I had posted on my parenting blog, PragmaticMom: Education Matters, about A Race to Nowhere and on my reaction to Amy Chua/TigerMom/Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, when I realized that these two hot buttons are actually very similar. Amy Chua’s extreme parenting style, a.k.a. Tiger Mom, is a result of her own lack of emotional intelligence and self actualization; deficiencies that are products of a parenting style that stresses obedience, perfection and hard work without being able to make choices, learn from mistakes, or figure out who you are vis á vis relationships with friends. But what is perplexing and disturbing to me is that she would want to replicate this parenting style for her own children. I mean, really, is there not an iota of rebellion in her?! That is strange, right?!
When I discussed Tiger Mom parenting with my mom friends including Capability:Mom, we all were shocked that Amy Chua would NOT realize she’d get a strong and negative reaction to her book (i.e. death threats). It seems as if she didn’t get any feedback from her mom friends to soften the harsh edges of her messages. That is also strange to me and would indicate that maybe she doesn’t have a Mom Friend network to bounce her ideas off of. Her inability to communicate the nuances of her message (i.e. I am NOT a psycho mom) is very telling about her own emotional intelligence. There is book smart and people smart. She’s just book smart.
In the excerpt below, I was also surprised to find that, in fact, a law career does not fill her heart with joy and that she seems to have gone on this career path for reasons that do not include passion, interest and self-fulfillment. And yet, she would dictate to her own children the pursuits they were to devote their childhood to, at least until one of her children had the backbone to rebel against her. The gene for rebellion appears to be recessive in her family DNA.
I guess my takeaway is to encourage self actualization. Yes, it’s true that Asian parents all want their children to be “resumé” impressive, but the path to career fulfillment is through self actualization, a process that requires trial and error, with emphasis on the error. But it is well worth it.
They say, after all, “if you love what you do you will never work a day in your life.” Amy Chua has been unhappily slogging since she was born. And that is a Race to Nowhere.
From New York Magazine
“If something seems unfair at school, just prove yourself by working twice as hard and being twice as good.”
In the book, Chua portrays her distaste for corporate law, which she practiced before going into academe. “My entire three years at the firm, I always felt like I was playacting, ridiculous in my suit,” she writes. This malaise extended even earlier, to her time as a student. “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.”
At the AASA gathering at Yale, Chua made the connection between her upbringing and her adult dissatisfaction. “My parents didn’t sit around talking about politics and philosophy at the dinner table,” she told the students. Even after she had escaped from corporate law and made it onto a law faculty, “I was kind of lost. I just didn’t feel the passion.” Eventually, she made a name for herself as the author of popular books about foreign policy and became an award-winning teacher. But it’s plain that she was no better prepared for legal scholarship than she had been for corporate law. “It took me a long, long time,” she said. “And I went through lots and lots of rejection.” She recalled her extended search for an academic post, in which she was “just not able to do a good interview, just not able to present myself well.”
In other words, Battle Hymn provides all the material needed to refute the very cultural polemic for which it was made to stand. Chua’s Chinese education had gotten her through an elite schooling, but it left her unprepared for the real world. She does not hide any of this. She had set out, she explained, to write a memoir that was “defiantly self-incriminating”—and the result was a messy jumble of conflicting impulses, part provocation, part self-critique. Western readers rode roughshod over this paradox and made of Chua a kind of Asian minstrel figure. But more than anything else, Battle Hymn is a very American project—one no traditional Chinese person would think to undertake. “Even if you hate the book,” Chua pointed out, “the one thing it is not is meek.”
“The loudest duck gets shot” is a Chinese proverb. “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down” is a Japanese one. Its Western correlative: “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Chua had told her story and been hammered down. Yet here she was, fresh from her hammering, completely unbowed.
There is something salutary in that proud defiance. And though the debate she sparked about Asian-American life has been of questionable value, we will need more people with the same kind of defiance, willing to push themselves into the spotlight and to make some noise, to beat people up, to seduce women, to make mistakes, to become entrepreneurs, to stop doggedly pursuing official paper emblems attesting to their worthiness, to stop thinking those scraps of paper will secure anyone’s happiness, and to dare to be interesting.
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