Archive | March 2014

If I Were To Do A Study Or Two

The publicity and controversy accompanying “Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother” at least spurred a special issue on Asian parenting by AAPA, Asian American Psychological Association: Asian American Journal of Psychology, Volume 4, No. 1, March, 2013. Perhaps the “The Triple Package” will compel some academics to conduct more rigorous research to address a few of the issues laid out in the book. So, I have been thinking about what I would have pursued if I were to have sufficiently generous funding.

My research preference has always leaned toward “exploring” and so by nature, I would want to conduct qualitative studies to identify nuances in people’s thought processes. Such studies usually involve multiple observations, several long interviews, and sometimes group discussions. And I would re-engage the same participants at intervals over a period of time to capture potential changes in people’s attitudes and behaviors.

I subscribe to “socially constructed reality.” For instance, one parent’s “strict” principles may be too lenient to another parent, or, one parent’s “high” standards may be low-hanging fruit to another. People of different backgrounds, culture included, often have different worldviews or perspectives. Surveys can capture some; interviews offer more opportunities for deeper probing.

A pretty flower taken in a foreign country is still pretty flower.

A pretty flower taken in a foreign country is still pretty flower.

One of the articles in the AAPA’s special issue provides a comparative analysis of four parenting profiles. These are supportive, easygoing, tiger, and harsh, in descending order, corresponding to children’s performance outcomes. And the children’s performance includes both emotional/developmental and academic dimensions. What differentiates “tiger” and “harsh” is that tiger parenting actually expresses love and reasoning while harsh style does not offer much positive expression at all. “Tiger” parenting may be authoritative; “harsh” parenting is heavily authoritarian. And “easygoing” can be too unstructured compared to “supportive.” This is a thoughtful study that incorporates children’s perspectives, and it tracks the families in the study over a period of eight years, with two more measurements every four years. The participants in this study are first generation Chinese mostly from Hong Kong and southern China with a few from Taiwan.

I would like to compare different cultural groups to explore how each group might interpret the same dimensions differently (or similarly). For instance, some survey questions in the above study ask the children if parents “listen carefully,” “act supportive and understanding,” or “act loving, affectionate, and caring.” Such subjective judgment necessarily carries different meaning to different individuals, families, cultural groups. For instance, first generation Chinese are generally uncomfortable with saying, “I love you,” or hugging. How do their children assess their parents’ expression of love and support? In some cultures, questioning authority is encouraged, but not in other cultures. How do we measure “respect” when comparing families from different cultural groups?

An 8-year longitudinal study on social issues is impressive. According to this special journal, several studies, in addition to the aforementioned, point out that parents adjust their parenting style and expectations as they become more comfortable with the adopted American culture. I would love to delve further into the how’s and why’s. What would be the trigger to change someone’s perspectives? A shouting match at a Moscow café? Or, a more subtle observation? A concerted and methodical approach? Or, an evolution brought about by many conversations with children and adults?

And a local hibiscus would still be a hibiscus in other countries.

Nature is not subjected to “socially constructed reality,” but how we each appreciate its beauty is.

Longitudinal and comparative studies would also shed light on the definition of “success.” Chua and Rubenfeld do allow people to change their attitude over time. They claim that by the third generation, most “successful” immigrant groups would lose their edge as their “triple” assets erode. As this AAPA special journal points out: As immigrant parents live and learn, many modify their parenting over time, even within one generation. Logically, one’s definition of “success” would evolve over time as well.

Just these issues alone would keep me busy, but I also want to add another dimension, parenting within interracial marriage. How does the cross-cultural couple “negotiate” their cultural expectations? By “negotiating,” I don’t mean that they sit down, delineate point by point, and hash out their differences. However, to what extent these cross-cultural or interracial couples actually discuss their cultural differences? In what ways do they see their cultural mapping as an advantage or a challenge? I am quite certain such studies are out there already, but prodded by “The Triple Package,” new studies may focus on how parenting within interracial marriage impacts children’s academic performance, emotional and developmental adjustment, definition of “success,” etc.

Fantasy over, I am also realistic about how such studies are likely to have little impact on our collective understanding and thinking. Academic studies and writings just do not catch public attention; trade books like “The Triple Package” do. Unfortunately, the former lends credibility but reaches a small audience while the latter enjoys publicity yet is potentially misleading.

