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2.07.2011

My only commentary on Chua...

I have tried really hard NOT to address Amy Chua's recent article (and the release of her book) about how she thinks Chinese mothers are better than Western mothers and why.  Because I think it's ludicrous.  And commenting on things that are so ridiculous is, in my opinion, giving them more attention than they deserve.  But it is SO much in the news lately, I feel the damage is done and my little blog isn't going to make much of a difference.  Plus, there was a nicely written (if not a little wishy-washy) article in the Sunday Star Tribune that talked not only about the article and book but about Twin City moms' response.

The article makes a good point in that there is value in this book because, at the very least, it has brought to light the topic of parenting style and gotten everyone discussing- whether they agree with Chua or (as in most cases) vehemently disagree.  It still rubs me the wrong way that the nutjob who published this book and who feels that her style of parenting is superior to everyone else's (in a way that, I feel, is juvenille and likely reflects her mental age) is benefiting from this conversation, since the more people who talk about it the more people will buy the book.

I, too, think that my method of parenting is best.  For us.  If I didn't think it was best for us THAT would make me a little insane, wouldn't it?  But I would never say that the way I am parenting my children is superior to the parenting style of an entire population of people.  Because that would be 1) wrong, 2) arrogant, and 3) immature (as stated above).  But I WILL say that there are a number of reasons that most people should not look to Chua as a parenting mentor.

One of my biggest problems with the responses to this article is the TIMES response, that this book is getting us all up in arms NOT because we think it's an inappropriate way of parenting, but because we live in fear that China will overtake us in the global market.  First of all, this is far too abstract for the average American to grasp, let alone fear.  But fear or not, feeling like we need to embrace elements of Chinese parenting strategy in order to keep up with them scientifically and economically goes against what we believe as Americans.  I am NOT a stereotypically patriotic "every country sucks except the U.S." American.  I would love to travel internationally and would embrace the opportunity to live in another country if it were a good and logical choice for my family.  I think that many countries have cultural and institutional elements that we could (and should) learn from.  But I would never want to live in China.

I have never been to China, but I have read extensively and seen many reports on what it is like.  It's not like South Korea or Cuba, where citizens are actively prevented from freely doing what they want.  In China the control is more subversive- if you make statements or commit actions against the government or it's way of thinking, you could be shunned by your community, your child could be rejected from college, or you could be committed to a mental hospital.  While China nearly rivals the U.S. in internet use, their government regularly blocks sites and content that they feel is unfit for their citizens.  Chinese citizens are constantly bombarded with pro-government propoganda and anyone who is brave enough to proclaim any of it as untruth is imprisoned or their land is seized.

Economically the division between poor and rich is much wider than in the US.  It doesn't matter that the majority of parents raise their kids strictly with a focus on academics; thousands of people still sleep in the streets of Beijing each night.  Their economy may be growing, but it is fueled by corruption and a complete lack of regulation.  They have no government agencies to regulate safety of either the finished product (remember the deaths due to the formula tainted with melamine?) or the workplace itself (there are thousands of workplace deaths every year).  Many anti-regulation advocates state that, in an unregulated free market safety wouldn't be an issue because consumers would respond to an incident such as this by NOT buying the product, thus putting the unsafe company out of business, so these issues would eventually take care of themselves.  China is a great example of how this is not the case- the incidences of infant death due to poor quality or downright toxic baby formula have been occurring for years and continue to occur.  Plus, how can the lives of babies be written off as the cost of an unregulated economy

The United States, on the other hand, is founded on freedom.  So as an extension of this belief (and as was so eloquently put by our President in his recent state of the union address) we should believe that we CAN compete with China without infringing on the rights of our citizens... that we CAN compete with China while treating our citizens (and raising our children) much differently than the Chinese.

Raising children in the way outlined in Chua's book might be culturally relevant in China; adults aren't allowed to think for themselves, so why allow the children to do so?  But in the United States, where creativity and freedom of thought and conscience are some of our core values, there is no place for this.  We can not embrace the "Tiger Mother" in this country for the same reason that Western parenting would not be embraced in China- because it's not relevant to our culture.  We value freedom of thought, freedom of conscious, and freedom of speech here- raising our children in such a strictly authoritarian manner would leave them wholly unprepared to function in this society.

The second thing that bothers me about the response is the assumptions it makes.  Not all American parents are permissive, first of all.  Even I, who leans towards AP (which many people mistakenly think is the same as permissive parenting), am very strict and structured in my parenting.  Secondly, many people argue that the benefits of learning an instrument and performing well in front of an audience outweigh the possible emotional trauma of forcing a child to practice the same song, for hours on end and into the night, until she plays it perfect and denying the same child social interactions with other children.  I know (okay, not personally, but you know what I mean) thousands of child development professionals, doctors, and psychiatrists who would disagree wholeheartedly.  I LOVE music and I think that all children should learn an instrument; I don't think the only choices should be piano or violin.  And I don't think that spending hours perfecting a single song is a practical use of their time, nor is it worth the possible emotional trauma.

I agree there is a time and a place for strictness and structure (both enforced with love and compassion) in the family, and that some children don't experience enough of it in their lives.  But I also agree with PHD in Parenting- most of what we do now isn't going to affect how our children turn out in the long term so far as their academic and professional success and their contribution towards society.  There are as many children from permissive households who grow up to do great things as there are children from overly strict homes who grow up to do nothing significant.  Our most important role, as parents, is to form a relationship with our children and provide them with loving guidance through our examples and our words.  Further, I feel that denying children the opportunity to play, interact with other children, do crafts, run around, make messes, and otherwise do the things that children do does them an injustice for two reasons; first, children learn far more than anyone gives them credit for through play.  Second, it teaches them that there is nothing in life but hard work- that there is no joy.  Would you like to live your life working 70 hours a week and then come home to practice an instrument for hours on end that you find no joy in playing?  So why would anyone force their children to do the equivalent?  There is more to life than trying to keep up with China economically.

But I think this whole big dramafest boils down to one question- do you want children who will grow up to be (probably- no guarantees) professionally and academically successful but emotionally stunted, or do you want children who will probably still succeed, but who will also be able to form and maintain strong relationships, find joy in life... and who will have a good relationship with you, their parent? 

I know, tough choice.

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