Recently, a much-criticized op-ed by Yale Law professor Amy Chua ran in the Wall Street Journal. I’ve read most of this piece. Now admittedly I have an inferior, Northern European-style upbringing and a decidedly sub-Chinese work ethic. But I think Chua seems to suggest something like this: Chinese parenting techniques are superior to Western ones, because Chinese children succeed academically whereas Western children are fat.
Of course this is a simplification. Chua’s article goes into great detail about the benefits of Chinese mothers’ strictness. For example, if your Chinese child disobeys you — by, say, having fun somehow — you should call that child garbage. That way, the child will try harder not to be so much like garbage in the future.
Unsurprisingly, Chua’s op-ed has drawn its share of critics who claim that she is too overbearing. But these critics have missed the point. If there’s anything at fault with her philosophy, it’s that it doesn’t go far enough! Sure, she may seem strict, but think of all the freedoms her children enjoy.
Take the example about her daughter, Lulu. Once, during a struggle that turned the house into a “war zone,” Chua threatened to take away Lulu’s dollhouse unless she learned a piano song perfectly. My question is: what’s the kid doing with a dollhouse in the first place? She’s got to get into college in 11 years! What, does Chua think some dean of admissions is going to be impressed that her kids learned how to enjoy themselves and interact socially through playtime?
More alarmingly, Chua herself has hinted that she has since loosened up as a mother, and that the parenting style described in her op-ed is “meant to be a little bit comical and satirical.”
Comical and satirical? Professor Chua, I ask you, what’s so funny about a mother who “snuggles” and “hugs” her daughter after she masters an emotionally taxing and exceedingly difficult song on the piano? Think about it. If you had withheld that physical love and affirmation, she may have mastered two songs during that time. Maybe more.
Now we’ll never know.
It gets worse. Chua’s op-ed is rife with instances of overly-lenient parenting. Let’s say your child comes home with an A-. Chua would respond with severe criticism combined with rigorous academic drilling. The American mother would buy the child some ice cream. But alas, both are wrong. The child’s feet should be scalded.
Look, do you want the kid to get into an Ivy or not?
Okay, before anyone overreacts, I’m not saying every single youthful imperfection should be corrected through physical abuse. (That would be crazy!) I’m only talking about those imperfections that, if not dealt with at a young age, might keep the child from becoming a Rhodes Scholar.
Here’s an example. Your child misspells an easy word in his second-grade spelling bee. Something like “colloquialism.” Now, as a properly attentive parent, you’ve got to ask yourself: is it really going to harm my child in the long term if I remove his non-dominant hand’s pinky fingernail? Or rather, will it make him pay that much more attention to his spelling next time?
So, Professor Chua, I beg of you, stick to your guns. The teen years are crucial. Don’t allow any more sleepovers or play-dates, and if possible, force your children to forget what these things are. Life is short, and it’s not about having fun or laughing. It’s about winning. Anyone who says otherwise never won anything — so why do they matter?
River Clegg is a senior in Davenport College.