kitchen table math, the sequel: as a Chinese mom, I am an abject failure

Sunday, January 9, 2011

as a Chinese mom, I am an abject failure

Fabulous article in the WSJ today - !
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.

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior
JANUARY 8, 2011
By AMY CHUA

34 comments:

Allison said...

So I'm the only one who thought it was tongue in cheek?

The whole Salvation Army story? The admitting at a dinner party she called her daughter "garbage"?

Because every other blog has taken the story so seriously, and I don't buy it. Maybe I'm crazy not to buy it, but she's a prof at Yale. She's not really going to admit to borderline child abuse by her peers' standards in a national newspaper.

Catherine Johnson said...

I think it's serious.

It's a book excerpt; it's hard for me to imagine an entire book that's tongue in cheek.

Anonymous said...

The discussion tab for the article has some posts asking if the article is sarcasm or irony or what. General opinion seems to be that the article is serious. It does match other readings I have tripped over on extreme Korean parenting ...

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

fyi: Whether she's tongue in cheek or not, I think we can take it as a given that her kids spent a he** of a lot more time doing homework/music practice/general self-improvement than mine very did.

This is why people keep citing cultural differences when confronted with TIMSS/PISA scores.

I think the answer to 'cultural differences' isn't to try to get American parents to act like Asian parents, but to get American schools to use precision teaching.

Precision teaching is all about getting there faster.

Work smarter, not harder.

That's precision teaching.

Anonymous said...

List for my child :-)

*) Has attended a sleepover (child is 9)

*) Has had a play date

*) Has not been in a play (I have encouraged this, but he hasn't wanted to). My child has been in a broadcast commercial, though :-)

* ) Gets to watch limited TV and play limited computer games

* ) Chooses his own extra- curricular activities (mostly)

*) Doesn't have grades

*) doesn't play a musical instrument

He does, however, cook ...

I conclude that I am not a Chinese mom ...

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

Extreme Korean parenting fits extreme Jewish-mother parenting, too, and assuredly Jewish families typically value education and studying more than the "average" American family, but who would claim the extreme is for real? It's a myth, and a funny one at that, thrown up over and over again to show how funny such families are, not how realistic they are.

To tag 1 billion people as all having this value system? Come on. That's about as ignorant as you can be.

Outside of a tiny sliver of China, there's no reason to believe this (or any other stereotype) is the norm. My readings of American missionaries in rural China is that the people they come into contact with value time spent nurturing relationships with family and neighbors, and that's the primary expectation of both adults and children.

Isn't it a whole lot more likely that the people who export themselves (or are exported by their State) from China to the States come from a subculture of achievement and demandingness? And that once you are here, you can make fun of that?

Well, in any case, whether it's satire or not, that so many blogs have taken this bit so seriously is a statement about a serious sickness in neurotic East Coast-WSJ reading-types and their fears of parenting, or a serious sickness in their monolithic vision of the myth of the culture of China.

PhysicistDave said...

Having married into a Chinese immigrant family (my wife is American-born, but identifies herself more as Chinese), I’d guess that Amy Chua may be exaggerating a bit for effect (and to have some fun at the expense of the “Bignoses”!), but that there is a fair amount of truth in her claims.

My wife is pretty resistant to sleepovers, she does tend to think our kids should be at the very top on anything that matters (piano and, certainly, academics!), etc.

And, on our recent trip to China, I was told again and again that all this is the norm in China – including the unwillingness to praise one’s kids for anything short of perfection (and maybe not even for perfection!). The people I talked with did seem somewhat concerned that there should be some moderation in these attitudes, but they had no doubt that these were indeed the prevailing Chinese attitudes.

The difference between Chinese and Western attitudes is greater than many Westerners realize: there is a lot of truth to the stereotype.

Personally, I think the Chinese attitudes are superior, in some respects, to Western attitudes: e.g., learning is important, and TV, video games, etc. are not. However, the Chinese I spoke with were, rightly I think, concerned that their system did not encourage individual, creative thinking or questioning of the teacher. One person was very intrigued when I explained that ever since first grade I had felt free to (politely) tell the teacher that I thought the teacher was completely wrong. Apparently, this is just not done in China. So, the Chinese attitudes are certainly not optimal.

