Tiger Papa’s Wife Speaks

Unless you’ve been living in a cave (one without WiFi), you’ve probably caught some of the buzz about Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I first heard of the book over winter break, when I read a review in BookPage. This was only days after I’d lobbied my husband for a homework-free Christmas Day for our children.

“They need to learn discipline in the face of temptation,” he snarled. “Their future depends on how many points they get on tests.”

So my kids were up at six on Christmas morning, doing homework at my brother’s house in South Carolina under my husband’s supervision.

My kids have a lot of homework, and they spend a lot of time at school. The other mothers – the tiger mamas – ask for more homework, more after school classes. Last year I complained because my son rarely got a break, never got to play outside during recess because he was correcting his homework. Instead of taking up the complaint with me, my son’s teacher admonished him in front of his classmates, saying that he should attempt to be more like the hard-working, precise Japanese than the lackadaisical Americans. My son, thoroughly humiliated, ordered me to never complain to his teacher again. 

I kept my mouth shut, but that doesn’t mean I agree. I think that in order for creativity to develop, kids need unstructured time. I think that physical activity is as important as concentrated study. Also, kids need rest. And as I always say to my husband and kids, when I was in elementary school I never had any homework, and I turned out fine.

I took piano lessons for a while, but when I was ready to quit, my parents didn’t put up any fuss. Same goes for my guitar lessons and the string bass. In junior high school and high school, I did my homework and got good grades not for my parents, but for my own satisfaction. I got into the college of my choice, and so did my brother. And from an early age, I decided that I wanted to be a writer and get published, and I worked hard toward achieving my goal. Again, there was no one pushing me to be a published writer, but my parents have cheered me along every step of the way.

Although my husband, like my son’s teacher, may find me lackadaisical, I still have confidence in my low-key approach. I trust my son to find what interests him most, and to pursue it with passion. And when he does, I will support him in every way that I can.


10 thoughts on “Tiger Papa’s Wife Speaks

  1. totally agree. Not a fan of the homework for primary school kids thing Japan has going. I must say I am getting used to it and the first thing I ask my English kids after the holidays is how long it took them to get their homework finished. I think Christmas day is pushing it though. It ‘sucks’ that Japanese society ranks points so highly in things. I’m not looking forward to dealing with Japan and its education system – starting for me in a few years, when my eldest starts school two months before his SEVENTH birthday. Arrgghhh.

  2. I read the Chua essay with a mixture of horror and self-doubt (“are my kids lazy and spoiled n’er do wells?”); then I read another article, in which she responded, saying the WSJ just strung together the worst parts of her book, and that it’s really more about her own journey as a mother (and that she lightened up over time). I also just read a column in the NYT (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/16/opinion/16kristof.html) about how, though China and other countries with a Confucian educational model (as well as Finland), exceed the US in test scores, the Chinese (through polling, I guess) believe their ed system is too constrained and doesn’t allow for freedom and creativity. But the key in those countries (even if we don’t agree w/ their educational model) is that they, as nations, value education, which America increasingly does not.

  3. Andrea, I’ve heard the same. The review I read was much more balanced than the WSJ excerpt. I’ve actually ordered the book and am looking forward to reading it.

    I’m glad to live in a society that values education, and I concede that a certain amount of rote learning is unavoidable. How else can one learn kanji or the multiplication tables? But I don’t think that berating, belittling, and yelling at children for poor performance is the best way to obtain results.

    This year, my son has a kinder, gentler teacher who believes in recess, and my son’s grades have gone up. He’s also less stressed in general.

    And my son who started playing baseball two years ago BECAUSE HE HIMSELF WANTED TO, and was the worst player on his team, now has the best batting average among his teammates. That’s partly because his father worked with him on his form, forcing him to practice swinging before bed (and AFTER three hours of team practice). Since hitting his first home run, he has become very motivated. He gets up at 5AM on his own for Saturday morning games, and spends his own money to practice at a nearby batting range.

    • Of all the things I read about Japan, Suz, it’s your that fill me with absolute fury. Humiliating a child. It’s no joke. If it were me, I’d go out of my way to humiliate the teacher in the worst way I could possibly do so.

      Last year I complained because my son rarely got a break, never got to play outside during recess because he was correcting his homework. Instead of taking up the complaint with me, my son’s teacher admonished him in front of his classmates, saying that he should attempt to be more like the hard-working, precise Japanese than the lackadaisical Americans.

  4. The question I kept wondering while reading Chua’s piece (and all the blog posts/essays that followed), was whether these parents really have time to enjoy their kids. If one has to supervise constantly, how much laughing, tickling, crazy lego-building is going on? I couldn’t be a parent, if I didn’t have enough time to have a good time with my kids.

  5. You are absolutely right. Don’t give up. Support your child’s dream, not what the status quo demands. My son is 17 now, and attended Japanese schools until the 6th grade. But now he is exploring what he wants to do with his life, and my goal is to support that, not tell him what he should do.

  6. Although I definitely do not agree with most of the parenting methods referred to in the promotion of Chua’s book, I’m quite intrigued by the memoir and plan to read it as well.

    I must, however, respectfully disagree with Andrea’s (comment above) perception that Americans do not value education. Perhaps it’s the particular area I live in (in the U.S.), but the majority of the people in my community moved here BECAUSE of the strong education program available. (But we also believe in free time, playing sports for fun, and allowing time to just relax and hang out.) I also find it interesting that with so many countries supposedly scoring higher on tests, I wonder why the U.S. has nearly 700,000 foreign students annually attend college here—with 18% of that number made up of Chinese students.

  7. I’m with you. I hate homework. Its a drag for the parents and the kids. Kids need a certain amount of unscrutured free time, free also of computer games, DVDs and television just to develop their brains. I’m frightened that so few kids (and parents )allow themselves the luxury of unscheduled time. Good luck.

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