a white guy, 2) turning down Johns Hopkins to go to Berkeley, 3) going into business instead of becoming a doctor. It's not about running your life or doing everything they want...for them, it was giving us the foundation and the opportunities for which we could make our own decisions.

My dad didn't graduate from high school. My mom took a few college classes. But there was never a second in my life when I didn't think I would graduate from college. It was expected, demanded and accomplished. Now that I have an MBA and my sister has a PhD, I know they are proud (although they would never show it).

P.S. I played piano and violin.

962875 tn?1314210036
by bluebutterfly2222, Feb 09, 2011
But she was only joking?? See this follow-up column by the psychologist/parenting expert I previously quoted:

Huntington Herald Dispatch 02/09/2011, Page C03

"Not funny: Chinese Tiger Mother now claims she was ‘joking’

Stop the presses! I inter­rupt this column with an important update: Infamous Chinese Tiger Mother Amy Chua, whose account of her parenting methods (Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Penguin) has provoked a tsunami of outrage, now says that much, if not most, of her description was a “joke,” “deadpan humor,” and “tongue in cheek.”

In a Jan. 22, interview with Joy Behar, Ms. Chua said she was joking when she wrote that she threatened to burn her daughter’s stuffed animals if she didn’t master a com­plicated piano piece. Lots of people got the joke, she said; they were rolling on the floor.

When Behar suggested she was backtracking, Chua denied it, but subsequently said that in retrospect she wasn’t proud of some of her parenting tech­niques. Furthermore, she said the list of draconian restrictions and expectations that caused much of the outrage was more of a description of how she was raised by her immigrant par­ents, not how she raised her two daughters. Not backtracking?

Several points: First, of the hundreds of folks who respond­ed to my critique that appeared in this column several weeks ago, no one chided me for not getting the joke. I think Chua is, well, to put it mildly, misrep­resenting her original intent.

Second, the operational defini­tion of a joke is something that makes people laugh. I k now of no one who was amused much less, as Chua claims, rolling on the floor. Comedy is obviously nother strong suit. Third, I a m a published author. As such, I know that ethical publish­ers will not publish a book in which an author puts forth outrageous claims and descrip­tions that aren’t true. If Chua truly was kidding, then she put one over on her publisher, Penguin. In that case it should pull the plug on Chua’s book of comedy and require her to return her advance.

Something Else That Isn’t Funny: According to a survey conducted by the UCLA Higher  Education Research Center, the mental health of first-year college students has been in sharp decline since 1985, when the survey was first taken.

I suggest that the concept of learned helplessness may go a long way toward answering that question. Learned helplessness is a psychological state characterized by the feeling that one is not capable of exercising adequate control over their life circumstances.

Helplessness can be learned when, for example, significant others have made it their business to solve a person’s life problems for him.

Helicopter parenting became the norm in the 1980s. Over the next 20 years, HP was slowly replaced by what I call “Cuisinart parenting”— characterized by a lack of boundary (blending) in the parent-child relationship and a related state of ubiquitous parental micromanagement and enabling. Today’s parents solve problems for their children that parents 50-plus years ago expected their kids to solve for themselves, and the problem areas in question run the full gamut. Today’s children, therefore, can be excused for not knowing how to entertain themselves creatively or organize a ball game on their own.

The UCLA survey gives proof to the expression that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website at

Avatar universal
by ROSYouralright, Sep 10, 2013
I just caught this journal post but thoroughly enjoyed reading it and the accompanied posts. Thank you for sharing.

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