Amy Chua’s recent Tiger Mom article in the Wall Street Journal has received so much press from Time Magazine to Facebook, that probably my thoughts are the last thing needed. (For those few who might have missed it, here is the link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704111504576059713528698754.html Given, however, that the piece deals with parenting, education, expectations, the strictness with which one raises children, and national preparedness for competition on the global stage – it shouldn’t surprise anyone that I can’t resist adding one more voice to the fray.
I am something of a Tiger Mom too, although to a lesser extent than Professor Chua. My boys attend an International School, which encompasses a vast cultural range of parenting philosophies. One of my dear friends is Chinese; her daughter competes in the same class as my son. Their competitiveness has served both well – driving each to greater achievement.
Chua’s article hits a particular relevant note as this past weekend our school held an Arts Festival/Talent Show. My friend’s multi-talented daughter sang a lovely dramatic duet with a beautifully trained voice and then she played the electronic violin with considerable mastery. Between her many talents and her academic excellence, she would make any parent proud.
And there were many proud parents present. The festival showcased real talent and I was amazed at the performers’ poise and abilities. I must admit that for me school shows are one of the great ‘highs’ of parenting. Put me in any venue (classroom, gym, assembly hall) and put my kid on a stage in front of me and I just about melt into my seat. I hold the video camera in one hand and the photo camera in the other. This makes it difficult to applaud so I am the one shouting ‘Bravo’ and stomping my feet after each act. My husband refuses to sit with me or even be in the same row.
The students who performed this weekend merited the considerable applause they received. Their talent was trained and honed. I couldn’t help but think that there must be at least a few Tiger Moms in Monaco – chasing behind their kids and roaring “practice!”
Participation in this year’s show was won by audition and only the deserving got in. This is how it should be, as opposed to another show held a few years back. Then, every child who played an instrument was allowed to strut their stuff. No need to audition and as quickly became evident; most assumed there was no need to practice either. They just got up and played – pretty darn abysmally. To make matters worse it was an end-of-year show on a stifling hot day in June. The audiences’ programs were flapping so hard that you could barely hear the performances, which, I assure you, was a good thing.
In addition to the fact that it was painful (except of course, for my kids!) it was useless. One would hope that the purpose of school shows is not only to please parents, but also to prepare our children to perform on the larger global stage. Was permitting them to play below par doing them the slightest favor? Were we not simply setting them up for greater humiliation down the line? Amy Chua would have a heart attack!
Life seldom rewards anyone merely for showing up. I am therefore 100 percent opposed to medals being given out only for participation. The medal is absolutely meaningless – and the kids know it. One of my sons used to come in dead last in his ski race year after year. Of course he was upset about it. The medal they gave him went into the bin. But when he finally won first place, he had to have been the happiest kid who ever climbed the podium!
Much to Ms. Chua’s perspective, hard earned achievement feels great. I completely agree when she says that accomplishment begets success. The talented rise to the top via selection, it is just the way the world works. Not everyone who applies gets the job, not everyone who races come in first, not everyone plays at Carnegie Hall.
With all the criticism (and even threats) Amy Chua has received since her article and now best-selling book published, I haven’t heard a single voice question the love she has for her daughters. She wants what she believes best for them, as do all parents. The question she poses is how to get there. And painful though it might have been for her 7 year old to sit at the piano for hours at a time, somehow I don’t think it was any picnic for the mother sitting beside her. I know, because sitting with my three boys as they play their scales the most I can stand is about 20 minutes.