How do we create a “tipping point?” But who’s to decide which direction to tip?

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

 

Direct Contact: taso100@gmail.com

Viscerally Annoying, Cerebrally Dissatisfying – my reaction to “The Triple Package,” part II

The authors of “The Triple Package” have been on the talk circuit, as part of the heavy marketing and promotional strategy for their book.  As a result, there is no shortage of reviews and critiques from the main street media.  Most of the sentiment from the “pundits” ranges from mixed to unfavorable; a good portion of “regular” readers think the authors are “brave” to say the unsay-able and resonate with their thesis.  A few critics downright accuse Chua and Rubenfeld of racism.

To recap:  “Triple package” refers to the three key factors that propel certain minority groups to be more successful than the rest in their host country.  These factors include: superiority, insecurity, and impulse control.

My triple package of flowers: Calla lily.

My triple package of flowers: Calla lily.

After absorbing a wide range of readers’ and critics’ perspectives, I still feel torn about this book.  I welcome “bold” opinions, or studies that provide counter-conventional ideas.  However, these ideas still need to be based on facts and evidence.  This is what I find most troublesome regarding “The Triple Package” (henceforth referred to as “3 pkg”).  As I mentioned in the previous post, the authors provide plenty of economic data, but all statistical data are subject to interpretation.  It wasn’t until I ran across the most convincing critique, penned by a law professor at USC and published in Slate.com, that I found my anchor.  Daria Roithmayr not only provides a more balanced analysis but also offers alternative and grounded explanations to Chua and Rubenfeld’s arguments.  Roithmayr’s essay helps me solidify the various conflicting emotions and thoughts swirling in my head after reading “3 pkg.”

First of all, I never remarked that “3 pkg” is a “trade book for trade press” till reading Roithmayr’s article.  In other words, “3 pkg” intended audience is the general public.  I don’t quarrel with that, but this particular book lacks rigor in presentation, especially in terms of theoretical foundation and methodology, the 80+ pages of footnotes not withstanding.  Granted that most readers would just bypass the boring academic jargon – who can blame them? — the authors could have easily provided academic rigor in appendices for those of us who are curious.

2nd element: hibiscus

2nd element: hibiscus

Several critics have also noticed the weakness of methodology.  Most of the critiques, though, tend to use anecdotal stories to refute Chua and Rubenfeld’s thesis.  All of the critics’ stories have valid points, and perhaps Chua and Rubenfeld should have paid more attention to similar exceptions.  Nevertheless, anecdotal evidence is as weak as what “3 pkg” has to offer.

According to Daria Roithmayr, the major, and glaring, flaw of “3 pkg” thesis is its dismissal of the role of history.  Most of the “successful” immigrant and minority groups have “first wave” advantage.  For instance, the first wave of Cuban exiles were from the educated elite class. The first wave of Mormons acquired land (through their wealth) and political power to establish a stronghold in Utah. While the early Chinese immigrants were of laborer status, most of the next wave came to pursue higher education.  The point is that these “waves” are usually bounded by certain characteristics.  Most of the south Asian Indians came to this country, either to pursue advanced degrees or for professional work.  As has been pointed out, if the Mexican government had forced out most of their educated class, the Mexican immigrants in this country might have a very different status.

In other words, if “3 pkg” accurately describes causal factors determining the success of the chosen successful immigrant groups, it should apply to them regardless of the time they came to the States.  History, or context, matters.

Further, there is another important factor, networking, that underlies much of the immigrants’ push for advancement.  Immigrants’ networks provide valuable information, opportunities, loans that might not have otherwise been available, and other large and small assistance and resources.  The authors address this aspect only in passing.

In addition to some of these major glaring holes in the “3 pkg,” the authors often cherry pick examples to support their overall arguments.  They are savvy enough to provide some counter arguments to their claim; they even devote a whole chapter to “the underbelly of the triple package.”  For instance, a group that latches onto its “superiority” too strongly invites backlash.  The perpetual emphasis on material gain, which is based on insecurity, leads to greed.  They use Bernie Madoff as an example.  Really?  That would apply to all the Wall Street sharks, wouldn’t it? Yet, did these “greedy” people all start with “3 pkg?”