I’m trying to decide whether or not to point out the WSJ article to my wife: it may only encourage her natural inclinations!

Dave

LynnG said...

I fail as a Chinese mother and as a Jewish mother. Thankfully, I am neither. I've bumped into the Jewish mother myth on the East Coast, and my impression is that it there is some truth to it, but it is rarely as bad as the myth itself. Since I've never found guilt to be a motivator, maybe I'm immune to that particular one.

Glen said...

I'm married to a Chinese mother. I live with two of them, and often the house is full of them. The whole neighborhood is full of them. Our school principal is a Chinese mother, and our PTA would look at home in Singapore.

For what it's worth, I've known enough Amy Chuas in my life to be pretty sure that she means what she says but is amusing herself by presenting it in a way calculated to shock and rattle the hoi poloi. It's a haughtiness that is saying, "I know this will shock you, because ordinary people don't understand what it really takes to be extraordinary like us."

Some Chinese mothers are just like this and will even tell me that their goal is to make sure their kids don't end up lazy and stupid like Americans.

But most Chinese mothers don't have all that attitude. Instead, those who exhibit a lot of the parenting behaviors described in the article (again, without the haughty attitude) seem to me to be driven by various combinations of fear, the need to show off their status, and a desire for a successful and fulfilling life.

A lot of old Asians I've known over the decades have had bitter memories of war, chaos, and starvation, where families worked like crazy just to keep each other alive. Parents raised kids to have the skills, connections, and work ethic needed for family survival. No time for play.

In the past few decades, East Asia has experienced prosperity for the first time, and the kids have applied that work ethic to do what nouveau riche often do: to accumulate status symbols to show off to the neighbors.

Then there are Asian Americans who have been in the US for long enough to take survival for granted and to not be very impressed by status symbols, but who want their kids to have happy childhoods and still develop the skills they'll need for fulfilling lives and careers as adults. They tend to be much less intense, which other Asians often see as Americanized laziness, but I see as a matter of optimization for different goals. My kids have playdates with these Chinese kids every week.

Among the East Asian moms I've known, I see age, point of origin, generation, length of residence in the US, and so on, producing a mixture of the above attitudes in various proportions.

If I were to venture a guess, I'd guess that Amy Chua's mother had a precarious childhood under Japanese occupation and taught Amy that no one would give her anything--she'd have to fight for it, that Amy drove her daughters to practice piano, not to revel in the joy of fun music but to bask in the glory of making it to Carnegie Hall, and that her daughters will teach their own kids to play what they like, will drive them to sleepovers, playdates and soccer, but still make them go to Kumon.

PhysicistDave said...

Glen wrote:
>I'd guess that Amy Chua's mother had a precarious childhood under Japanese occupation

Her parents are from the Chinese expat community in the Philippines: I don’t know how the Chinese expats fared under the Japanese.

Glen also wrote of those who:
>want their kids to have happy childhoods and still develop the skills they'll need for fulfilling lives and careers as adults.

I think Chua would maintain that her kids did have happy childhoods: she just disagrees with most Americans as to what leads to happiness.

Personally, I am inclined to agree with Chua: my own “rebellion” as a child was that I resisted my parents' push for me to participate in physical activities and to socialize because all I really cared about was learning advanced academic material (e.g., reading Britannica and learning special relativity for fun in junior high and studying tensor analysis for fun in high school). I agree with Aristotle’s point from “The Nicomachean Ethics”: “Happiness is the development of all of one’s potential in the pursuit of excellence.” (Good Chinese fellow, that Aristotle!)

Again, I do not think Chua’s approach is fully optimal. But, given the choice between being raised by Chua or by most American parents, as a child I would have unquestionably chosen someone like Chua.

Dave

Catherine Johnson said...

My wife is pretty resistant to sleepovers

Same here.

