Students, profs say Chua is misunderstood

Last week, Yale Law School professor Amy Chua published an article in The Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” — but despite the flashy headline, Chua’s views may be far tamer.

The article, excerpted from Chua’s book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” was published just days before the book’s Jan. 11 release and made Chua the target of backlash in publications such as The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and Slate, and in thousands of negative comments from readers on Facebook and The Wall Street Journal’s website. But seven professors and students close to Chua said she has been misunderstood.

“I thought the Wall Street Journal excerpt showed only one side of the book, and the most extreme part at that,” said Heather Gerken, a YLS professor who described herself as Chua’s friend. “It didn’t just miss the self-deprecating humor and nuance it missed the main story, which was about why and how Amy changed her views on parenting.”

She added that she thinks Chua’s book “is the rare book that should be judged by its cover.” The cover design features three paragraphs of text, which read in part, “This was supposed to be a story of how Chinese parents are better at raising kids than Western ones. But instead, it’s about a bitter clash of cultures, a fleeting taste of glory, and how I was humbled by a thirteen-year-old.”

Yale Drama School Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 said that while he is glad the article generated publicity for Chua and her book, it is not as nuanced as the book itself.

“The Chua-Rubenfelds are full of life and energy and ideas and fellowship, [and] their children are truly a pleasure to see and hang around with,” he said in an e-mail Monday. “I am devoted to the entire family, and I regret that so many responses to a frank and intelligent book — most by people who haven’t yet read it — have been narrow and/or mean.”

In an e-mail to the News Monday, Chua said she has received both criticism and encouragement from within Yale.

“Like everywhere else, there are also some very negative responses in the Yale community,” Chua said in her e-mail, “but the overwhelming majority of comments I received were supportive.”

Both Bundy and Jennifer Jones LAW ’11 said Chua’s family is close-knit. Jones said the professor’s family seemed happy when they attended the Law School’s annual Law Revue comedy show last spring.

“They all seemed to have a great sense of humor and were all willing to laugh at our parodies of Chua and [her husband, YLS professor Jed] Rubenfeld.” Jones said, adding that she has spoken with the couple’s daughters, Sophia and Louisa, and that they both “seem like extremely intelligent, kind and mature women.”

Jones and two other students said they find Chua to be a warm professor, and that she takes interest in her students’ lives.

“Many of her students open themselves up to her and rely on her for guidance and encouragement,” said Stephanie Lee LAW ’12. “She’s one of the few professors I know who actually takes the time to get to know her students individually, and this means a lot.”

Jones said Chua is an “encouraging professor and mentor,” adding that she admires Chua’s courage in writing a book based on her parenting experiences and describing that experience in the Wall Street Journal article.

Chua read from her book at The Study Friday evening. Tickets to the event sold for $35.

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