Jason OuMay 29th, 2012Mrs. RothbardAP English 3 Raised in a Chinese household, I often experienced my parents’ wrath. Their demands forhigh grades and maturity often seemed ridiculous to me. My friends and classmates were neverforced to study or do worksheets for grades three years ahead; they were too busy having sleep-overs! But as I aged, I came to a realization. My parents did not treat me harshly for no reason;they treated me harshly because they believed in me. Issues that have sprung up more and more in past years are the decline of America’s edu-cation system and the question of how to raise a child. A simple answer to both, as popularizedby Amy Chua in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, is the introduction of “Chinese” methods ofparenting. The term “Chinese parenting” is an umbrella term that refers to stricter forms of par-enting in which children are supposed to act stereotypically Chinese by achieving academic suc-cess, playing classical instruments, and respecting their parents (Chua 4). In a more extremecase, Amy Chua does not allow her children to have play dates, watch TV, or earn grades lessthan perfect. Compared to these “Tigers,” most American parents are best described as “Chop-pers,” hovering over their children ready to remove even the slightest obstacle (Gibbs). WhileAmerican parents slather praise on their kids for the lowest of tasks, “Chinese” parents reservepraise for excellence (Chua 8). Analysis of Chua’s own experiences and other research clearlyshows that “Chinese” parenting can result in academically successful children who can competein an increasingly modernized and connected world; it can also result in emotionally stable andrespectful children who are willing to “give their best.”
It is no surprise that American education rankings have fallen in recent years. Researchby OECD, or the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, shows that the USranks 17th worldwide in terms of math, reading, and science, a long drop from its previous rankof first (Comparing Countries’ and Economies’). It is also no surprise that Asian-American stu-dents often outperform their peers in academics. CollegeBoard reports that the the average SATscore for Asian students is 1623, compared to the national average of 1509, a 7.5% disparity(Marklein). According to Chua, differences in parenting style explain this substantial gap. She writesthat “Chinese parents spend approximately ten times as long every day drilling academic activi-ties with their children,” suggesting that Chinese parents simply care more about their offsprings’education (Chua 5). In a study done by Ruth K. Chao for Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology,almost 70% of Western mothers feel that academic success is not good for children, compared tonone of the Chinese mothers, whose brains have long been ingrained with the idea that educationis critical to one’s success (Chao). This idea has deep roots in chinese society, where advance-ment is often solely merit based (Ou). The resulting difference in achievement is not one to scoffat. If American students are to compete for jobs in a flagging world economy, parents musttake up the slack. Although Chua’s extremist style seems foreign and harmful at first, the resultscannot be challenged; to catch up to the rest of the world, American parents must become morelike their Chinese counterparts to foster academic success. In China, the phrase “rén shàng rén,”or “people above people” is often repeated (Luo). This idea of striving to become better than oth-ers is implanted in Chinese students by their parents from a young age. Chua writes that unlikemost American parents, Chinese parents “believe their children can be ‘the best’ students” (Chua
5). Her mantra of strict discipline and “schoolwork always comes first” is a common maxim inChinese households, where it commonly fosters a strong environment that places schoolworkabove all else (5). Normally indulgent western parents will be shocked to learn that this stricterstyle can include not allowing children to “watch TV or play computer games” or “get any gradeless than an A (3).” According to Chua, “Chinese parents can order their kids to get straight A’s.Western parents can only ask their kids to try their best” (51). At first glance, her extremely strictparenting style may be revolting to most parents; however, the incorporation of some aspects ofChua’s style would benefit American children. This strict and disciplined learning environment allows parents to emphasize rote learn-ing and memorization as key methods of learning. Through practice and hard work, rote learningallows students to quickly build the basic skills needed for later critical thinking. Chinese stu-dents are often goal oriented in this way: one drills arithmetic early to have a head start in a fu-ture engineering career (Ou). On this Chua writes, “Tenacious practice, practice, practice is cru-cial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America” (Chua 29). American educators of-ten deride the Chinese “rote” brute force method of learning, looking down upon memorizationin favor of an educational system based on intuition and exploratory learning (Stevenson andStigler 22). Having said that, international test scores prove that Chinese students consistentlyscore higher on mathematics, reading, and writing(. Although drilling and memorization may beboring, American students and parents must learn to appreciate rote learning as a supplement tointeractive learning. When it comes to subjects such as mathematics and science, Chua’s assertion that “[Chi-nese] children must be two years ahead of their classmates” should ring true for American stu-dents as well. Regarding the state of math and science education in middle schools, Bill