As I say, I've failed abjectly as a Chinese mom (& I love the article), but a couple of years ago I pretty much banned sleep overs. They're a huge waste of time, and sleep overs for teens started to seem...I don't know what word to use. Not just a waste of time, but even slightly hostile.

Like having an enemy encampment in your family room. (I sound like the American version of Amy Chua!)

C. didn't have many sleep overs as a grade school kid, either.

Sleep overs being a part of American culture, I liked having C. have some. My friend K - the friend I used to always write about sharing a life-extending glass of red wine with - used to host her son's friends for a big birthday sleep over once a year.

That was great & made sense to me.

Catherine

Catherine Johnson said...

I should go find all the links to posts I wrote about Laurence Steinberg's book Beyond the Classroom

He has wonderful material on Asian parents.

Confirms Amy Chua's description, though without the entertaining bravado.

Was it James Stigler who surveyed parents about what grades they considered OK?

American parents all thought Bs (or was it Cs?) were fine.

Catherine Johnson said...

fyi: this fall C. got grounded for life after an afternoon of very unsatisfactory parent-teacher conferences at his Jesuit high school.

C. was appalled; as he told his friends, repeatedly, "I got two Bs."

But it wasn't the two Bs; we didn't like the slippage in grades, but we thought it was 'natural,' a function of junior year & a difficult course load.

We grounded him for life when we learned he wasn't behaving well in class.

I see our reaction as being more typically American. We didn't hone in on the reduced achievement but on the 'social failure.' C. had disappointed his teachers and made their lives somewhat difficult. THAT got our attention!

I can't say more because it would violate C's privacy, but the issue turned out to be simple & has been resolved.

Nevertheless, like Amy Chua (I think), I separated C. from his peer group to the greatest degree possible. He had become what I think of as a typical teen: he didn't really live with us. He was living with his peers: on Facebook, on Skype, in the city. (We live in the suburbs.)

It was clear to me that he needed to re-join our family and focus on his studies.

From my perspective, I think that's what Amy Chua has done; she has created a family culture that trumps peer culture.

Funny thing. Parents at a Jesuit high school are serious people - not serious the way Amy Chua is, but serious in terms of requiring good behavior from their kids, good morals, religious service in some cases, etc.

At the exact moment we grounded C. for life, all his friends got grounded for life, too. One kid got grounded for a YEAR! (Grounded for life is a considerably shorter period of time than a year...)

There was esprit de corps.

Catherine Johnson said...

The Steinberg book - based on 10 years of research - shows that peer culture is fantastically powerful here in the U.S.

It is also fantastically anti-achievement.

Steinberg says what you're really paying for when you move to an expensive suburb is the peers. Wealthy suburban schools are little enclaves of competitive, achievement-oriented teens.

As it turns out, that's not fun.

Anonymous said...

I'm married to a Japanese mother of 3 boys.

The main difference between them and typical American kids is the amount of time they study. It's every night, for several hours each night. Math, English, Japanese reading and writing, and any subjects for which they have upcoming tests. Each started serious at-home study at about four years old.

Getting most elementary-school kids to study for hours at a time is a family affair: you can't just seat your kids at a desk and go about your business, relying on them to keep on task. It's a constant effort. And it's one that needs to be done both with firmness and love, and an understanding of why you're doing it -- to give the child the best chance of success, whatever they decide that to be. You make sure they're good at math not because you want them to be physicists, but because you don't want poor math skills to be an obstacle to being a physicist.

And though it's rather difficult for me to refrain from bragging about my kids, my wife warns me against it constantly. It would embarrass her. Japanese culture isn't really big on self-puffery, even if it's through your children.

Chua-taitai tends to attribute all success to every aspect of the alleged "Chinese mothering" philosophy. This is pretty common ethnocentrism -- rather than looking at which aspects have which effects an in what measure, she simply attributes the end result to every single thing that went into it. Do sleepovers really decrease performance? She doesn't know, it's simply sloppy thinking to attribute it to that.

The poll disappoints me. Online polls have no basis in reality and really don't show anything interesting, ever. This one is particularly bad:

Which style of parenting is best for children?

