Chua, Waldman and Milstein

I don’t know if any of you have heard about or read Amy Chua’s article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”.   If you haven’t, here is the link:

While you’re there, please also read Ayelet Waldman’s rebuttal, entitled “In Defense of the Guilty, Ambivalent, Preoccupied Western Mom”.  (here’s the link just in case you can’t find it:

Chua writes that the reason Chinese kids are stereotypically successful is because their mothers will not allow them to be anything less.     She starts by pointing out things her daughters were never allowed to do.    They included:

• attend a sleepover

• have a playdate

• be in a school play

• complain about not being in a school play

• watch TV or play computer games

• choose their own extracurricular activities

• get any grade less than an A

• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama

• play any instrument other than the piano or violin

• not play the piano or violin.

Waldman (Jewish mother and brief target of the mommy police for famously stating in an article that she loved her husband more than her kids.  Also author of the subsequent book, “Bad Mother”), on the other hand, gives a list of things her kids were allowed to do, which included:

• Quit the piano and the violin, especially if their defeatist attitude coincided with a recital, thus saving me from the torture of listening to other people’s precious children soldier through hackneyed pieces of the juvenile repertoire, plink after ever more unbearable plonk.

• Sleep over at their friends’ houses, especially on New Year’s Eve or our anniversary, thus saving us the cost of a babysitter.

• Play on the computer and surf the Internet, so long as they paid for their Neopet Usuki dolls and World of Warcraft abomination cleavers out of their own allowances.

• Participate in any extracurricular activity they wanted, so long as I was never required to drive farther than 10 minutes to get them there, or to sit on a field in a folding chair in anything but the balmiest weather for any longer than 60 minutes.

• Quit said extracurricular activities, especially if their quitting coincided with league finals that might have demanded participation on my part exceeding the requirements stated above.

Guess which one I identify with more?

I find it odd that Chua discounts any participation in drama or the arts other than piano or violin.   It is a revealing look at her definition of ‘success’ that only strictly academic subjects and classical music are valued.   Valued above everything including friends and free will.     At some point in her article she states that you have to make kids work hard, because they never want to work and so will never get past the beginning stages of any worthy skill.    I of course disagree with this.  If that were true, Ben would never have learned to read.

Tonight Maya and I interviewed 4 more people for a bookkeeping position in our store.   One candidate was a Chinese girl recently moved to NYC from Boston, where she attended University.   She already had a degree from a college in Beijing.   Both degrees were in Business and Finance.   She was qualified as far as technical skills, but her people skills were not stellar and she was nervous because she needs to be hired by someone who can sponsor her for her papers.   I wonder if she enjoyed school, or her upbringing.   I wonder why she decided to stay in the U.S. where she has no family rather than travel back to China where her parents live.    If things are so great in China, where they have nothing but Chinese mothers and successful kids, then why is she here?

I’m sure Ms. Chua’s girls are very accomplished musicians and that they are proud of their accomplishments.   But is it what they really wanted?   I guess they would say yes, now.

So here’s my list of what my kids are allowed to do, in no particular order:

– Sleep as late as they want and stay up as late as they want

– Have playdates with friends, especially the homeschooled ones.  Plays are created, songs are sung, new games learned…it’s a feast of learning

– Sleep over at friends’ houses and try to stay up all night.   Or have the friends here for a sleepover and try to stay up all night (as long as they are in their own rooms)

– Go on the computer, watch TV (although they choose not to do much of that) and play the Wii.   As much as they want, unless the Golden Globe Awards, SAG Awards, BAFTA’s or Academy Awards are on.   Then the only option is the computer and only if it’s quiet.

Take classes of any kind, or not.   Lately it’s mostly not.   Except art which they both love and are doing well at.

– Never take a test or have to worry about a grade.

– Sew, woodburn, build, paint, dance, sing, sled, play, make up skits and videotape them, take night photos, draw on their walls, write stories, Skype friends, write penpals, read books, watch movies, take martial arts, attend interviews, bake, sell cookies  (you get the idea)

Whose kids will be more successful in life?   I don’t know, really.  Define success.  Will they be happy, doing something they love and chose?   That’s my hope.   And I’d put my kids up against Ms. Chua’s or Ms. Waldman’s in that regard any day.

One comment on “Chua, Waldman and Milstein

  1. These kids detested the piano but their parents wouldnt listen so they mutilated themselves as a desperate measure.Today I will write about why its bad to force your kids to play the piano over their continuous objections. Its premise is that people achieve maximum success and enjoyment by channeling their time into activities that they enjoy and excel at and minimize time spent on tasks they dislike or struggle with.As an example lets say an executive loves coming up with new product strategy and hates public speaking. They trust their gut and then learn from the outcome which hones those instincts.

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