Isn’t Amy Chua just like a Little League Parent, a Basketball Mother or a Cheerleader Mom?

I read Amy Chua’s article about superiority of Chinese Mothers when it was first published. Frankly, I dismissed it. It reminded me of today’s full-of-itself regime in China. When America fell into the 2008 financial crisis, the Chinese Leaders thought their system had won. Since then, they have been acting as the next global superpower. They think there is something inherently great about the Chinese and that they are superior to the rest of the world, certainly to the rest of Asia. You see the same culturally supremacist overtones in parts of Amy Chua’s article. 

Within a few days of reading her article, I saw the Our Children, Ourselves episode of Modern Family, the hit ABC show. Alex, the young, bright daughter of Clair & Phil Dunphy, is studying hard and her parents are trying just as hard to get Alex to take a break. Her response “Sanjay Patel is not taking a break”. Sanjay Patel is an Indian-American boy in her class who gets the top grade. Clair & Phil Dunphy don’t get why getting the top grade is important. 

When I watched the show, I realized that the furor about Amy Chua’s book is more about the new insecurity in European-American families about the competition their children face and will face. Later in the show, Alex says to her parents “Sanjay’s father is a surgeon and his mother is a professor. I can’t compete with that. I have to do the best I can with what I was given”. When Clair & Phil realize their own daughter is insulting them, they begin their own competition with Sanjay’s parents.

Is this what is behind the furor about Amy Chua’s book? Is that why prompted Ruth Marcus to write about her own family in her rebuttal in the Washington Post? As an aside, Ms. Marcus was just as culturally supremacist as Ms. Chua with her praise of some Chinese-American parents as “westernized”.

Is that what prompted others to sing the praises of the B-minus? Pardon me if I don’t believe them. Not when I hear stories about Manhattan parents spending 25-35,000 dollars on tutors to improve the SAT scores of their kids.

Frankly, I see no difference between Amy Chua’s strict regimen and the regimen of parents all over America to push their kids to excel in things that matter to the parents. Haven’t you read horror stories of what mothers do to make sure their daughters succeed as cheerleaders? Don’t you see the emotion, the stress of parents at Little League games? What about the mothers of kids who play hours of basketball to get into the NBA? These kids practice much harder than Amy Chua’s kids and their mothers are ferocious tigers, not just a zoo tiger like Amy Chua.

Amy Chua would not get this because her cultural baggage makes her look down at sports. Piano, Violin and academic grades are vastly more important to her. Sports are for less intelligent kids, she thinks or portrays in her article.

I have two words for Ms. Chua – Wall Street. It is probably the most competitive and financially rewarding arena in business. And Wall Street prefers athletes from winning sports teams to students with terrific academic grades. Student-Athletes from winning teams understand the burning desire to win and they have been taught the skills, the discipline, the tenacity required to win. Getting good grades in high school is a piece of cake by comparison. This stacks the deck for athletes over good students. 

Amy Chua does not understand that her academic standards for her children are too low. She is happy when her daughter gets the top grade in her class. Top grade in one class, in one school? Who cares? Doesn’t she want her daughter to rank first among all the students in her city or in America? Amy Chua does not make her daughter compete in international Math Olympiads. She doesn’t even insist her daughter get  perfect scores in SAT and in SAT-II exams. 

Sorry, Amy you are not a Tiger mother, you are just a Panda mother. I know because I come from an academic system which ranked the top students every year. None of the egalitarianism of giving out perfect SAT scores to a bunch of students. Winning in this academic competition meant getting the highest score among all students, over 100,000 students in a city. Such winners were celebrated in my system just as quarterbacks are celebrated in the American system. 

I know because my older sister was such a student. When the results of the state-wide examination  were announced, our house was thronged by friends and well-wishers. I remember that day because I had the job of giving ice-cream to all guests. And I wasn’t going to give ice cream to guests without eating a lot of it myself. 

I didn’t care about grades in school. Fortunately, my mother never pushed me to emulate my sister. She let me play Cricket in the street and sleep-walk through high school. She had complete confidence in me and knew that some day I would focus on my own. She turned out to be right.  I owe her a lot.  

The reality is the American education system does not reward good grades in school. This is just as true of private schools in Manhattan as it is of public schools all over America. The reality is America never needed to. Competition derives from a dearth of opportunities and from the need to rise above the pack to get into a few, narrow openings.

There are many universities in America and many job opportunities. So children do not have to work as hard in high school as children in Asia, China and India to get into colleges that open the door to successful careers. 

But there is change afoot, change that is deeply disconcerting to European-American parents who grew up in an era when America was the only successful country in the world. In their high school days, they did not have to compete with Chinese-American kids. In their careers, they did not have to face challenges from outsourcing. They see their kids face competition they never faced and they are worried. 

I think this is why they reacted so strongly to Amy Chua’s book. Like Clair & Phil Dunphy, they wonder if there is something inherently wrong with their own value system. 

But the solution is not to follow Amy Chua. Because Amy Chua suffers from the biggest problem of all -making a virtue of a stereotype. Read the first line of her Wall Street Journal article “A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids.”

I understand the compulsion because many Indian-American families want their children to meet their own stereotypes of success. I have a real life story for Amy Chua and all parents who use stereotypical models for their children.

This is a story of two high school kids, one Chinese-American and one Indian-American – both intelligent and both at the top of their class academically in an elite Manhattan private school. The Chinese American boy was led by his parents to play the Violin. The Indian-American boy decided to try for his school’s golf team and became its captain by his senior year. Both got great SAT scores.  

When it came to College Admissions, the Indian-American kid got ea
rly admission to the school of his choice, one of the ultimate brand-name Universities in America. Unfortunately, the Chinese-American kid did not. Apparently, the elite colleges prefer kids who stand out in some way from their own peer group. So Chinese-American kids are often judged against other Chinese-American kids and Indian-American kids are judged against other Indian-American kids. 

In this case, the combination of a great SAT score and success at golf differentiated the Indian-American kid from other Indian-American kids. Unfortunately, the Chinese-American kid with a great SAT score and Violin skills was judged to be stereotypical of Chinese-American kids. 

So forget Amy Chua and her stereotypes. Be the mother your child needs you to be. Each child is different and the mother needs to be different as well. It is the match of the child and the mother that leads to parenting success. 

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