O Permissive Western parenting
O Demanding Eastern parenting

Anonymous said...

"I don’t know how the Chinese expats fared under the Japanese."

I don't know either, but the Chinese in China fared poorly as did the Filipinos in the Phillippines.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

"...she does tend to think our kids should be at the very top on anything that matters..."

I have always wondered what happens when you have ten kids with moms like this in one class? Clearly at least 9 of these kids will FAIL in any given grading period. Do those kids get the load cranked up each grading cycle? Or what?

-Mark Roulo

Crimson Wife said...

I have always wondered what happens when you have ten kids with moms like this in one class?

White flight to private schools.

Allison said...

I'm more annoyed by the ethnic content of the responses--if an American mother behaved this way it would be considered emotional abuse, but when an Asian mother behaves this way, it's culture and applauded as "fantastic".

Really, are the people here defending the piano incident if we're to take it at face value?

The article is lousy if it's not satire. Her attribution of her personal behaviors to huge swaths of a population of a billion or so, even if in general, that population's culture has different values than the west is still outrageous. If a woman wrote an article about how it was "American Parenting" to spend 30k a year to get into the right preschool in order to have your child be able to make it into Dartmouth in 14 years, just because her niche of neurotic-Northeasterns all behaved this way, she'd be skewered for such an overgeneralization. But we believe it about "Asians"? Yes, as a tongue in cheek stereotype rooted in some truth, sure. But as an actual sweeping statement claiming authenticity over a billion souls?

Anonymous said...

I have experience with a HS (and associated MS) with a large, ultra-competitive Asian population that is similar to those mentioned in CW's link, although it was not as heavily Asian as the CA schools mentioned. Many/most of the Asian kids were either prohibited or strongly discouraged from mixing with non-Asians, either socially (if they were allowed social activities) or academically. I can see real academic disadvantages for non-Asians who have only a token presence in the top classes, since they are likely to be excluded from most/all study groups; a significant disadvantage in a very competitive school. At that particular school, very few Asians fell outside of the unltr-competitive category but there were enough non-Asians that they could form their own study groups for all of the top honors/AP classes, at least at the time.

SteveH said...

The piano incident is important because it defines a specific level of pushing. Things that end up working look great, but do we ever hear about the cases that fail?

We see these kids at all of the piano competitions my son goes to. Not everyone can be number one. Does that mean I take an anti-pushing position? No. I've been more struck by how so many US parents (perhaps we should refer to them as at least second generation US residents) have low academic expectations. That's the main point I get from the article, and I'm clearly on the same "push" side as many Asian parents.


"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."

There are two differnt questions here; one is whether you believe in the philosophy above and the other is how much you push. A parent who follows the ideas in the article with no flexibility will likely fail with one child or another. This is also a problem for many US parents who push sports. Ironically, I see many parents who push in sports, but wimp out completely for academics.

Also, for things like the national MTNA music competitions, it's not just about hard work. Extreme pushing might work at the level of "The Little White Donkey", but not when you get to a Chopin Scherzo. Parents have to face reality in some areas.

It's perhaps smug to assume that all Asian parents go well past the "push too much" line, but I don't see that. What I see are parents who set high standards, but are realistic. Perhaps the key attribute is that they all start very young. I think it was Martha Argerich who said that if you don't start playing the piano by age six, it's all over. Heck. That's nothing. My son started playing soccer at age four. Didn't help. However, for piano, it made all of the difference.

Anonymous said...

"When Lulu said, "I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?" I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. "

Okay, two points:

1) I agree with Lulu. If the mother threatens to take the toy to the Salvation Army, she should do it. Don't wimp out. I tone down my threats precisely because they are real (I wish I could threaten to smash a Wii game with a hammer. It would be such a great effect. But realistically, I won't, so I don't make the threat.). I do threaten that they won't see some item for a month, and that's an easy threat to stick to.

2) Was Lulu getting both Hannukah and Christmas presents before this point, or did Chua-taitai not know which she was getting? I know I'd only have to threaten no Christmas presents. As a recount of supposed reality, this smells fishy.