In the end, the most troublesome aspects of “3 pkgs” are two fold: one concerning the content and the other the authors.  The content strongly implies causality; that it is because of the “3 pkg” that certain minority groups have succeeded.  One of the thorniest aspects in social science is the issue of causality; it is rare when scholars ascertain causality, certainly not without numerous studies and over a long period of time.  So, for these two authors to make such a claim – without even a strong methodology — reveals their lack of humility.

3rd: interesting even if I forgot its name.

3rd: interesting even if I forgot its name.

Having said all this, I think our society can and should have open and honest discussions about whether the United States is still a leader in creativity, innovation, and economic growth.  We need to critically examine our systems, in education, social mobility, career opportunities, R&D, etc.  If we keep screaming that “we are exceptional,” without doing anything to prove or bolster that statement, then we are doomed to be delusional.  Angela Duckworth (a psychologist and a 2013MacArther Fellow), who researches and coins the term, “grit” – resilience, determination, persistence — shows a promising direction.  Duckworth’s work is what we need to move our conversations forward.  While Chua and Rubenfeld’s work maybe stirring, and is certainly provocative, it is not, however, generative nor contributory.  Best-selling books are not necessarily great works; just as often, profound, thoughtful and well-researched books aren’t usually the best sellers.

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

Viscerally Annoying, Cerebrally Dissatisfying – my reaction to “The Triple Package,” part I

Yet, there are facts and truths one cannot ignore in “The Triple Package:  How three unlikely traits explain the rise and fall of cultural groups in America,” by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld.  The authors are a married couple, and law professors at Yale; they both have established their academic standings, in addition to “international best seller” status from published novels/memoir.

Their thesis in “The Triple Package” is fairly simple.  In US, success favors groups that believe themselves to be superior to others, for example religion-based “chosen people” status per the Mormons and Jews, and which also paradoxically experience inferiority/insecurity feelings (they are never good enough).  The third necessary asset to propel these minority groups to success is their impulse control, a self-disciplined attitude to withstand temptations, to work hard, and be willing to postpone pleasure and reward.  Immigrant/minority groups selected as outstanding in their propensity to achieve success, largely and presumably causally because these three criteria apply to them, include some usual suspects, such as Asians, e.g. Chinese and Indians.  To demonstrate that not all Hispanic and black populations are disadvantaged, the authors showcase Cubans and Nigerians.  Iranians and Lebanese are amongst the success-prone cultural groups as well.  The only group included in the success list that does not comprise immigrants is the Mormons.

A dinner at restaurant usually requires $ or a credit card.

A dinner at restaurant usually requires $ or a credit card.

For a little more expansion on their thesis, in lieu of reading the book, you can read their synopsis on New York Times.

The impetus and the foundation of this book were laid out in a 2008 Yale Law seminar, “Law and Prosperity.”  However, the more than 80+ pages of footnotes do not clearly present their methodology.  They draw upon economic statistics to substantiate their chosen groups’ success, defined by “income, academic accomplishment, corporate leadership, professional attainment, and conventional metrics.”  They authors admit that such measures are “vulgar success,” yet most people, especially immigrants, accept them.  I’ll address this point later.  While the authors acknowledge the slippery nature of defining “culture,” they reason that their usage is consistent with most of the definitions in the academic literature.  However, I cannot discern how they arrived at their “triple package.”  Did the data inform them?  Or, did they develop some theoretical framework –not evident in the book – from which to tease the concepts of “superiority,” “insecurity,” and “impulse control?”  If they rely on data to derive the “package,” how did they go about collecting the data?

I raise these questions not to totally reject their thesis.  On the surface, these notions – The Triple Package! – make some intuitive sense.  I’ll use the illustration of my familiar cultural group, Chinese.  For historical, geographical, or technological reasons (mostly derived from ancient times), China has always regarded herself as superior to the rest of the world.  Yet, as immigrants, Chinese have, and still do, struggle to be recognized in this country.  Despite their collectively impressive academic achievement and attendant income level (two of the measures for “success”) many Chinese still feel like underdogs.  They study hard, work harder, but rarely play hard, so that they can make their parents proud and raise their children in a better environment.  And they rarely talk about “having fun.”

