Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

I'm going to see Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom, at the 92nd St. Y tonight at 7:30 (tickets are still available:  Here's what I wrote about her book when it first came out (


Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior

I enjoyed this article by Amy Chua on "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior" more than any I've read in a LONG time.  It's hilarious, hyperbolic and provocative, and will surely provoke strong emotions, especially among people (like my wife and me) raising young children – but there are some very powerful lessons here.  This article and Nick Kristof's op ed in today's NYT (below) capture why I believe that this will be the China Century and why the first 10 years of this century are a harbinger of what's to come. 

Here's an excerpt from Chua's article (her new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is at:

First, I've noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children's self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children's psyches. Chinese parents aren't. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.

For example, if a child comes home with an A-minus on a test, a Western parent will most likely praise the child. The Chinese mother will gasp in horror and ask what went wrong. If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child "stupid," "worthless" or "a disgrace." Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child's grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher's credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.

Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them. If their child doesn't get them, the Chinese parent assumes it's because the child didn't work hard enough. That's why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child. The Chinese parent believes that their child will be strong enough to take the shaming and to improve from it. (And when Chinese kids do excel, there is plenty of ego-inflating parental praise lavished in the privacy of the home.)

I find what Chua describes (no sleepovers, playdates, or ability to make any decisions at all) to be extreme, but if one were to put parental expectations of/pressure on/control of kids on a 0-10 scale, with 10 being what Chua describes, I think the ideal is much closer to 10 than 0 – maybe an 8.  

In a world filled with endless, cheap, mind-rotting entertainment via hundreds of TV channels (heavily weighted toward 24/7 sports, cartoons and other junk), the internet, video games, music and movies, I'm firmly convinced that nearly all children will spend every waking hour messing around with these activities and wasting their lives, unless their parents AND schools (but the former much more importantly) keep a very close eye on them, tightly restrict what they can do, and make them to do many things they don't want to do, such as study hard, read books, have a reasonable diet, go to bed on time, dress decently, etc.

I know I sound like an old-school-stick-in-the-mud, but isn't this really, really obvious???  I would argue that this has been true forever, but it's especially important for parents and schools to have very firm oversight today given the decline of social values/norms and the exponential increase in the availability of mindless entertainment.  For example, even if my parents hadn't banned me from watching nearly all TV, I probably wouldn't have watched very much because there were only a handful of channels from which to choose – and there certainly weren't Xboxes, computers and the internet.  I didn't have much choice but to read!

Very firm oversight combined with high expectations and a no-excuses attitude is sorely lacking in the United States, both among parents and schools (with many wonderful exceptions of course; among schools, for example, the no-excuses charter schools like KIPP ( (I'm on the board of KIPP NY) are successful in part because they do that same things that Chinese mothers do).  Lest you think I'm just perpetuating stereotypes about American youth, check out this data about how they spend their time (from page 19 of my school reform presentation, posted at:

The data (as opposed to the tyranny of anecdotes) shows how wildly off-base the documentary Race to Nowhere ( is.  It depicts lots of stressed-out, overworked kids, which is only a problem for a tiny fraction of children in this country.  As a nation, our real problem is EXACTLY the opposite!

For more on how Chinese (and Indian) youth are just HUSTLING a lot more than America youth are, I highly recommend a great documentary, Two Million Minutes(, by my friend Bob Compton (who also did A Right Denied (, the documentary of me giving my school reform presentation)

Here are more comments on Chua and her book:

- In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom:

- Tiger mom's memoir meets ferocious roar:

- Comments:

- More of my comments:

- Why Chinese Mothers Are Average:

- Amy Chua Is a Wimp, David Brooks:

- Families offer a contrast in studies:

- Asian Like Me: Paper Tigers: What happens to all the Asian-American overachievers when the test-taking ends? (one of the best articles of the year):

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