PhysicistDave said...

Catherine wrote:
> The Steinberg book - based on 10 years of research - shows that peer culture is fantastically powerful here in the U.S.
> It is also fantastically anti-achievement.

Especially on intellectual matters – Americans are pretty good on an achievement attitude towards sports.

That is the point on which I really applaud Chua and the stereotypical “Asian Moms”: achievement is in fact good and can be and should be a source of happiness.

I think we all agree that, taken at face value, Chua’s approach on the piano incident was less than optimal. On the other hand, having been blessed with two daughters who show the same personality differences as Chua’s two daughters, I’d be willing to bet that there is a lengthy “back story” to Chua’s piano story – there had probably been friction on the issue between Amy and Lulu going back days or weeks, the kid had probably been mouthing off for some time (Lulu’s comment about why hasn’t Mom gone yet to the Salvation Army suggests this), etc. That still does not mean Chua’s response was ideal, but I’d bet that if we knew the full story, we’d find Chua’s response a bit more comprehensible and forgivable than it seems at first glance. Everyone blows their top, sometimes.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote:
> I'm more annoyed by the ethnic content of the responses--if an American mother behaved this way it would be considered emotional abuse, but when an Asian mother behaves this way, it's culture and applauded as "fantastic".
[snip]
> Her attribution of her personal behaviors to huge swaths of a population of a billion or so, even if in general, that population's culture has different values than the west is still outrageous.

Chua does say explicitly that not all ethnically Chinese moms are “Chinese mothers” and that some moms who are not Chinese are “Chinese mothers.” In her words,
> I'm using the term "Chinese mother" loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too. Conversely, I know some mothers of Chinese heritage, almost always born in the West, who are not Chinese mothers, by choice or otherwise. I'm also using the term "Western parents" loosely. Western parents come in all varieties.

Chua is presenting what the sociologist Max Weber called an “ideal type,” using herself to give illustrative examples.

Of course, not all Chinese behave exactly as Chua behaved; in fact, probably no other Chinese behaves exactly as Chua behaved.

But, the broad cultural attitudes she is pointing to do seem to be the norm among Chinese, even if the details differ and if some Chinese do dissent from that norm altogether. As I mentioned above, I discussed these issues at some length with a number of Chinese on our recent trip to China. They were all quite certain that this “Chinese mother” syndrome is very much a reality as the Chinese norm. They all also indicated that there is a widespread feeling in China that perhaps they need to moderate a bit on all this.

In the case of my wife’s family, while my wife’s personality is pretty close to Chua’s, her own immigrant mom was in fact somewhat different. I know of no case where anything like the “piano incident” occurred involving my mother-in-law, and, in fact, superficially, my parents-in-law took a somewhat laissez-faire approach towards their daughters’ education.

On the other hand, my parents-in-law did somehow inculcate in their kids an underlying attitude that not only they, but their entire ancestral lines on both sides of the family, would be deeply disgraced if their daughters did not excel academically. So, the result was much the same as Chua’s, although there was less micromanaging and certainly less yelling!

It is in that sense that there really is a “Chinese mother” cultural type, not that everyone behaves just like Amy Chua.

As Glen wrote:
> I'd guess… that her [Chua’s] daughters will teach their own kids to play what they like, will drive them to sleepovers, playdates and soccer, but still make them go to Kumon.

That’s really the point. Of course, individual Chinese modify and work around the cultural norm in various ways. Amy Chua is not one-and-a-half billion people! But the cultural norm is still very real.

Dave

Lisa said...

Pushing is not an exclusively Asian method, they just (according to the article since there is no 'they') do so in the arena of academics. I assure you that sport parents and dance parents push just as hard. It probably comes down to what your culture deems desirable. All that said I believe she probably did push her kids but is enjoying perhaps embroidering things a little for her own entertainment knowing how many 'westerners' will be aghast. I will also admit to a memorization 'incident' last week with my 9yo that probably didn't look pretty from the outside.

PhysicistDave said...

