Steve and Alex – Tiger Moms (Part 1)

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Steve and Alex discuss Amy Chua’s article about Tiger Moms.

Steve: Hi Alex.

Alex: Hi there Steve.

Steve: Well, we’ve had a request and we love getting requests, because then we don’t have to scratch our heads to think about what we’re going to talk about.

We did have those two sessions on proverbs that relate to language learning and Yukiko in Japan has asked us – I believe it was her – to talk about this “Tiger Mom” controversy.

Alex: Yes, the topic of Tiger Mom.

So, I must say, I, myself, was unfamiliar with this, so I did read the article posted by Amy Chua about it.

But you, of course, have heard of it before and were familiar with it.

Steve: Right.

I had seen a reference to this somewhere on the Internet.

And just sort of a quick summary for those who aren’t familiar with the whole Tiger Mom discussion, Amy Chua is, obviously, a high-achiever professional lady.

I think she’s a professor at Harvard.

Alex: I’m not sure.

Steve: Okay.

I think she’s a professor at Harvard Law School or something and she wrote a book about how she brought up her two daughters.

Her style was to shout at them, tell them they were no good, pull their hair, force them to play I don’t know how many hours of piano every day.

I mean she was a very tough mother.

She sort of implies in the book, although I haven’t read the book, but judged by the article, that this is typical of Chinese moms, Chinese families and that this is a good thing because it makes their kids achieve more.

So that sort of started off this great controversy and some people said yes, the so-called mainstream or white or whatever you want to call them…

Alex: Western is the term.

Steve: …Western moms are too lenient and indulgent and stuff.

So, what’s your take on this?

Was your mom or is your mom a Tiger Mom?

Alex: Not at all.

My mom is quite the opposite.

One of the reasons is that I’m one of five kids.

I’m the youngest.

My oldest brother is only five years older, so it meant that my mom had five little kids running around.

Steve: She was busy.

Alex: She was busy.

So she didn’t have time was the biggest thing to make sure that we did this or did that and did this and did that.

I mean of course she was active, but she gave us a lot of freedom and, actually, she gave us a lot of independence and responsibility.

I wouldn’t say it was independence through neglect, but it was rather she deliberately took a step back when we said we wanted to do this and she said okay, you can do that.

From her perspective, by us doing that we would then grow and become more familiar and aware of the things around us and develop a stronger character and various other traits that I think are valuable in a Western society.

Steve: Okay. But, just to take the devil’s advocate position here…

Alex: Yes.

Steve: Okay, playing the piano.

I took piano lessons.

I hated them.

I was allowed to quit at the age of 12.

To some extent, I regret that I didn’t continue playing piano, but I just couldn’t play piano when my friends were out playing football or hockey, right?

So my mother, she actually forced me for quite a few years.

There was a lot of pressure.

Maybe she was a Tiger Mom.

Eventually she just gave up.

But, the point is to some extent doesn’t the parent have to force.

Is there not a requirement to put pressure on the kids to do certain things that are in their interest, playing piano, learning a language, I don’t know, being nice to the neighbors?

I mean whatever, it depends on the kid.

Obviously, if the kids are well behaved that’s fine.

If your kids are out, you know, vandalizing the neighborhood that’s another problem.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: Yeah.

Alex: I mean my take on the question would be, first off, the biggest issue that I come across with this is there’s this presupposition that things like playing the piano, playing violin in this case, even to the extent of getting good grades in your Math class or getting good grades in your English class or History or whatever that these are the fundamental achievements that are required for any sort of success in life.

I think that’s one thing that I highly disagree with.

I totally agree with you in that parents need to provide some push for their kids and need to motivate them, even to the extent of forcing them to do something when they want to just sit back and be apathetic.

The point where I disagree with Amy Chua’s philosophy is when the parent says this is good for you, so you do this, regardless of whether or not the kid is interested.

Steve: Yeah, I agree with you.

Obviously Amy Chua is an Asian-American, but there’s obviously an influence there of the Asian culture and when we look at what happens in Asia where kids, first of all, the hours of schooling.

I think in China, Japan, Korea, they have something like 12,000 or 13,000 hours — I can’t remember the number, but it’s something like that — a year versus say 900…

Alex: Twelve hundred, not 12,000.

Steve: Oh, sorry, 1,200, yeah, versus say 900 or 1,000 here.

Even in a country like Finland it’s like 800 and yet Finland does very well on all international comparisons of achievement.

And we’ve seen some of these cram classes in Taiwan where 70 people are in a classroom trying to learn English.

Well, that’s just a complete waste of time.

They might just as well be at home watching cartoons in English, you know?

So, to some extent, this is obviously overdone in the Asian culture.

But then, on the other hand, we see that Asian kids, presumably who have Tiger Moms, do better at school and so they are typically over represented, so to speak, relative to their share in the population, over represented at university.

So, you could argue that the Tiger Mom approach is enabling those kids to do better at school and therefore do better at university and, presumably, do better professionally.

Alex: In my mind, one of the issues that creeps up is that my personal philosophy when I was attending school, when I was in middle school, high school, it didn’t matter, my goal was not to get high grades.

To me that was just in passing.

I mean I did well.

I got B, B+, A- average, but at the same time I think that my success wasn’t dependent on me getting a 99% versus getting an 89 or a 79, right?

You know I’m not that old.

I’m still 21, but I see a lot of my peers who actually did get good grades and they’re in university now and they’re not really enjoying what they’re doing.

Some of them are, but just because they got good grades doesn’t mean they’ve secured a future.

Steve: No, that’s true.

I mean it gets back to one of my hobbyhorses and that is that the most important skill I think that you learn is the skill to read, because all the studies I’ve seen indicate that literacy tracks most closely to professional success or academic success, more closely than numbers of years in school.

There are people who spend a lot of time in school and seem to be able to hang in there; but, in effect, they may not end up doing very well professionally and very often it’s because they aren’t very literate.

But how do you get kids to read more?

Is it a matter of finding them things that they like to read?

Is it a matter of forcing them to read?

Yeah, music…I mean getting the kids to play the violin is really more about the parent showing off than anything else.

You know, George, would you please come down here and play the violin for your uncle and aunt or for my guests.

You know?

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: So it’s a bit of that, yeah.

I can’t remember who it was on our forum at LingQ, I think it was 3kingdoms, said talk also about hockey moms and helicopter moms.

Alex: Soccer moms, yes.

Steve: Soccer moms. I don’t know what a helicopter mom is.

Alex: Me neither.

Steve: No.

But your hockey mom-soccer mom, these are the moms and dads that are very keen for their kids to do well in sports.

And, in a way, in our North American society perhaps there’s more pressure on the kids to do well in sports sometimes and the dad who maybe never was all that good in hockey or soccer wants desperately for his son to be an all star.

Alex: Yeah.

Steve: And I think there’s sometimes a lot of pressure there that’s not very healthy too.

Alex: Yeah.

I mean as I was reading the article I had to really put aside my own personal feelings about it, because I think as someone from the West I do feel the way that she’s describing.

I do feel that individualism is good, you know, to let people pursue things that they enjoy, not to force people to do things just because this reason and that reason.

I think I value the individual more than say a collective identity, but at the same time I absolutely do agree that that kind of thing exists here with regard to sports and I think with regard to other things as well.

The interesting thing is that in our society, in our culture, it’s often described as the parent trying to live through the child, trying to achieve their own dreams and desires through their own children because they were unable to do it themselves.

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