By comparison, American culture (indeed, how do we define it, especially as there is a wide range of American sub-cultures) encourages children to play, or to have fun in learning.  Social skills and sports (at least in high schools and colleges) seem to be more important, or at least more lucrative, than academic achievement.  On the one hand, Americans say they emphasize competition; on the other hand, Americans have become known for the attitude “everyone is a winner” in recent decades, thanks to the “self-esteem” movement.  This is the movement that emphasizes the merit of self-esteem (SE), while often muddled in expressing the causal relationship:  Should adults promote SE so that children feel confident in their learning? Or, should adults praise children after they reach certain expectations (and if expectations are lowered, the children get praises more often)?

A good sushi requires fresh fish and good skills.

A good sushi requires fresh fish and good skills.

Of course, there is some truth in these broad assertions; that’s the nature of generalization.  While the authors often admit that there are plenty of exceptions to their statements, and some of their observations are impolitic (formerly, “politically incorrect”), they urge us to face facts.

Success is elusive if a person or a group lacks any of the three elements in the “triple package.”  For example (their example), the Amish people have impulse control in abundance – “hardworking” and pleasure-denial seem to be wired into their being – but they are taught to be humble at all times.  “Pridefulness is a sin.”  This is one of the reasons their education stops at eighth grade.  High-mindedness surely leads to pride.

However, an incomplete “triple package” doesn’t cause a group to be impoverished.  Their example is one of the poorest regions in the country, the Appalachian area.  The plight of this area has been rooted in its geography, history, economic upheavals, resource distributions (both natural and labor)…to name a few major ones.

The authors provide ample economic statistics – through their impressive cadre of research assistants – and cite well-known people’s testimonies, from CEOs to authors.  Yet, I still feel disquiet after finishing the book.  I see some merits in their thesis (supported by individuals’ narratives or historical records), and I see validity in many of their critics’ perspectives.  I will address some of the latter’s points next week.  For now, I will highlight the issue of “success.”

The authors admit that their definition of success is fairly narrow, but these “vulgar” success measures are what most immigrants strive for.  Money, academic high marks, position, power, accolades…these are conventional, but they appeal to the populace, not just the immigrants.  Yes?  By and large, I have to agree, especially for immigrants who came to this country with few assets.  To some extent, it’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:  You can’t address spiritual needs till you are fed, clothed, and have a roof over your head.  Some of us might wonder:  What happens to being well-rounded?  How about emotional intelligence?  Shouldn’t possessing creative and innovative skills be more if not equally important?  Is monetary reward the most important goal?  How about “happiness?”  Yes, they are all important, but, to whom? I think these goals, not easily measured, belong to mostly middle-class, or upper middle-class, whose primal needs are met or even satiated.

An excellent sake adds to the pleasure.

An excellent sake adds to the pleasure.

If a child from a housing project or a ghetto area receives a scholarship to attend the famously selective New York high school, Stuyvesant, or an Ivy League school, such as, Yale University, would we advise this aspiring young person to forgo the scholarship because these places are just for “snobs?”  Shall we gently remind this child that she should consider her economic class and try for a state university whose environment might be more “comfortable?” Chua and Rubenfeld’s definition of success may not be comprehensive although I think it does address most of the immigrants’ immediate goals.  On the fifth hand, there just might be some groups whose threshold for “primal needs” is much lower than others and therefore they pursue “spiritual needs” e.g. happiness, more readily.

I now can afford to look down upon the conventional measures success as “vulgar” because I no longer need to prove myself.  Now I can say, with validity, that Ivy League undergraduate education isn’t worth the astronomical tuition because I’ve been there.  However, I felt very differently when I first came to this country.

Just the concept of “success” alone is complicated enough, so, reducing the even more complicated nuances of “cultural” groupings to the three-prong operational structure (for success) leaves me feeling incomplete and dissatisfied.  I will try to complete my critique of this book next time. Till then,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

Tiger Mom – afterthoughts and self-reflective thoughts

Reading “Battle Hymn” and “Triple Package” (review to follow) have made me look inward in the past few weeks.

