Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Amy Chua: Right on Substance, Wrong on Style

Could Black Parents Learn From Amy Chua?

I have been keeping up with the Amy Chua controversy over the past few weeks and honestly I think the criticism is overblown.

Chua, a Professor & author of 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother', caused an uproar with her recent Wall Street Journal article entitled 'Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior'. In the article, Chua explains how the Asian approach of aggressive, strict parenting is superior to modern Western parenting, specifically found in traditional American families. Chua argues that her more regimented, structured approach - which is almost boot camp-like - produces better outcomes. It is important for parents to override the natural preferences of children in order to instill values of hard work and discipline.

I am torn on where I come down on this, but I tend to side with Chua. Although her style is probably not the correct approach, the overall basis for her argument is strong. It is a fact that children with more engaged, strict, and attentive parents usually end up in a better position later on. Of course this is not the case in every situation, but there is a definite advantage to growing up in a household where you are pushed more and where expectations are high. Chua's style though provided excuse makers & critics with a reason to pounce. I particularly thought of the section in the article where Chua forced one of her daughters to sit at the piano for hours until she learned a particular song, despite the child struggling and having a nervous breakdown.

But the numbers don't lie. Strong parenting, more often than not, pays off. You can whine about Chua's style til your heart's content... but the kids of Tiger Mothers are kicking the behinds of those raised in more laissez-faire households. Critics have taken things out of context. In the article, and in an NPR interview that followed, Chua makes clear that she was not being literal in all of her comparisons. Yes, it's true that some of her comments could be seen as stereotyping... but she admits that some of her comments were tongue-in-cheek. She stated that the term "Chinese Mother" (or Tiger Mother) could be applied to immigrant parents of a variety of ethnic groups. It symbolically represented a general view about parenting, as opposed to strictly one race of people. But she was mainly referring to Chinese parenting. Her explanation made sense to me, because I have seen a little bit of the Tiger Mother in Vietnamese, Nigerian, European, and Arab immigrants. She was using images and terms to represent mothers more collectively than her critics would have you to believe.

While her methods were a little questionable... her general view of parenting is a good one. This is generally the kind of parenting that we need more of in this Country. This is especially the case in the so-called Black Community. I found it ironic that Black bloggers would come out so strongly against Chua. Strange almost, considering the condition that Black urban communities are in. The Black Community is creating monsters in record numbers who are terrorizing their own neighborhoods as I type this commentary. Black males are 5 times more likely to be arrested and sent to prison than their white counterparts. Additionally, Black males are 3 times more likely than whites and 5 times more likely than Asians to be suspended from School. And I won't even mention the deplorable dropout rate. See two of my previous posts on Education for Black males, here, and here.

Another irony is that many of the traditional black families of the past (1960/1950 and earlier) actually had parents who bore a closer resemblance to the so-called Chinese Tiger Mother, than the current less rigid American parent. That was the case in rural and urban Black families. Education was cherished, because it was seen as a way out of post-reconstruction poverty. Structure, discipline and respect for elders were key in many Black households. One other reason that Black children had to adhere to discipline at that time goes beyond the fact that it was economically important. How well children embraced discipline, structure, and listened to parents was literally a matter of life and death. They had to listen to the warnings about how to properly interact in a white world that was often hostile. Black children had to understand the importance of heeding the constant instructions from parents about societal rules on how to deal with whites in order to keep themselves alive. How many of those stories have we heard? These are the actual roots of Black existence in America, not just a bunch of outlandish, off the wall ideas. Unfortunately much of that tradition has been lost. The lack of fathers in the home obviously contributed to the problem. So I just find it interesting that Blacks (some Blacks) see Amy Chua's approach to parenting as something that is somehow foreign. It's as if Blacks are looking in the mirror after 130, 140 years and can't recognize themselves. But in a way, it explains quite a bit.

If the so-called "Black Community" had more Amy Chua's of their own- perhaps without so much of the bootcamp aspect - and homes with more attentive, present, concerned, engaged, demanding, responsible parents.. who instilled certain values...and if Black men and women (esp. Women) made better choices, I can guarantee that there would not be nearly as many problems as there are today. In fact, the same could be said for American culture in general. Outcomes in education would certainly be much better.

Instead of condemning Chua, more traditional American mothers (black, white, purple) should take notes from her. How a child is pushed, loved, nurtured, educated, etc is subject to style preference. But to suggest that stronger parenting is somehow bad for a child, citing tough methods as an excuse to trash a parent in  Chua's case, is just dishonest. Are Chinese mothers superior? I don't know if I would have framed the title in those terms to begin with. But it is clear that Chinese, Vietnamese, and immigrant parents in general tend to have a better grasp on parenting.

Even the Obama's have banned Sasha and Malia from watching TV during the week. No TV period. Only a little on the weekends. They expect only the best grades and are not pleased with a B or C, especially when they know that the girls could have done better. The President and First Lady also make sure that they keep the girls involved in other meaningful activities... such as music and dance lessons...which they have to attend, in addition to schoolwork... and btw...schoolwork gets done before the girls are allowed to do anything else. They are made to do a whole list of things that they probably don't want to do (I am sure many of their natural preferences are being overridden by Mrs. Obama), yet someone is riding their tails everyday to make sure those things get done and that responsibilities are met. The Obama's have a stricter, more regimented parenting style...not because they are the first family, but because they understand the benefits of discipline and hard work and they know what it took to get to where they are. They want their daughters to understand and enjoy those same benefits. This is not quite as strict as the Tiger Mother approach, but it bares a much closer resemblance to the Chinese Tiger Mother way (if such a style really exists) than the modern American approach. So again, it leaves me scratching my head when people, especially Blacks, see Amy Chua's experience as something completely foreign. Chua's approach is basically about keeping close tabs on children, providing plenty of structure, pushing hard work, maintaining a strong expectation of excellence, instilling the right values, stressing discipline, responsibility & accountability, embracing education, and always being a very engaged parent. Could she have produced children of the same caliber using softer methods? Probably. Her approach is a little on the harsh side, I must admit. But her overall approach worked. I think an approach of a less engaged parent, who doesn't care, who is neglectful, etc... creates a much more abusive situation and creates outcomes that are much worse...both for the child and for society.


Truthiz said...

"So again, it leaves me scratching my head when people, especially Blacks, see Amy Chua's experience as something completely foreign."

The truth is, I'm not suprised by their (Blacks) reaction at all considering the fact that: For far too many Black children (born to children and single parents over the past 30yrs) ANY degree of actual parenting was/IS a foreign concept. Nevermind trying to put it into practice!

Suffice it to say, I'm over 30 yrs of age. Born and raised in a working middle-class Black family with 2 parents and maternal grandparents, all serving not only as my providers and teachers but as examples, and Champions of the dream: "Value your faith, family, education and hard work and You can anything you want to be."

There were plenty of rules I had to obey. But the rules weren't extreme. More importantly, the rules were wrapped up in love and I was always taught that: "To whom much is given, much is expected."

The fact that many of my childhhod friends came from a similar family background meant having a disciplined, goal-oriented, but loving, childhood was very common-place where I come from.

And we still had lots of fun :)

Sadly, for far too many Black children, that is NOT the case :(

rikyrah said...

I thought it was funny all the comments she had received.I also thought it was arrogant for her to write this book, and she hadn't even gotten one of her kids out of ' fools hill' (age 13-19)

I believe she's too strict, but I'm not against Old School parenting. Of course, I've also seen enough of these Asian kids in college go absolutely crazy once they a taste of freedom.