From the original excerpt from her book in the Wall Street Journal to appearances on NBC’s “Nightly News,” Amy Chua and her parenting methods have become a national, if not international, sensation.
Her memoir Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother hit bookstores last week and, not surprisingly, is fourth on Amazon’s top-seller’s list. My local library alone has 99 requests on its one copy of the book. In addition, Chua’s book has come out in China, under the title 我在美国做妈妈(“Being a Mom in America”).
Although memoirs are the newest trend in books, Chua’s work is unique for its discussion of the hotly debated but seldom published issue of tenacious Chinese parenting. Almost every Asian will have something to say about their parents’ standards for them and how it affects their relationship with their parents. Non-Asians face similar tensions with their parents as well. The fact of life is, we all have parents and our relationship with them is largely determined by how they treat us.
Thus Amy Chua touches on an issue common to all, but in writing in an Asian-American context Chua has hit a gold mine waiting to be exploited. Chinese parents in China may blame their environment for their high standards, but what compels those parents to maintain those high standards in a less competitive America? And by and large Asian-American children each have similar stories to tell.
But as Elizabeth Kolbert points out in her New Yorker review, “America’s Top Parent,” Chua’s rigid standards have rendered her less mentally fluid. Of her years as a student in Harvard, Chua writes: “I didn’t care about the rights of criminals the way others did, and I froze whenever a professor called on me. I also wasn’t naturally skeptical and questioning; I just wanted to write down everything the professor said and memorize it.”
The weakness of Chinese rote learning is its inability to empathize, to criticize, and to infuse a love and excitement for learning. But Chinese education has produced results, while American education has not despite its efforts to base education on learning by discovery. Discipline is still an essential part of education, which means accepting that not every child, no matter how promising, will get first prize.
In a country where a high school graduating class can boast 100 valedictorians, Chua’s work unsettles complacent American ideas of our national greatness. Her book is about change, how she changed into a more relenting mother, and perhaps how the majority of modern parents should change their parenting methods. It’s not about being unreasonably stringent and forbidding sleepovers but about dedication, discipline, and making something worthwhile of yourself.