No playdates, ‘A’s-only mom Amy Chua comes to Berkeley

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Amy Chua has a book to sell, but even so you have to admire the courage of her convictions in taking on pretty much the entire Western parenting body with her contention that Chinese-style parenting produces high-achieving, confident children bound for successful careers and lives — while the Western approach to raising kids is hit and miss at best, and fails miserably at worst.

It all started with an essay in the Wall Street Journal. Titled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” (a headline, to be fair, she probably did not write), Chua, a law professor at Yale, outlined her rigorous approach to raising her two daughters, Sophia and Louisa. The opening was eye-popping enough:

A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do: attend a sleepover, have a playdate, be in a school play complain about not being in a school play, watch TV or play computer games, choose their own extracurricular activities, get any grade less than an A, not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.

The story went viral — as you’d expect when a whole generation of parents is accused of getting it wrong. Chua has been featured in TIME, appeared on the Today Show (above) and been discussed on hundreds of blogs and Twitter feeds. Whether one felt Chua was simply too extreme, bordering on condoning child abuse, or that she was providing a welcome reminder that parents need to take control, any parent hearing her argument probably questioned, even fleetingly, their own prowess in the child-rearing department.

Those wanting to explore these issues further will have the chance to see Chua in the flesh in Berkeley on January 20 when she will be at the Hillside Club for a KPFA Radio event discussing her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, with Aimee Allison. Bring questions and an open mind — the conversation is sure to be lively.

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  • http://www.preservenet.com Charles Siegel

    “Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to … not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama”

    What happens if the parents of two children in the same class have that attitude?

  • Lexy

    The WSJ was made up of a number of excerpts from the book. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is not a book on how to parent. It is a memoir about Chua’s growth as a parent, about how she is forced to moderate her initial desire to follow the model of parenting that she experienced as a child. People should not assume that they understand the book’s message without reading it first. This piece on sfgate gives a more accurate picture of the book as a whole and Chua’s intent.
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fg%2Fa%2F2011%2F01%2F13%2Fapop011311.DTL&ao=all

  • http://www.tktaylor.com Tracey Taylor

    Lexy: Thanks for pointing to the Chronicle article. It does indeed add more nuance to much of the debate that is raging about Chua and her book.

    Here’s Chua on the WSJ article: “The Journal basically strung together the most controversial sections of the book. And I had no idea they’d put that kind of a title on it. But the worst thing was, they didn’t even hint that the book is about a journey, and that the person at beginning of the book is different from the person at the end — that I get my comeuppance and retreat from this very strict Chinese parenting model.”

    Turns out her kids did go on the occasional playdate too.

  • Lexy

    Also, there is a local connection. The Chua family lived in the East Bay when Amy was young. She attended El Cerrito High School. Her younger sister attended College Prep.

  • Andrew

    I spoke with a Chinese colleague of mine about this editorial yesterday. She cannot enjoy music anymore because she was pushed so hard as a child to practice and master the piano. It was all about mastering the piano and not about the love of music. She is not a fan of Mrs. Chua’s philosophy at all.

  • Melanie

    I wish that media in general would be more careful in their use of words like “Chinese”: e.g., does it mean “Chinese-American,” born and reared in China, reared according to traditional Chinese tenets (whatever those might be; it’s a very big country that has undergone very big changes during the last century)? Or perhaps reared according to certain traditional tenets among a particular class of Chinese or Chinese-Americans? Or something else altogether?

    Anyway, I’m glad to find Chua retreated from her rather extreme parenting model; mothers and fathers have been getting bullied by child-rearing advice for centuries. No one attains “prowess” in child-rearing. Most of us simply do the best we can, most of the time.

  • EBGuy

    I just read the WSJ piece again. Her sense of humor is evident throughout. She even allows her daughter to sleep in her bed. Good grief, you attachment parenting hippies should love that. Get a grip people. Not to mention her previous book was World on Fire, where she fused expert analysis with personal recollections to assert that globalization has created a volatile concoction of free markets and democracy that has incited economic devastation, ethnic hatred and genocidal violence throughout the developing world.

  • http://twitter.com/Weezus Rachel A.

    I found that SFGate article via Twitter and was really glad that I did. It sounds like the WSJ did a serious editorial hatchet job re: the larger vision of the book. I won’t be there on the 20th (children!) but I have more interest in hearing about her story given the larger context.