StevH wrote:
>I've been more struck by how so many US parents (perhaps we should refer to them as at least second generation US residents) have low academic expectations. That's the main point I get from the article, and I'm clearly on the same "push" side as many Asian parents.

I agree, and I think that is the point being made by all of us who are “defending” Chua: we agree with some of her underlying attitudes, not with all of her self-reported behavior (I don’t even agree with all of my own behavior – after all, I do not believe I am perfect).

SteveH also wrote:
>There are two differnt questions here; one is whether you believe in the philosophy above and the other is how much you push. A parent who follows the ideas in the article with no flexibility will likely fail with one child or another. This is also a problem for many US parents who push sports. Ironically, I see many parents who push in sports, but wimp out completely for academics.

I’d broaden the question.

My kids are free to quit piano anytime they want (we would insist on a cooling-off period, to make sure they really want to stick by their decision). Early last year, I really discomfited our (former) piano teacher by telling her this (in front of the kids): she assumed that of course we were forcing the girls to take piano. When I get fed up with the kids, I actually threaten to take piano lessons away as a punishment.

Of course, often before a recital we have to “push” the kids a bit: I suppose almost no one loves practicing the same piece again and again and again. The girls would rather learn new pieces, work on their own compositions, etc. But our “pushing” is within a larger framework of an activity that they themselves have chosen to do. And, the “pushing” consists mainly of reminding them that they do not want to mess up in public.

Since piano really is optional, it is of course easier to take this sort of a “It’s your choice” approach in piano than in, say, math. However, I do try to follow an approach somewhat like this even in academic subjects: the kids get some say as to what texts we use, they usually choose what time of day they work on various subjects, I try to make clear why each subject is worth learning, etc. As a result, I never get whining of the “Why do we have to learn algebra” sort. (Of course, I do get procrastination, inattention, etc. – my kids are certainly not perfect.)

Curiosity is natural to human beings: Aristotle opened the “Metaphysics” by declaring, “All men by nature desire to know.” Learning is not an activity that human beings should naturally loathe. Our public schools, our pop culture, and, more than anything, the anti-intellectual attitudes conveyed by most adults have stripped our kids of their natural eagerness to learn.

That is the biggest point on which I differ from Chua, a point on which she in fact agrees with most Westerners: Learning should not and need not be a battle between adults and kids. Studying usually cannot be as fun as going on a roller coaster ride or going to see “Avatar.” But working towards a goal in academic areas can be and should be as rewarding as, say, training for the swim team or basketball team.

I think the Chinese are often missing that point just as much as most Westerners are.

Dave

SteveH said...

"But our “pushing” is within a larger framework of an activity that they themselves have chosen to do."


This is a very interesting area and a lot depends on the details. The same action taken by parents with two different kids can have opposite results. Some kids are improved with tough coaches and some are not.

I don't think the problem is just with optional versus required areas of work. The question would be why a child wants to stop. It's one thing to realize that the fit isn't there; that there is no love. It's quite another thing if they just don't want to practice or do the work. Kids can confuse the two.

I've told the story before that my son's (Japanese) piano teacher once held his hand low and told him that he was trying to have too much fun "down here". Then he raised his hand high and said that if he works really hard, he will have much more fun "up here". We're still working on showing him where "up here" is located. It can't be found by looking at his friends.

Everyone can go through ups and downs of interest, even for something that is carefully selected, like a major in college. You have to learn what that effect is and how you react to it. It doesn't mean that you drop it and move on to the next greatest spark of interest. I saw that in my brother. He would dive into a new area (or musical instrument) with great passion, but over time, the passion would wane, and it would be on to something else or a new instrument.

I can't tell you how many adults I've met who told me that they wish that their parents forced them to continue playing the piano. I can only imagine what their parents' reactions (and stories) would be if they heard those comments.

Number two on my list of things I want for my son is to know the value of hard work and that it won't often be fun. Programming is no fun when it's 2am and you are still trying to track down a bug in a program that has to be handed in that day. How you're feeling is not necessarily a sign that you need to find a new major. My son has to resist pulling out a fun piece when he needs to be working on a Chopin etude.

