Point: The 'Chinese Mother' Who Won't Go Away

Elyse Lewin | Getty Images

I'd like to keep this short—because I've tried very hard not to write about it at all. But the story just won't die.

Ten days ago, a Yale Law school professor named Amy Chua wrote an essay in the Wall Street Journal called "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior". If you've missed the debate, I'll provide a thumbnail sketch.

Chua does not allow her children to: attend sleepovers, have play dates, be in a school play, watch TV or play video games, not play the violin or piano—or get any grade less than an A. Her methods are stern: If one of her children should fail to meet her exacting standards, her policy is "to excoriate, punish and shame the child". As an example—presumably of the latter— she recounts a story of calling her daughter 'garbage'.

Not surprisingly Ms. Chua's piece has produced a 'backlash' on the internet. (Whether this will hurt or help her recently published book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", on the same subject as the article, remains to be seen.).

Also not surprising: The thoughtful and well reasoned response from thoughtful and well reasoned writers.

For example: In the pages of this weekend's Wall Street Journal, Ayelet Waldman has published an essay titled "In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom"— which is described as enumerating "the virtues of letting kids quit, have sleepovers and find their own way."

And David Brooks — incisive, independent, and provocative as always—published an op-ed yesterday titled "Amy Chua Is a Wimp."

Here's the core of his argument:

"I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she's coddling her children. She's protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn't understand what's cognitively difficult and what isn't.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group—these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale."

There have also been death threats.

But what seems to have occurred to few is the obvious: That Ms. Chua's arguments have little to do with the contrasting cultural styles of East and West. Or with the future competitiveness of the United States in an increasingly globalized world. Or with the efficacy of various cognitive approaches to problem-solving.

Or, for that matter, about anything other than Ms. Chua herself.

Perhaps Chua is a malignant narcissist—an overachiever, who sees her children's accomplishments merely as a proxy for her own self-worth. Perhaps she is just a clever— though highly self-involved—marketeer. Perhaps she is some combination of both of the above.

In any case, it shouldn't matter. The solution is the same.

Let's treat Ms. Chua's ideas with precisely the respect they merit—and ignore them entirely from this point on.


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