  • A real Chinese mother

    Allowing Amy Chua to define her method as that of a Chinese mother’s is like allowing all Mormons to be defined as polygamists. Her method has long gone out of fashion in China. I grew up in China; I don’t know anyone raised or raises their children in her way. Chua grew up in U. S. and her parents are from Philippines. This is like calling fortune cookies Chinese food. She is mis-representing herself as a “Chinese mother” to serve her agenda to drive her children to excel, and now to sell her books.

    Whatever excuses the SF Chronicle piece made for Amy Chua, she herself did not show any sign of regret in her interview on Today Show. A real Chinese mother would never put her personal life and that of her young children’s out there for her own needs for therapy or selling books.

  • Goodkind

    Don’t blame this on the WSJ. This woman is a marketing genius. You can see her, who she really is, on the TODAY show. I saw all I needed to see. And I agree with all above about this being a slur on Chinese mothers; remember all cultural stereotypes have some basis in history but that doesn’t make them accurate or contemporary or right or enlightened.
    My favorite blogquote so far: “”Me, I wouldn’t let Amy Chua housetrain a puppy.”
    But my favorite regular note was from a young, highly successful Chinese American friend who is really appreciating her wonderful, warm and yet very traditional parents right now and who sat them down and told them so.
    So there are flowers blooming in the dungheaps…

  • http://twitter.com/Weezus Rachel A.

    I guess I am struggling to understand the vitriol — or at least hyper-passion — around this. So, she is parenting in a really different way than you would, or I would. But “dungheaps”?

    Goodkind: can you reflect on the tenor of your own post?

  • Goodkind

    RAchel, please read the string of respsonses:
    http://bettymingliu.com/blog/
    http://blog.angryasianman.com/
    http://tinyurl.com/36am2lv
    And here: http://resistracism.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/p-s-you-suck/
    and watch the Today show segment.
    Then you will see this is not about me.
    The flower is my young friend, appreciating her parents. The dungheap is the pain that so many of these other people expressed about such parenting and what it did to them, and the cultural stereotyping which is painful. When you are a parent it is easy to doubt yourself. This is like a Doubt Bazooka.

  • deirdre

    I also appreciated the SFGate article for showing aspects of the author’s self-mockery.

  • good chinese mother

    Dear Ms. Chua,

    Like you, I am a Chinese mother, born in Manila from Chinese parents like yours, but unlike you, I vowed to be a different Chinese mother. I encouraged my daughter to enjoy all the activities you prohibited. And still, she scored 2340 on the SAT, 60 points off perfect, and got accepted by Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

    It will be interesting to see if your methods can produce the same results.

    http://www.thegoodchinesemother.wordpress.com

  • Lexy

    @goodchinesemother — please reflect on the markers you use to assess your achievement as a parent. High SAT scores and Ivy League admissions are not proof of good parenting. You say that you chose to go a different route when you raised your daughter, but our obsession with these markers of success drives the terrible pressure that our students feel today. It’s not just the techniques we use, but the expectations we have, that put pressure on our kids. As a high school teacher I work with students every day who feel like failures because they are not headed for an Ivy League school. I know kids for whom going to UC Santa Cruz is considered a crisis. I have a student who is depressed because he might end up at Whitman or NYU. I hope that you would feel just as successful as a parent if your daughter had scored 1800 on the SAT and was looking forward to attending Mills or St. Mary’s.

  • good chinese mother

    Hi, Lexy.

    No, I do not consider my daughter’s academic success as proof of my good parenting skills, but many people do. I am merely trying to demonstrate how ridiculous Chua’s methods are…

    There is a fine line between pushing and encouraging, and I would like to think that I was very creative in encouraging…

    http://www.thegoodchinesemother.wordpress.com

  • A different Rachel

    Whether or not I agree with he parenting style, I am completely and totally impressed with Chua’s marketing abilities. She’s some kind of buzz-generating genius! I want her press agent.

  • shorty

    looking for fame, she is!
    we won’t remember her in a month!
    ‘marketing abilities’….puhleez!!!!

  • English teacher

    Hey editor – change it to A’s instead of As. Missing the apostrophe changes the whole meaning.