I don't believe that anything of importance is natural. A lot of pushing is required. How this pushing is done makes all of the difference. The article taked about how this is easier if you start early and are consistent. Now that our son is in high school, there is a lot less pushing becuase being a good student and doing the extra work is part of who he is. We don't have to be horrified about a bad grade. He is. He now has to realize that "up here" can be a lot higher than he thought. He can be driven by something more than good grades and going to a good college.

cranberry said...

The whole "no grade less than an A" bothers me. I don't see this woman as an example to follow for many reasons. The emphasis on grades is only one part of my objections.

Already, my kids have encountered a few teachers with, um, unusual grading scales. Granted, most of the time, with most teachers, grading is fairly predictable. With some teachers, though, it can be subjective and unfair, especially with the teachers who "play favorites." Add in the effect of group work, when the teacher's lazy enough to not give individual grades to each group member, and there are courses where grades will not necessarily reflect academic achievement. To insist upon "no grade less than an A" is to insist upon an impossible standard. It implicitly puts pressure on the student to cheat or to curry favor with the teacher in unethical ways.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd love to have the "no grade less than A" standard, but like Cranberry, we're also having a lot of issues with some teacher's oh-so-subjective grading scales. Since my kid isn't exactly a teacher pleaser, it makes any complaining I might do an ineffectual exercise at best. In fact, I'm guessing he would become an even greater target than he already is.

SusanS

Catherine Johnson said...

The whole "no grade less than an A" bothers me. I don't see this woman as an example to follow for many reasons. The emphasis on grades is only one part of my objections.

Already, my kids have encountered a few teachers with, um, unusual grading scales.


Same here: I'm pretty sure our high school (our public high school) is one of the 30% of wealthy high schools with grade deflation.

Reading the article this morning, Ed said that's the flaw in the piece: the Chinese mom, according to Amy Chua, blames her child for low grades, not the school.

The error in the logic there is that all of your child's teachers **also** had American moms.

Catherine Johnson said...

SteveH - good work!

Now that our son is in high school, there is a lot less pushing becuase being a good student and doing the extra work is part of who he is.

Good for you!

We didn't do as good a job...C. is conscientious, but somehow he's developed the idea that Ed & I shouldn't care about grades.

He's also quite dismissive of the need to do well on SAT -- although, at the same time, he agreed to work his way through the entire Barron's PSAT book last summer & did so without very little prompting.

He raised his PSAT score by...gosh, what was it. Huge gain in scores from sophomore year.

Just missed the cut-off for finalist, unfortunately.

Catherine Johnson said...

Pushing is not an exclusively Asian method, they just (according to the article since there is no 'they') do so in the arena of academics. I assure you that sport parents and dance parents push just as hard.

Absolutely.

America also has 'stage moms' and moms who take their daughters to beauty competitions, etc.

There are major cultural differences between Asia & the West.

I'm trying to find old posts on the original ktm...

Catherine Johnson said...

Here's a line from an old post:

"Laurence Steinberg's 10-year study of American adolescents found that black & Hispanic teens have a 'C' culture, whites have a 'B' culture, and Asians have an 'A' culture. Across the country, he found, teens get the grades their peers get, regardless of the tone their parents set at home."

popularity & grades 10 years later

I loaned my copy of Beyond the Classroom to a friend; will type up some passages when I get my new copy.

Katharine Beals said...

Another book suggestive of the power of the peer influence is Judith Rich Harris' "The Nurture Assumption." The book is mostly about how miniscule the effects of parenting are on personality. Citing twin studies, Harris argues that the largest determiner is genes but that that still leaves room for some other significant factor(s). Harris proposes that the strongest of these remaining factors is peers.

If Harris is correct, parents *can* be influential provided the measures they take are aimed at affecting the quality and quantity of peer exposure. Perhaps, then, this is where "Chinese parenting" is most effective, especially when practiced within cultures where peer influences are greatest.

Indeed, given how influential and antithetical to Chinese values so much of American peer culture is, perhaps "Chinese parenting" is more extreme (and more influential) here than, say, in East Asia.