Amy Chua posits, in this article about the superiority of “Chinese” parenting over “Western” parenting (Notice how the superior method of parenting is “Chinese” while she mentions that “some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents… qualify too” – Sinofication? Complete self-absorbedness? A denial of agency to ethnic groups who are not the author’s, some of which have been historically oppressed by said author’s ethnic group? I WONDER.), that the reason that “Chinese” (quotes because, as I mentioned, not all the people she’s calling “Chinese” are actually Chinese, they’re just blessed to have this glorious title bestowed upon them by the Goddess of Parenting) children in America are arguably more successful than children of other ethnicities is because of their superior parents.
Chua argues that the main reason that “Chinese” mothers are superior mothers is because they are, in a word, relentless. She states, “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… Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence”.
Let’s parse this out.
“Nothing is fun until you are good at it” implies that nothing is fun until it is easy. Once you’re good at it, it gets easy. I’d like to argue that some of the most fun I’ve ever has been doing things that were incredibly difficult for me. For example, learning new alphabets. Cyrillic is a pain in the butt. Learning the letters and the sounds that corresponded to those letters was probably the most challenging thing I had done at that point in my life, and it took about two days to get it down pat, but it was still fun. That said, algebra, especially beginners algebra, is easy, and I was good at it, but it bored me to death and as a result I found it decidedly unfun. I’m sure many people can share similar stories.
“To get good at anything, you have to work.” This is certainly true, though perhaps it should be modified to “to get better at anything, you have to work.” People are born with talents, and I would argue that Chua’s children’s talents are not the sole result of her relentlessness.
“Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence.” I would argue the same points as I did above in response to this claim.
What becomes problematic is the fact that Chua, while positing the rather banal and trite argument that practice does indeed make perfect, and that parents have to push children to practice, also reveals that she does not allow her children to choose in what field they are going to pursue excellence. In fact, Chua lists several activities that could indeed produce excellence in her children, but they are forbidden to them. Why? She doesn’t say. She never, at any point in her article, expresses why these pursuits should be less valued than the ones she forces upon her children.
Here are a few: “be in a school play… choose their own extracurricular activities… play any instrument other than the piano or violin.”
Let’s peer deeper, shall we?
Another thing Chua’s children are expressly forbidden to do is “not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama.”
I would like to suggest that Chua doesn’t give a rat’s ass about “excellence”, as she claims to, but instead wants her children to become an acceptable level of competent in areas of knowledge and skill that she deems worthwhile. In other words, her children exist for no other reason but to fulfill the expectations she has of them. They are, effectively, denied any remnant of agency (rather like those non-Chinese persons who were dubbed “Chinese”). They are extensions of their mother’s ambitions.
LET’S READ MORE, SHALL WE?
Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences. That’s why Chinese daughters can’t have boyfriends in high school and why Chinese kids can’t go to sleepaway camp. It’s also why no Chinese kid would ever dare say to their mother, “I got a part in the school play! I’m Villager Number Six. I’ll have to stay after school for rehearsal every day from 3:00 to 7:00, and I’ll also need a ride on weekends.” God help any Chinese kid who tried that one.
This quote made me laugh. Why? Because here is where Chua really slips up and reveals that she really doesn’t care at all about excellence in anything except those areas that she has already set her narrow mind upon. Why can’t her child be Villager Number Six this time around, take some time to do some of the “tenacious practice, practice, practice” that Chua loves so much, and slowly but surely become a better actor, until she becomes an excellent actor?
Is the answer because Chua is so caught up in her preconceptions of what is “acceptable” excellence that she can’t realize that her argument is inherently flawed?
Well, perhaps Chua would point to this sentence as her response: “Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their children and therefore override all of their children’s own desires and preferences.”
But if “Chinese” parents can’t see the hypocrisy of their own arguments, how can we be certain that they know what’s for their children? How can they? Is the reason that they can feel secure in their knowledge of what’s “best” for their children just arrogance?
I’m not saying it is. I’m just asking. In a pointed fashion.
Some people are suggesting this article is satire. If it were satire, I say, it would be funny. If Jonathan Swift can make eating babies funny, then this woman, a Yale professor, can certainly make hypocritical, power-trolling parenting funny. If she’s trying to be a satirist, I’d humbly suggest that Chua practice satire a little bit more.