Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Class and Erin Bates

I told a friend that Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother reminds me of kids movies—the best parts are all in the commercial. By now most Americans have heard that Yale Law School profession Amy Chua has a different philosophy to raising children than most Americans—even very successful Americans. Ms. Chua is a “Chinese Mother” and then some. Even with the heartfelt explanations of WHY she treats her children like slaves—forcing them to practice for hours and hours on musical instruments they did not choose to learn, denying them simple pleasures like sleep-overs with friends, etc, Ms. Chua is a verbally and emotionally abusive mother by American standards. Yes, her kids achieved. But at what a price! They are not allowed choice or ”self”—sometimes not even “joy.” I, too, have had to be a Tiger Mother with one of my children.” As with Ms. Chua’s children the style of parenting has achieved results—even many desirable results. The cost of these results skyrocket over time in terms of the child’s sense of self and of not feeling unconditionally loved. But that, too, is not the thing that defines this book. Tiger Mother is not really about her “mothering.” No, instead, it’s about HER. What SHE wants. How SHE defines success. How her children reflect on HER.

The big growling Tiger in the room here is CLASS. Ms. Chua and her husband are both internationally acclaimed academics—professors at one of the best law schools on the planet. While academic life is very rigorous at that level, they do have a little flexibility, an occasional sabbatical even. Their income is enough to provide for lavish international vacations. They can afford to live in an area with GREAT school choices, enrichment activities and access to the cultural amazement that is New York City. Even without Chinese mothering, Ms. Chaua’s kids were born to be successful. How many of us have a “neighborhood music school?” Or how about a school that teaches our kids Latin and French before high school? (or, these days, even IN high school?) Her kids are practically CONDEMNED to success! Her kids did not have to stand in line for a cheap worn-out violin and a once a week public school music lesson. They did not learn the keyboard on a cardboard replica. This book is about the “have-s”—as in the “have-s and have-not-s” of America. Truly, how the “other half” lives.

I feel compelled to compare her self-righteous “look at me” memoir to another parenting book that missed the mark---Confessions of a Slacker Mom. Written by another well-educated, well-off Mommy who tries to pretend she’s “ordinary.” Spare me.

Too many parents today have to send their kids to schools so sub-standard they cannot even guarantee parents that their children will leave high school literate. Luxuries like music and foreign language, art and “lesser” sports are going the way of the quill pen in today’s schools. We don’t need to be lectured by a Yale Law Professor whose kids have it all too see that our kids aren’t in the “other half.” If she was not Professor Chua, if she lived anywhere but in a rich,urban, academic enclave, she’d be investigated for child abuse.


Far more amazing than the predestined success of Ms. Chua’s girls, is the success of this young lady. She too comes from a highly structured background. Her parents, too, have taken on a very controlling parenting style. Unlike Ms. Chua’s children she had only local instruction in the hills of Eastern Tennessee and found practice time worked in around not extra Latin class or addition piano lessons, but chores such as doing laundry for 17 people or cooking for the same crowd. She succeeded in receiving the offer of a college scholarship in music with only and old upright piano which had to be shared with all her younger siblings. She may not have performed at Carnegie Hall, but she has been on worldwide tv. Her parents, too, have defied the conventions of their “peers”—not by disallowing sleep-overs or locking their kid out in the snow for refusing to practice—but by giving a little on their beliefs and letting her study music at a real, albeit ultra-conservative, bricks and mortar University. They've enabled her to study music with others who share their beliefs. They've praised her on tv for her commitment to her young piano students and they way she uses her earnings not for things she could rightfully calls needs in most homes, but for presents and prizes for her students. Erin, too, grew up without a call to "self," but found a way to excel, to find joy and to make both herself and her parents proud.

I imagine her playing would result in pages of practice notes from Ms.Chua--who would probably be self-righteous enough to "cringe" at Erin's playing. I know there are better pianists out there, but this girl has made it against far great odds, with far, far less help than Ms. Chua's girls.


Lori said...

so true about the focus on her - and she talks about that re: her own family, that it is totally expected in her culture for the children to continue living for the adults and letting the adults make their decisions for them, even when they are adults themselves.

the parts of the book where she discussed her parenting might have made more impact without the sections about, say, her dogs? ;)


Jeanne said...

Hear hear.

I was dying for your review of this book! I must reserve it at the library...

Susan said...

Loved this! I haven't read Tiger Mom yet, but I must. "Condemned to success" - great line! I'm so happy to hear Erin Bates got to go away to school. She seems like a lovely lady.

Hopewell said...

Lori--so true about the dogs! And I'm an animal nut.
Susan--no, Erin does not get to go "away" in the sense of living in the dorm. She commutes from home and has gone to Gothard's advanced music thing, too. Still a huge step.