The status of “immigrant” is like a layer of clothing we immigrants constantly have to attend.  Does it fit? Is it the right fabric and color? Is there a point when I can shed it? Is there a way to shed it that doesn’t offend anyone, least of all my fellow country folk? (indeed, why should it offend anyone?) My “Chinese-ness” only became an “issue” when I came to the States. This extra layer of status gives immigrants, like me, an abundance of self-awareness that isn’t always our best friend, but it usually offers us extra strength if we learn to use it to our advantage.  Of course, how is the key.

Definitely wrong size of a coat.

Definitely wrong size of a coat.

Amy Chua wants to define that how in her brand of “tiger parenting.” As I said in the previous post, her principles sound familiar but the extent of application of these principles is unfamiliar.  I made two points in my notebook:  1.  If Asians are so outstanding all the way through their highest degrees, why haven’t Asians taken over every aspect of the American workforce?  2.  I wonder if the answer to this question lies in the weak socialization of ABC (American Born Chinese).  If most Asian parents discourage their children from socializing with the “weak and loose” American children, then when these ABCs eventually go into workforce, they would have difficulties negotiating the subtle relational, emotional, and social milieu.  They could not have acquired these negotiation skills in their lifetime of rote learning.  Might this be one reason for the “bamboo ceiling?”

Wesley Yang, an American of Korean immigrant parents, echoes my questions and offers his observations in the article, “Paper Tigers,” in New York Magazine.  This lengthy article offers much more than what “Battle Hymn” does, and what’s more, Wesley Yang writes better.  It’s not as if “Paper Tigers” is written using serene or detached language while “Battle Hymn” is too much in your face:  In one single passage, Yang uses more F words than all the implicit curses Chua offers.  “Paper Tigers” is more in depth and offers many more dimensions of Asian immigrants for us to think about.  “Battle Hymn,” by comparison, is almost cartoon-like yet vividly painful. (The funny parts are funny only in caricature, but not in their literal painting of the misery for the Chinese parent and the anguish of the daughters.)  Of all the reviews of “Battle Hymn,” the non-review article by Yang offers the most well-reasoned perspective of Chua’s personal journey and perspective.  “Chua’s Chinese education had gotten her through an elite schooling, but it left her unprepared for the real world…more than anything else, ‘Battle Hymn’ is a very American project – one no traditional Chinese person would think to undertake.”

I was not a traditional immigrant with a “tiger mom” on my heels, nor a second-generation child with an “immigrant tiger mom” bearing down on me.  I came to this country when I was fairly young, to finish my undergraduate education.  My mother was a mixture of tiger and otter; she was in my life but several states away.  My older sisters were nearby but usually left me alone.  I ditched computer science – seemingly the favorite choice of Chinese — as soon as I could and went straight to social sciences…almost as bad as an “English” major in the Chinese culture.  I defied Wharton’s traditional quantitative study and embraced qualitative method whole-heartedly (and was recognized for it).  In retrospect, I wonder if my “choice” of declining the conventional tenure-track professorial career was my way of ducking the issue of needing to fight twice as hard to earn tenure, as an Asian woman doing qualitative study in a predominately quantitative profession.  I don’t know; it’s moot.

Slightly better fit, but still not quite the right coat.

Slightly better fit, but still not quite the right coat.

My way of “fighting” has always been nibbling at the edge, and perhaps that’s why I write in a “balanced” manner, unlike Chua’s bold style.  Is my way the “Asian” way or “my” way? Sometimes, I feel like I am still exploring the answer to this question.

One of the perennial issues for immigrants is assimilation.  Personally, it wasn’t until I allowed myself to be comfortable with/confident in/ being assimilated that I was able to discern the cross-cultural boundaries.  By this I mean, in order to feel comfortable being both an “American” and a “Chinese” simultaneously, I need to be well immersed in both cultures so that I can pick my way around different cultural issues and values.  For me, being cross-cultural is more liberating than being bounded by one particular culture.  I love my Chinese art, food, and folklore, but I don’t like Confucius (I always blame him for advocating conformity).  I love American sense of freedom and the liberty to explore (both within myself and my external environment) and define my own identity.

