Diana Huynh (Norway AC ‘11) and Harrison Neuert (US AC ‘12)
Parenting isn’t something that most UWC students probably think that much about. In many ways, we live in an oddly parentless society. No one is to tell us when to do our homework, how many hours to play the piano or what kind of extracurricular activities to take. Sure, we have teachers, tutors and houseparents looking after us, but ultimately, we are responsible for much of our own discipline and decisions. Within this context, we have been interested in the reactions stirred by Amy Chua’s infamous “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom”; what can we learn from her approach to parenting in relation to our UWC education? In many ways, Chua’s book has landed just at the right time, as the US is going through a sort of insecurity crisis. President Obama talked in his State of the Union address about increasing foreign competition, and “winning the future,” as if the next ten years are some massive game of chess, and the US needs to find some way to get our supposed competitors into check mate. Recently, Shanghai and other parts of Asia showed superior results in global tests compared to the US; deficit is growing as American schools are failing, and few people seem to have any idea of what to do. New world powers are beginning to rise, and all of this leaves the average American citizen feeling confused and scared.
Right into this equation comes Amy Chua. Chua, a Yale Law professor and now blooming author describes in her new memoir on how she raised her two daughters into violin-playing, A-achieving, math-problem-solving machines. This alone could potentially make for a pretty boring read, except that Chua’s child rearing techniques are, to the average Western reader at least, somewhere between cruel and inhuman. It also helps that she (or rather, her very smart publicists) published a shocking excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, detailing what are probably her most scandalous Tiger Mom moments for everyone to read, judge, and talk about. Also, Chua is Chinese-American, thus playing into the current “win the future” insecurities that have taken the US by storm.
Now let us consider our so-called parentless society at the UWC schools. Being the international communities that the schools are, students bring a lot of their upbringing and educational background to the everyday life of each other during their two years. Among these are people being used to twelve-hour school days, others have been taught in curriculums without examinations. Albeit most of us appreciate the virtue of rigor and value of discipline, practice and working hard – we do so without our Tiger Moms. Chua’s justification for her harsh parenting is that it is a tough world out there, but essentially, it is people like her making this world so tough.
Being UWC students, we know that there are more important things than cramming SATs, loading accomplishments on applications and playing Bach at the age of ten. Sure, these things should by all means be encouraged – skilled, competent and talented students will always be in demand. However, the Tiger Mom’s way is not education. Most of our education comes from experience and independent understanding from the opportunities which we are given. The lack of creativity instilled in Chua’s ways is worrying. Call us liberals, but without creativity students will only perpetuate what is already there.
Ultimately, Chua would be easier to condemn if she didn’t address so many American’s fears. If children in the US are lagging behind the rest of the world in education, and Chua has so clearly created superstars, then should parents all be tougher on their children? The answer isn’t simple. Chua claims that all of her actions stem from her deep love of her daughters, doubtlessly she wants their best, but screaming at your child and forcing them to practice for hours when they can’t play a certain piano piece isn’t likely to reinforce their self-esteem. Similarly, Chua’s rejection of her children’s individuality seems a bit shortsighted. We all prioritize certain aspects of our lives, and those decisions make us who we are. Chua seems to make those decisions for her children, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been made. What if Chua had two brilliant actresses, or photographers, or lacrosse players?
Modern liberal parenting emphasizes freedom and choice, by not letting her children try all different activities and choices they are potentially losing something more valuable. At the same time, Chua has a lot going for her. The “achieve if you want” model, where students are free to take rigorous academic courses and prepare for their futures, or to slack off and do next to nothing, is prevalent in many Western countries.
If our generation is to move this world forward, this clearly needs to change. It might not be the case at UWC schools, where we learn to roar our own. But, Chua does make a point that parents have an indispensable influence on their children, and go for their “strengths, not fragility”. It is time that parents and teachers stop asking students to achieve their potential if they want to, and start telling them to go for it. We certainly don’t need to be as extreme as Chua, but it may require a bit of a shift; this might not call for Tiger Moms (or Dads, or teachers for that matter) but we do need to stop being kittens.