The New Clarion

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January 9th, 2011 by Myrhaf · 22 Comments · Uncategorized

I’m fascinated by this article by Amy Chua, “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.”

I’m not a parent, but I suspect that if I were, I would be the typical lenient western parent that Ms. Chua looks down on. If nothing else, I don’t think I’d have the energy to be drill sergeant to my kids and make sure they sit for three hours at a piano. (Lazy parents raise lazy kids?)

As an actor I’m particularly dubious of this mother’s not allowing her daughters to be in plays. What’s the problem with drama? What if a girl has acting talent? Are you going to make her life miserable by forcing her to play violin?

And what if a kid loves Rock’n’Roll, comic books, movies, fast cars, shooting guns, telling jokes or drawing cartoons? Are these pursuits good enough for a Chinese mother?

What do you think?

22 Comments so far ↓

  • L-C

    Seems like a glaring false alternative to me. It’s either respect and individualism paired with lack of discipline and drive on the one side, or ambition and discipline paired with dogma and duty on the other.

    I’m sure it’s possible to push your kids (and it’s true they often won’t make the best decisions on their own) to realize their potential without treating them as indebted conscripts.

  • madmax

    There is an evolutionary theory about this that I don’t know if it holds water. But Phillip K. Ruston has posited his r/k theory of reproductive strategies. Rushton studied the data of how the different races raise their children focusing on how much effort they place into raising their kids.

    He found that blacks have the most children and place the least effort into raising them. Their culture evidences rampant polygamy and very poor child rearing. Limited resources are placed into raising children. Asian people on the other hand are the most monogamous of the races and they place the most resources and effort into raising children. Caucasians are in between. The social implications of this are obvious.

    I don’t know if this will hold and it is loaded with determinism. But perhaps there is a genetic component to child rearing, at least as default settings. This article does corroborate Rushton’s thesis.

    It would be interesting to hear what the Objectivist mothers think about this; RationalJenn is one such blogger.

  • Jim May

    and it is loaded with determinism.

    That tells you all you need to know about that.

  • Mike

    In raising (so far) two daughters, my wife and I have chosen the “nerd” option of the Paul Graham dichotomy: Raise nerds who you teach to explore, experience, and find the answers, rather than raising jocks/socialites who you teach to please, manipulate, and use other people. Obviously that’s a simplification, but if you look at the difference between nerds and non-nerds later in life, the nerds are the producers who use what they can to create what they will, while the non-nerds are the second-handers, dependent on securing their ties to men in order to be fed.

  • Inspector

    I like Rock’n’Roll, comic books, movies, fast cars, shooting guns, telling jokes AND drawing cartoons. No, really, I do.

    I think that method produces a lot of resentful kids and/or burnouts. And there’s a link to altruism in there somewhere. They certainly aren’t being raised to live selfish lives.

  • madmax

    That tells you all you need to know about that.

    I wouldn’t dismiss evolutionary arguments so readily. There may be tremendous influences on human behavior that are genetic. That doesn’t mean that we are determined though. But there is a shit to of data on this stuff. From Rushton’s wiki:

    Rushton purports to show that East Asians and their descendants average a larger brain size, greater intelligence, more sexual restraint, slower rates of maturation, and greater law abidingness and social organization than do Europeans and their descendants, who average higher scores on these dimensions than Africans and their descendants.

    Objectivists can’t be too quick to dismiss this stuff. There may be hereditary reasons underlying all the stereotypes that we see including the stereotype that Asians are good at math and are disciplinarian parents.

  • kelleyn

    The premise of the article is that heavy handed parenting produces better children and, by extension, superior people. The world abounds with counterexamples, one of the more obvious being fundamentalist Christians who “chasten” their children into zombie-like obedience. These children grow up unable to reason coherently about the world, and consequently are driving one of the major threats to Western culture. The article also conveniently ignores the downsides of teaching reliance on external motivation, which we see manifested in the brutal collectivist culture of China.

  • Jenn Casey

    Yup, I had a few things to say about this article:

    I’m Not a Chinese Mother (Obviously!)

    It’s a little long, and I could have written much, much more. 🙂

  • Bill Brown

    I would agree with several points in her opinion piece but disagree vehemently with the overall message. (As a side note, there were some really interesting comments left on the article that indicated that the suicide rate among Chinese-American women raised in this environment is considerably higher than average and that this style is more “Chinese-American” than “Chinese.” You have to wade through a lot of dreck to find those comments, though.)

    In my family of four children, we insist on obedience after providing the rationale for household rules. We remind them of that rationale after the first couple infractions, but we expect them to remember the reason rather quickly. They get punished, but we don’t shame them.

    My general idea is that the rules are boundaries, roughly akin to our system of laws. They can operate freely within those boundaries, but there are consequences once they pass those. We are strict, to be sure, but consistent: that is the major failing I see from friends that are parents who have the most trouble with their kids. They have the same rules we do (for the most part), but they waver and the children learn how to walk all over them.

    Also, Inspector is very astute to pick up the altruism that permeates this essay. Not only are the kids pursuing values that are not their own and being restricted from wide swathes of life at others say-so, the mother is completely orienting her life around hectoring her children.