As I have understood these preferences, I have become more comfortable with being “American,” in the sense that I welcome and embrace the free space that I can create for myself, something not easily available in the Chinese culture.  If this means surrendering aspects of being a Chinese, I am at peace. For better or for worse (mostly it’s been “for better”), I feel comfortable in my skin, without apology, especially not to anyone wholly unrelated to me.

I never envisioned taking up writing as I have done over the last few years.  The “blog” format definitely has given me the opening to do so.  One of the reasons I eschewed the conventional academe was the writing style – not only was I expected to conform, but the format itself stifles me. Growing up in Taiwan imposed enough conforming that “doing by the book” is an automatic red flag for me, even though as a child I was able to “get away” with a great deal, what with being the youngest and totally spoiled by family friends.

This is much better.

This is much better.

My niche is small.  I will never be able to write in ways I have admired in other writers.  I can never paint in a carefree manner.  I am not even sure of my “creativity.”  My social science background has allowed me to appreciate others’ works, ground-breaking or otherwise, but I no longer have the patience to do in-depth social studies.  In these respects, my struggles, angst, doubt, and spiritual needs are very similar to other people, of all backgrounds.  That’s why Wesley Yang’s piece — and his conclusion about himself, written more eloquently than I can ever provide – speaks to my heart and soul.  “Often I think my defiance is just delusional, self-glorifying bullshit that artists have always told themselves to compensate for their poverty and powerlessness.  But sometimes I think it’s the only thing that has preserved me intact, and that what has been preserved is not just haughty caprice but in fact the meaning of my life…I care, in the end, about expressing my obdurate singularity at any cost. I love this hard and unyielding part of myself more than any other reward the world has to offer a newly brightened and ingratiating demeanor, and I will bear any costs associated with it.”

Till next time,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com

I’ll Take An “Otter Mom” Over A “Tiger Mom” – part 2

Otters are smart and playful.  I am sure most people are familiar with the image of a baby sea otter lying on mommy otter’s tummy, bobbing up and down on a bed of kelp.  One scene in a nature film showed a group of river otters in the winter landscape at Yellowstone, doing sliding.  It was clear that they were playing since they would purposefully climb up a slope just so they could slide down, again and again.  I never get tired of watching otters, of any type, on film or alive.  At a wildlife sanctuary, we learned that a couple of resident otters had gathered twigs and logs – which they evidently deemed objectionable – and left them by their pen’s entrance for the keepers to haul away.  The anthropomorphized interpretation was, “Thank you very much, we have our own idea of how to decorate our environment.”  Needless to say, this particular sanctuary was located in the “permissive” west because these otters were allowed to exercise their own “will.”

Doesn't this just melt your heart?!

Doesn’t this just melt your heart?! Photo courtesy of Monterey Bay Aquarium

Amy Chua adopted traditional Chinese parenting philosophy that (1) children are extension of parents, (2) parents know their children better than the children know themselves, and therefore (3) parents are the supreme authority for what’s good for children’s welfare and future.  In this framework, children should never challenge parents’ will and directions.  I am familiar with all these arguments, and I have never witnessed, in Taiwan or in the U.S., the “exact” execution of these points.  What’s more, if “A-“ is unacceptable, why do Chinese students, in Taiwan and in China, still perform to the statistical bell curve?  Chinese students in the States might be skewed slightly to the right-side of the bell curve in academic performance, but they are still not uniformly A students.  So, for the B and C students, would their parents know that that properly represents their children’s abilities? If a parent accepts her child is of B or C calibre, she’d stop pushing that child beyond her accepted ability.  R-i-g-h-t.  Not even most of the “permissive” Western parents would easily accept a pre-determined limitation on their children.  However, Western parents are more willing to allow their children to explore and define their own abilities.  Why is that deemed “weak!” in Chua’s and others’ eyes?

Both Chua’s daughters excelled in their “chosen” music instruments.  The grueling hours of practice certainly had impact, but if they didn’t have some innate talent, they could not have won a chance to play in Carnegie, or received the tutelage of world-class masters.  Like untold number of Chinese parents (and parents of most cultures), Chua firmly believed in her children’s talents.  However, her “firm belief” was manifested in: writing detailed notes for how the daughters should practice, demanding strict numbers of hours of practice…sometimes accompanied by threats to “donate” a daughter’s doll house or to “burn” the stuffed animals one by one, insisting on practice while on family vacations, etc.  Would she have the same zeal if one of her children wanted to pursue acting?  Oh, right, the daughter probably wouldn’t get Chua’s permission.