  • http://lsminsurance.ca/ Lorne Marr

    Someone should tell Amy that there is a certain balance between the needs of your children and your own aspiration that all parents should try to find. If you force your children to do everything according to your wishes this may have a damaging impact on their natural development.

  • Peggy

    I am not Chinese but my daughter is. There is a fascinating discussion going on in the Chinese American community about Chua’s parenting style and her assumptions. Many Chinese people (e.g. from China) take issue with this article and with calling her style Chinese. They call it old-fashioned, all sorts of things but they object to the cultural stereotyping as if this is still the norm, and say it is inaccurate for modern day China where so many people only get to have one child and might often shower that child with love, affection, etc. Chua IS a marketing genius – at tooting her own horn – and the headline writer for the WSJ was responsible for a great deal of this controversy. But I’ll take what David Brooks had to say in yesterday’s NYT on this topic. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/opinion/18brooks.html?

  • Rufus

    The comment by Charles Siegel nicely destroys this intellectually bankrupt “parenting” ideology in a single sentence. Bravo!

  • http://lecturesinpictures.com Li

    I just got back from her book reading event at Berkeley and let me say this– you either get her or you don’t.

    As a 1.5 generation Chinese American I was deeply offended that she even joked about the distribution of sarcasm in her book. I’ve read both the article and the book and while some of it is tongue in cheek, I don’t think her effect on her daughters are. She didn’t let her children choose what instruments to play with and acts like Big Brother in her children’s lives and read what seemed like a very emotional episode with a lot of sarcasm at the reading today. I suspect she probably gathered half of her audience from her high school friends and family at the Berkeley reading today.

    The audience couldn’t directly ask her questions but only had questions filtered through note cards, and even so the other speaker selected easy questions for Chua.

    So if Ms. Chua characterizes her opponents as people who don’t get it–well I don’t want to get it. I’ve been called so many names as a kid growing up fulfilling the Asian stereotype and have had to go through some serious therapy to see parents like Chua for who they are–selfish grade grubbing and emotionally empty parents. I don’t get her concept of parenting and I never will. If you’ve been offered 3 reality shows, your family is probably pretty fucked up, and I’m afraid for Chua that’s a bit of an understatement.

  • A real Chinese mother

    Peggy,

    I wish I could say it isn’t so, but cultural stereotyping IS still the norm. As a Chinese mother, I am upset with Amy Chua for all sorts of reasons, but what upsets me the most is that she perpetuates the stereotyping of Chinese and Asian students even more and puts them at a further disadvange. The competitions for college, scholarships and other awards are already the most fierce among Chinese American students. Now they have to prove that their success is not because of their “Tiger mothers”, and that they are actually self-motivated.

    I hope your Chinese daughter would not find out one day that she did not receive a scholarship because of her ethnicity, like my daughter just did recently. She would have received it if she had been from any other ethnic group. Of course she could still have won the scholarship if she had scored even better to beat other Chinese students, but at what price? Do I think it is fair? No, I don’t. But I accept it as a reality.

  • http://www.thegoodchinesemother.wordpress.com good chinese mother

    I do not begrudge Chua’s right to make money off her “AHA” moment, but I do resent the way she has further propagated the stereotypical image of the “pushy” Asian parent.

    I am truly fortunate to have an academically successful daughter who achieved near perfect SAT scores, and received offers from HYP. I will take credit for having given her a whole lot of support, but I am certain my parenting skills had little to do with her college acceptances. In truth, I suspect race and gender played major roles.

    And yet, I was always perceived as the pushy Asian mother by her teachers, and her counselors, and by other parents as well, Asian and non-Asian alike.

    Her counselor, the person who supposedly knew her well enough to write her college recommendation letters, asked if mother was pushing her to only apply to Ivy colleges.

    It did not matter that I initially refused to let her take advanced language classes for fear of overworking her, and only relented after I had secured a promise from her teachers that she be allowed to switch to lower level classes at any time.

    It did not matter that I insisted on eight hours of sleep every night, and that I valued health above everything else.

    I feel that most people, including Asians, simply refuse to believe that a young Asian woman can be extremely motivated on her own.

    Chua and her publishers have every right to publicize her book, and they did a very good job, but it came at the expense of all the academically successful Asian students who will have an even harder time of shaking off the image they could not have accomplished much without their tiger mothers pushing them.

    http://www.thegoodchinesemother.wordpress.com