  • Jason Goldsmith

    I agree with kelleyn’s points about heavy handing parenting generally raising “zombie-like obedient” drones who cannot (or have a much more difficult time learning to) think independently.

    The question is not whether to have rules and boundaries. The questions are: what should those boundaries be, and–just as importantly but unfortunately ignored–what happens when kids break those rules?

    Besides having largely nonsensical rules, a big part of parenting problems today are the awful means used to enforce rules. Parents today regularly shout hysterically at their kids, call them all sorts of nasty names, ignore a kid’s passion about anything (by lazily assuming that all children really want to do is run around and play and can’t have serious interests), and induce irrational guilt whenever a child shows the slightest assertiveness or seriousness about anything.

    Plus, the same parents that hysterically shout at their kids are often the same ones that let their kids walk all over them. Many parents today are often at the same time horribly nasty and passive about rule enforcement. I’ve seen parents sit idly by while they’re kid runs around a store shouting, and then eventually, after seemingly forever, all the parent does it shout at the top of their lungs “Shut up you selfish brat!”

  • North Bridge

    And there’s a link to altruism in there somewhere.
    They certainly aren’t being raised to live selfish lives.

    Tribalism is the link. In traditional Asian cultures the family,
    not the individual, is the atom of society. There was no real place
    for the individual, except as a cog or constituent part in the
    family who must abide by rigid rules and fulfill his assigned role.
    It was a culture of duty, obedience, and veneration of tradition.

    Obviously much has changed in the past century, but this is part of
    the foundation of Asian cultures — probably somewhat similar to
    the way Christianity is part of the foundation of Western culture.
    Even though it doesn’t explicitly rule any longer, it still
    dominates in countless more subtle ways.

  • North Bridge

    Asian people on the other hand are the most
    monogamous of the races and they place the most resources and
    effort into raising children. Caucasians are in between. The social
    implications of this are obvious.

    Not obvious to me.

    Even if his data is correct, “level of effort” in parenting is not
    the primary determinant of anything, socially or culturally. The
    method of parenting, and the skills and values imparted, are. Very
    interesting with these genetic theories of culture. If it is true
    that Asians are more intelligent on average than Caucasians, the
    only conclusion to draw is that they have an even greater need for
    an individualist morality.

  • Bill Brown

    Here’s some perspective from a child with similar—though less severe—parents. (EDIT: and here’s still more.)

  • Katrina

    Perhaps some value can be gleaned from this article, namely: when is “tough love” necessary? How do you teach a child how to put forth maximal effort in pursuit of value? Does it require sometimes forcing them to do things they don’t want to do, so that they learn that they *can* do more than they think they are capable of if they put in the effort?

    The specific values these “Chinese mothers” select for their children are interesting to me. The common denominator is that they are all things that “rich people” do. They don’t play piano and violin because learning an instrument is good for your brain. If that were the case, you could learn any instrument. No, it has to be violin or piano because those are the instruments rich people have in their homes. They care about grades *except for P.E. and the arts* because “rich people” are businessmen and scientists, not athletes and artists. Note that “rich people” isn’t successful people, happy people, or even people with a lot of money. It’s a stereotype labeled “rich people,” which roughly translates as the rich, old, white business man sitting in a mansion, who has children at Yale who will similarly grow up to be rich, old, white businessmen. These “Chinese mother” values are chosen to imitate this stereotype and not for any more admirable reason than that.

  • madmax

    There is something else that bothers me about this. Can you imagine an article called “Why White Mothers are Superior”? Isn’t the whole premise of this racist?

  • Bill Brown

    I’d say explicitly so.

  • Katrina

    It’s not racist. Chinese is a nationality and a culture, not a race. It’s no more racist than the term “American values.” The author defines “Chinese mother” as a particular set of parenting practices and beliefs and specifically states that anyone can be a Chinese mother regardless of race or national origin.

  • Bill Brown

    Another fascinating perspective on Chua and the wider implications. (I disagree with Part V of the essay: the WSJ likely published her essay because it was going to generate ad revenue online. The headline—most likely not Chua’s creation—is deliberately inflammatory.)

  • madmax

    Here is Charles Murray’s take:

    Guess what. Amy Chua has really smart kids. They would be really smart if she had put them up for adoption at birth with the squishiest postmodern parents. They would not have turned out exactly the same under their softer tutelage, but they would probably be getting into Harvard and Princeton as well. Similarly, if Amy Chua had adopted two children at birth who turned out to have measured childhood IQs at the 20th percentile, she would have struggled to get them through high school, no matter how fiercely she battled for them.

    Accepting both truths—parenting does matter, but genes constrain possibilities—seems peculiarly hard for some parents and almost every policy maker to accept.

    Is it me or is Charles Murray a really unlikable person?

  • Bill Brown

    Here’s the rest of the story: “The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end—that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.”

  • Myrhaf

    For crying out loud. It turns out the dramatic stuff like “I don’t care if my daughters hate me” is, to put it politely, an exaggeration (to put it impolitely: BS). The WSJ knows how to create controversy.

    I had to laugh at the last line of that article. The author, Jeff Yang, couldn’t resist taking a shot at Sarah Palin’s parenting. That came out of the blue.