Schmidt, Education Policy Director at Michigan State University, says, “In [other] countries,they study algebra, geometry, physics, and chemistry. In this country, our kids, most of them atleast, are still studying basic arithmetic and they’re doing very elementary, descriptive science: Icall it ‘rocks and body parts’” (Schmidt). For example, while Chinese students learn Pascal’s Tri-angle and the binomial theorem in 8th grade, American students often delay this piece of precal-culus until their junior or senior year in high school. Schmidt’s comments herald an unfortunatetruth: American students are woefully behind students in other countries, particularly Asiancountries (Comparing Countries’ and Economies’). Fortunately, Chua has an answer for this problem, as well as an answer for the boredomof rote learning. She calls it the Virtuous Circle (Chua 29). The “Virtuous Circle” is based off ofthe idea that no child likes doing something he is bad at. The theory is that once a child starts toexcel, he will get praise for his hard work and effort. In turn, he builds confidence and begins toenjoy the “once not-fun activity (29).” And, as part of the Virtuous Circle, when Chinese kids doexcel, Chinese parents will always praise their children (29). In this way, Chua’s Virtuous Circleworks to remove some of the suffering from rote learning and provides an incentive on its own. However, the Virtuous Circle requires both parents and students to participate. Americanparents must embrace aspects of Chinese parenting and stop praising their children for littlethings. Although western parents will be hesitant to switch from a looser, praising style of parent-ing, the “diligent, disciplined, and confidence-expanding Chinese way” has been proven timeand time again to produce better students that are better prepared for the real world (Chua 8).Contrary to popular belief, praising children can do “more harm than good (Murphy and Allen).”Studies have shown that continually showering children with praise can actually make them doworse. For example, research at NYC schools shows that telling kids that they’re “smart” all the
time “makes them anxious and causes them to underperform (Witchalls).” Instead of plasteringchildren with praise, American parents should applaud their children for true excellence to estab-lish the Virtuous Circle. So how do “Chinese” parents get away with treating their children strictly and with whatborders upon abuse? Chua’s answer to this is that Chinese children behave differently becausethey are treated differently (Chua 52). Chinese parents view children as tough and able to takeabuse; American parents view them as precious, to be raised under glass (Gibbs). The main dif-ference in parenting styles is that while western parents are concerned with their children’s psy-ches, “Chinese” parents aren’t. More simply, “they assume strength not fragility” (Chua 52). Theend result of this harsh treatment is the formation of a thick skin. For example, “Chinese” moth-ers can say to their daughters, “Hey fatty--lose some weight.” On the other hand, Western par-ents often have to “tiptoe” around issues, talking in euphemisms upon euphemisms. (51). West-ern parents may sit their child down and express disapproval, but “they will be careful not tomake their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child ‘stupid’ or ‘worth-less’” (52). Conversely, “Chinese” parents believe that children are strong enough to “take theshaming” and learn from the experience. Perhaps demonstrating their thick skin, when lookingback, children raised in this harsh “Chinese” way rarely look back with anger or regret. While“acknowledging how oppressively strict and brutally demanding their parents were,” Chinesechildren often describe themselves as “devoted to their parents and unbelievable grateful to them,seemingly without a trace of bitterness of resentment” (101). In a world of “eating disorders andnegative self image[s],” the emotional stability of “Chinese” students is a much needed trait formost American students (51).
But perhaps the most important reason that Chinese parents treat harshly is that theyknow what is best for their children and “therefore override all of their children’s own desiresand preferences” (53). Chinese parents understand that education is critical to one’s success andare willing to sacrifice some of their children’s short-term happiness for future success (Ou). Forexample, Chua writes, “That’s why Chinese daughters can’t have boyfriends in high school andwhy Chinese kids can’t go to sleep away camp” —because they are too busy studying (Chua 53)!Because of this long term mentality, a Chinese education simply does not tolerate “goodenough.” Children are not praised for getting “B’s” because the aim is to be the very best, notthe second best. Coming from a country with limited jobs and resources with a population of 1.4billion, Chinese parents have long understood that only the best can enjoy a good lifestyle;American parents must also take this lesson to heart. So, from fostering academic success, to raising happy and emotionally stable children, itis clear that “Chinese” parenting has great strengths that should be incorporated into Americanparenting. My own “tiger mom” often told me this: “Wàng zǐ chéng lóng. Wàng nǚ chéng féng”(Luo). This translates to “Wish your sons to be dragons and wish your daughters to be phoenix-es.” Comparing her son to the “King of the Jungle” of Chinese mythology reveals the high hopesand true love of the Chinese parent. Westerners often think that Chinese parents don’t care abouttheir children, but the truth is just the opposite: they would give up -anything- for their childrento reach their fullest potential.
Works CitedBlack, Nelli, and Alicia Stewart. “How the U.S. Lags in Math, Science Education, and How it Can Catch Up.” CNN U.S. Cable News Network, 12 May 2011. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://articles.cnn.com/2011-05-12/us/education.schmidt_1_science-education-interna- tional-tests-mathematics?_s=PM:US>.Chua, Amy. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York City: Penguin Group, 2011. Print.
Comparing Countries’ and Economies’ Performance. 2009. Programme for International Student Assessment. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2010. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/34/60/46619703.pdf>.Gibbs, Nancy. “Roaring Tigers, Anxious Choppers.” Time Magazine World. Time, 29 Jan. 2011. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2043430,00.html>.Luo, Min. Personal interview. 31 May 2012.Marklein, Marry Beth. “SAT Scores Show Disparities by Race, Gender, Family Income.” USA Today. Gannet Co. Inc., 26 Aug. 2009. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2009-08-25-SAT-scores_N.htm>.Murphy, Ann Pleshette, and Jennifer Allen. “Why Praise Can Be Bad for Kids.” Good Morning America. American Broadcasting Company, 15 Feb. 2007. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/AmericanFamily/story? id=2877896&page=1#.T8gf2u0k9t9>.Ou, Ben. Personal interview. 30 May 2012.Shepherd, Jessica. “World Education Rankings: Which Country Does Best at Reading, Maths, and Science?” The Guardian. N.p., 10 Dec. 2010. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://www.- guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/dec/07/world-education-rankings-maths-science- reading>.Stevenson, Harold W., and James W. Stigler. The Learning Gap: Why Our Schools Are Failing and What We Can Learn from Japanese and Chinese Education. New York: Simon, 1992. Google Book Search. Web. 31 May 2012. <http://books.google.com/books?
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