Monday, 19 September 2011

So as promised, here is a review of the book I was talking about, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.


So in the first chapter (and this was taken as an excerpt and published by the Wall Street Journal), the author, Amy Chua, wrote about why Asian parents are superior:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. 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. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:

• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.

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. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it's math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.

That book became very controversial, and I'm sure you can see why.

That short excerpt was meant to portray her as a strict, no-nonsense parent who wants to raise her children into who she thinks they can be. In part, this is true- she is strict and is a no-nonsense mother, and forces her children to excel in things that she thinks they'll be good at and would be helpful for them in the future.


But the book was more than that. It was funny reading how she conducted research for finding a dog, and how best to train a dog to be 'successful'. It was simply hilarious, reading about how she felt her dog has potential and is more intelligent that other dog species, according to her research.

It was insightful reading about how she thinks of raising her younger daughter like a game of chess; it's always about what moves to make, what baits to give, what traps to lay, what weapons to use. No kidding! In recalling an incident with her stubborn daughter in which she punished her by asking her to stand outside in the cold snowy day, but then realised her mistake when the daughter refused to step back in (she only meant to let her daughter stand outside for a few minutes). Here's what she wrote:

I had to change tactics immediately; I couldn't win this one. My mind racing, I reversed course, now begging, coddling, and bribing Lulu (her daughter) to come back into the house. When Jed (husband) and Sophia (older daughter) arrived home, they found Lulu contentedly soaking in a hot bath, dipping a brownie in a steaming cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.

But Lulu had underestimated me too. I was just rearming. The battle lines were drawn, and she didn't even know it. 

But most of all, what struck me as most interesting was her devotion to her daughters. While the WSJ article seemed to portray her (and the stereotype probably exists) as an Asian parent who just keeps pushing their child into everything, she struck me as a parent who would also be willing to sacrifice everything for her daughters, which is probably unlike the stereotypical Western parent.


Think about it. She's a Yale law professor, so while preparing course materials, going to lectures, marking assignments and consultations, she also sends her TWO daughters to piano and violin lessons, reads up on techniques and pieces of BOTH instruments, and sits in both daughters' classes and drills them at home. She's not just the parent who yells 'GO PRACTISE!', she sits there and tell them what they're not doing right, based on her research and her observations (she takes notes during lessons). Not to mention, she takes her daughters to all sorts of competitions, musical and academic.

It's a very interesting book simply because it is ironic and paradoxical, yet stereotypical. I have no other way to describe it, because it really is something that's... an interesting read.
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