- Amy Chua, a proud and loud Chinese mom, wrote a book about Chinese moms entitled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.
- In a skillful publicity maneuver, an excerpt was published in the Wall Street Journal under the provocative title “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior.”
- In that excerpt, Ms. Chua blasts Western styles of parenting.
- She backtracks in a later Wall Street Journal piece. Ms Chua explains that the tone of the excerpt is misleading because it is from the beginning of her book, when she was a young mom, and not from the end of the book after she had been delivered her “comeuppance” by the trials and tribulations of parenting.
- Regardless of whether the excerpt accurately reflects Ms. Chua’s current stance on parenting, it has caused a considerable stir with rebuttals published in major newspapers, blogs and other media outlets, including the New York “Taxi Entertainment Network” or “10” where, while riding last week in cab in NYC, I saw a panel discussion on the subject.
I find it remarkable that so many contemporary, well-educated commentators seem to be quite certain that there is one approach to learning that is suitable for every single child. This dualistic stance, with deeply ingrained, preconceived notions about what’s right versus what’s wrong and what’s mine versus what’s yours, opens a Pandora’s Box of suffering. When working with kids, absolute certainty about the way things are, and the way things should be, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Since very little is set in stone except an understanding that everything changes, I make a deliberate effort never to utter the phrases “I would never . . . ” or “I will always. . .“ When those words have tumbled out of my mouth in the past life has quickly provided me with my own “comeuppance”.
The one thing that has surprised me more than the predominantly dualistic approaches to parenting and education that have been voiced in this debate is the degree to which the debate has been defined by cultural, stereotypical conditioning. Asian moms are regaling the benefits of stereotypically Asian parenting styles, Jewish moms espousing stereotypical Jewish mothering, and now even a French mom has weighed in on the virtues of a uniquely French way of mothering. Even with tongues firmly embedded in their cheeks these cultural commentators nonetheless promote one approach to parenting over others in ways that reinforce the stereotypes of which they’re making fun.
In 2011, we now know that an approach to learning that closes down communication between parents and children limits options, narrows perspectives, and perhaps above all, is condescending to children and teenagers. I doubt that Tiger mom intended to be condescending when she started this debate and I imagine that everyone weighing in wants to help children and teens. But adults are most helpful when they set aside their preconceived notions, even if only for a short time, and listen with an open mind to what kids have to say. Children and teenagers live in worlds that are profoundly different than the worlds that adults inhabit. Their classrooms, playgrounds and social environments are nuanced and challenging to navigate, yet kids do it every single day. How can we help them? By recognizing and respecting their strengths, empathizing with their challenges, understanding what’s happening in their environments, and adapting our parenting styles accordingly.