Review: The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

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“Chinese parents assume strength, not fragility.” – Amy Chua, The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

I’m having a hard time both reviewing and rating this book. I think one of the reasons is related to some anger at Amy Chua – she often comes across as unnecessarily harsh and cruel when speaking to her daughters. In fact, she sometimes comes across as crazy.

One of the things I can’t argue with are her results.

Here are several of my comments as I was updating my reading progress:

Page 40: “So far the mother isn’t as bad as others paint her. She’s a bit of a jackass but admits it. She pushes her daughters too hard – but it seems more because she never figured out what she wanted for herself in life. She became a lawyer because she felt she should – not because she enjoyed it (in fact, she doesn’t like law). Her daughters are great musicians…she never was. It’s almost like she’s redoing her own life.”

I still feel that way after completing the book.

Page 88: “For some reason this has reminded me of an Asian math teacher I had in middle school. She used to divide the room into “students” and “juvenile delinquents.” She would call us that and no one wanted to be on that side of the room. I can say that she was the only person who ever felt that I could do math. Everyone else always told me to quit (parents included) when it got too hard because ‘girls aren’t good at math.’”

I want to expound on that for a minute. I was raised in the South (US) by parents who I fondly think of as immature. I never had a single extracurricular activity outside of school and when I decided I wanted to be a part of Drama in high school my parents never attended even one of my performances.

One of the things I never had to worry about was my parents making sure that I completed my homework or I understood an assignment. By the time I was in middle school if I couldn’t figure it out myself I was SOOL (shit out of luck). I never learned my multiplication tables because I didn’t want to (and no one made me). By the time I was a senior in high school I’d reached Pre-Calculus (my friends were in Calculus already) I was struggling horribly with math (but I love reading and always did well in English and word related subjects). When I finally broke down and requested tutoring from the teacher of the class, she worked with me for a few weeks before telling me it was best I gave up. She told me often girls have a problem with math so I shouldn’t feel bad. I was transferred to a class called “Statics and Probability.” It was basically where students who didn’t care but needed a final math credit to graduate went. It was full of sexually promiscuous girls and guys who could care less about the class. Hardly any work was done and you would have had to be a master in meditation in order to concentrate in that class.

Reading this book made me think of the only time I had been challenged to actually do well in math. I was in middle school and already a year behind my best friend in math (his dad was a teacher). My teacher split the class in half. She put the “students” on one side and the “juvenile delinquents” on the other. As long as you really tried, paid attention in class, acted appropriately and completed assignments she would allow you to stay on the “student” side of the room. She yelled at us and pissed us off. She was considered the meanest teacher in the school (and crazy to boot). But I also remember her trading jokes with us and being willing to help when we hit roadblocks. I also remember getting an “A” in that class. I earned that “A,” she didn’t give it to me.

My family never pushed me to do anything but always encouraged me to quit if it got too bad. I kind of wish my parents had assumed that I was strong instead of fragile.

Page 108: “Ok, so her crazy is starting to show…”

This is where she starts to talk about her fights with Lulu and the way she spoke to her children. There are a few things that shocked me in the behavior of both Amy and her daughter Lulu. First, that she would speak to her child in such a horrible manner. Cruelty isn’t necessary for discipline. The other thing that shocked me was Lulu’s ability to act such a fool both in public and private to her mother. In my family I would have had the teeth knocked out of my mouth for daring to raise my voice to my mother, let alone calling her names or breaking things. I’m not exaggerating, my mother would have tried her best to kill me. I am an adult now and that fear my mom instilled in me of her is still in effect. I would never – no matter how provoked – talk to my mother like that in public or private.

I think that if I hadn’t had such raw feelings as to the way she spoke to her children, I might have given this a 4/5 stars. The chapters were light while dealing with heavy subjects: each one is about 5 pages long. She’s honest – brutally so. She’s also rather shallow in some ways: making broad general statements regarding (what she sees as) the differences between “good” Chinese parenting and “bad” Western parenting. Chinese parenting has its downsides, too – Chua acknowledges it (but barely). I know a Korean man whose parents were similar to Chua: he was pushed and talked down to, beaten if he brought home a “B,” and constantly compared to his sister in ways that always left him as a failure. He hates to read, wants nothing to do with education, and was angry at even the thought of this book.

My personal feelings aside, I noticed that Amy Chua’s daughters are accomplished young ladies who will be able to make their own decisions on where they want to go in life. They won’t have the issues that plague a lot of people – that of not being prepared.

I didn’t think of this as a manual on how to raise a child but I think that some of her decisions are sound. Children don’t need to spend hours upon hours hanging out doing nothing. They also don’t need as much free time to spend on the internet bullying each other. Maybe if these internet bullies had someone at home making them practice something worthwhile less children would be killing themselves over embarrassment and hurt feelings.

So – all in all – it’s a decent read. The best way to read this book is to NOT look at the book as an instructional manual but as one person’s life experience raising their own child.

I did some internet searches on Amy Chua’s children and the below are some things I found:

Chua’s daughter Sophia’s letter to the NY Post:

An article in Time Magazine: Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?

[snip]
If our economy suffers by comparison with China’s, so does our system of primary and secondary education. That became clear in December, when the latest test results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. American students were mired in the middle: 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math — 17th overall. For the first time since PISA began its rankings in 2000, students in Shanghai took the test — and they blew everyone else away, achieving a decisive first place in all three categories. When asked to account for the results, education experts produced a starkly simple explanation: Chinese students work harder, with more focus, for longer hours than American students do. It’s true that students in boomtown Shanghai aren’t representative of those in all of China, but when it comes to metrics like test scores, symbolism matters. Speaking on education in December, a sober President Obama noted that the U.S. has arrived at a “Sputnik moment”: the humbling realization that another country is pulling ahead in a contest we’d become used to winning.

[snip]

Most surprising of all to Chua’s detractors may be the fact that many elements of her approach are supported by research in psychology and cognitive science. Take, for example, her assertion that American parents go too far in insulating their children from discomfort and distress. Chinese parents, by contrast, she writes, “assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.” In the 2008 book A Nation of Wimps, author Hara Estroff Marano, editor-at-large of Psychology Today magazine, marshals evidence that shows Chua is correct. “Research demonstrates that children who are protected from grappling with difficult tasks don’t develop what psychologists call ‘mastery experiences,’ ” Marano explains. “Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they’ve learned that they’re capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.” Children who have never had to test their abilities, says Marano, grow into “emotionally brittle” young adults who are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.

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