However, after the Moscow public row with her younger daughter, Chua relented and allowed the younger one to drop violin and take up tennis…and, without Chua’s supervision and interference.  Still, Chua managed to (backdoor maneuvering and communicating through the coach) vicariously give her daughter some tips on how to practice her backhand or hold her racket.  Chua certainly congratulated herself for instilling the same intensity, devotion, and competitiveness in her daughter as she transitioned from violin to tennis.

A newborn llama, about 10- minute old.

A newborn llama, about 10- minute old.

The problem with accepting Chua’s claim that she writes “tongue-in-cheek” is the murky boundary between ironical tones and facts.  Did Chua really call her older daughter “garbage”? Or was she being ironical?

The most revealing passage about Chua herself is this:  “As the eldest daughter of Chinese immigrants, I don’t have time to improvise or make up my own rules.  I have a family name to uphold, aging parents to make proud.  I like clear goals, and clear ways of measuring success.”

What many critics find fault with Amy Chua’s assertion is that her parenting is the ultimate definition of Chinese style.  Parents of many immigrant groups have similar intensity on driving their children to “success.”  Here is the real crux of the issue.  What is “success?”  To many immigrants, it does mean a very good education, a high-paying job, preferably with some power, and ultimately a respectful marriage (meaning with a partner of similar standing).  I will discuss more on this dimension in following posts where I will focus on Chua’s co-authored book, “Triple Package.”

I mentioned last time that many Asian immigrants resonate with Chua’s depiction of her strict parenting.  Indeed, somehow, immigrant Chinese seem to notch up the disciplinarian principles a lot more than what Chinese do in Taiwan and in China.  In the States, I have seen immigrant Chinese parents falling out with children who refused to continue their PhD studies (probably because the parents were not the same degree of “tigering” as Chua).  I have heard stories of parents disowning their children for abandoning their “respected” degrees or jobs and undertaking writing, acting, or other “unconventional” (read, “unsavory”) career choices. Jeremy Lin, the NBA player, is one in million, and even that only because he has made it big.  (sidebar:  I found it amusing that the majority of immigrant Chinese, who would normally ignore professional ball games, would glue themselves to the TV watching Jeremy Lin’s games when he first burst onto the scene.) How many immigrant Chinese parents would allow a son to forgo a Harvard degree to take up basketball?  Not Amy Chua, I am certain.  In fact, throughout “Battle Hymn,” I never got the sense that Chua really wanted her daughters to be a concert pianist or violin virtuoso.  If the daughters could be, would she allow them?

While Chua’s blanket assertion that “this is how Chinese parents do” is dubious, there is one aspect where I stand with her:  Let us (Chinese) be brutally honest with what we do, in the name of Chinese “practices,” so that we can have some genuine discussions.  As long as we hide behind our “restrained” manner, even with other Chinese, we stand little chance to improve…however we define “improvement.”  And I believe this “sunshine” principle transcends cultural boundaries.

A budding Amarylis

A budding Amarylis

As for people who think that Chua’s children would distance themselves from their “tiger mom,” they reveal a very one-sided Western perspective.  Certainly, those children raised under more “permissive” parenting principles, would find Chua’s ways abhorrent and bolt from her the first chance they get.  However, Chua’s daughters might find Western parents lazy and indecisive, and wrinkle their noses at these adults (after all, they have been taught to respect the elders).  It is always much easier to simply judge.  In this regard, Chua’s “Battle Hymn” is full of judgment, and I think that’s one of the main reasons for some over-the-top criticism.

Perhaps it is inherent in legal professionals to make forthright arguments and believe being forthright equals owning the truth.  I wonder if that’s the tone in which Chua and Rubenfeld wrote the “Triple Package?”  I will examine their arguments in the next few posts.

Till then,

Staying Sane and Charging Ahead.

Direct Contact:  taso100@gmail.com