January 12, 2011

“Tiger mother”: Chinese-style parenting

Filed under: China, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:38

If you think typical western parenting styles have not served children well, you might be interested in Amy Chua’s new book:

The Tiger, Chua explains, is “the living symbol of strength and power”, inspiring fear and respect. And as a “Tiger mother” herself, she assumed the absolute right to dictate her children’s activities and demand rigorous academic standards of them at all times, ridiculing them if necessary to spur them on to greater efforts.

Her children were never allowed to attend a sleepover, have a playdate, watch TV or choose their own extracurricular activities. They were also expected to be top in every subject (except gym and drama) and never get anything other than A-grades — because, Chua explains, Chinese parents believe it is their responsibility to ensure their children’s academic achievement above everything else.

Chua argues that western parents. with their emphasis on nurturing their children’s self-esteem and allowing free expression, have set their children up to accept mediocrity. “Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently,” she says. If their child doesn’t achieve perfect exam results, the Chinese parent assumes it’s because he or she didn’t work hard enough. “That’s why the solution to substandard performance is always to excoriate, punish and shame the child,” Chua says. And it is crucial for a mother to have the “fortitude” to override her children’s preferences, because to enjoy anything you have to be good at it, to be good at it you have to work, and children on their own never wish to work, she adds.

Update: Barbara Kay disagrees with Chua about the need to oppress your children to get them to excel:

This article and the book will spark furious discussion in the media. Coincidentally, in today’s Post, Dan Gardner’s column, “From Haiti to Harvard, culture matters,” bolsters the idea that culture is the single greatest predictor for academic success, and it is well worth reading in tandem with “Why Chinese mothers are superior.” He is right, of course, even though political correctness forbids us to say so, and even though Ms Chua’s extreme methods are unnecessary, as the Jewish experience — high expectations, high sensitivity to children’s psychic needs — proves.

It’s too bad Ms Chua’s extremism will become the focus of interest. The larger issue is worthy of respectful attention. As Gardner notes, the reason Asian students are so wildly disproportionately represented in universities (3% of the population, about 25% on campus) is because they came from homes in which “Chinese mothers” ruled the roost. It isn’t racism to say so.

Update, 23 January: Lawrence Solomon thinks the threat of “Tiger Mothers” is overstated:

The statistics seem to bear her out — Asians disproportionately make it to elite schools in the West — they represent 5% of the U.S. population but 20% of the student body at Ivy League schools, for example. No one can but marvel at the uniformly successful students turned out by the “tenacious practice, practice, practice” and “rote repetition” that she considers “crucial for excellence.”

But such statistics don’t tell the whole story. In truth, Chinese Mothers fare poorly in achieving excellence compared with western mothers, even western mothers burdened by political correctness.

[. . .]

Practice and rote learning have their limits. While imposing single-minded discipline on children will dramatically raise test scores and technical proficiency, and for most children may represent the best strategy for accomplishment and satisfaction, it can come at the cost of curbing the creativity necessary for true excellence. Chinese Mothers make great moms, as evidenced by the unusual cohesiveness of the Chinese family: Chinese kids clearly understand whatever berating they absorb as the tough love intended. Chua is justified in saying western parents are doing their underperforming kids no favours in failing to confront them.

But Western parents retain the edge in producing the next generation of creators — those whose breakthroughs will cure cancer or supplant the Internet. Here, too, Chua may be pointing to the right balance in her personal life, by choosing as her husband and father of her children someone who is anything but single-minded. Jed Rubenfeld, an American Jew determined to avoid a career in academia, waffled as a student, starting with philosophy and psychology at Princeton, switching to acting at Julliard, then moving to law at Harvard before accepting an academic position at Yale, where he is now professor and assistant dean of law.

Update, 2 February: Bryan Caplan (who has an upcoming book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids) addresses the downside of the Tiger Mother approach:

No wonder Chua confesses that, “For the first few weeks after Lulu’s decision [to radically reduce her musical practice time], I wandered around the house like person who’d lost their mission, their reason for living.” If I’d lived through thousands of hours of drudgery and cruelty for nothing, I’d be despondent, too.

But hasn’t all the musical practice indelibly shaped Chua’s children’s characters? Highly unlikely. Behavioral genetics finds roughly zero effect of parents on personality. And contrary to teachers’ fantasies about changing their students’ lives, learning is highly specific. Practicing X makes you better at X — and little else. Furthermore, the effects of environmental intervention erode over time — that’s fade-out for you. Chua seems to know this on some level: She favorably quotes a music teacher who says that, “Every day you don’t practice is a day that you’re getting worse.”

But all social science aside, Chua’s own life history raises severe doubts about the character-shaping power of mastering an instrument. Yes, she practiced piano as a child, but not to excellence. And what became of her? She became a Yale professor and best-selling author anyway!

In the most insightful passage in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, cost-benefit analysis finally makes an appearance:

Why torture yourself and your child? What’s the point? If your child doesn’t like something — hates it — what good is forcing her to do it?

But Chua immediately represses her thought crime: “As a Chinese mother I could never give in to that way of thinking.” My response: You can and should give in, because this way of thinking is true. Cost-benefit analysis is not a Western prejudice. “Give up when the costs exceed the benefits” is one of the universally-valid maxims that allows millions of Chinese businesses to survive and thrive. Why shouldn’t Chinese mothers use it too?

How urban planning may have contributed to the Toowoomba flood damage

Filed under: Australia, Environment — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:07

Heather Brown goes back into flood-ravaged Toowoomba:

Early yesterday morning I went back to the bruised and battered Margaret Street to support any local business that still had the heart to open. My coffee shop was handing out free coffees to the battered owners of the local businesses who had lost so much. When I went to buy my newspaper, the newsagent told me he was devastated, not because of what had happened but because the engineer who had worked on the beautification project told him he couldn’t make them listen when he pleaded for bigger pipes — “18-footers” he called them — to let the water through, because it simply didn’t suit the aesthetics of the architects and landscapers.

So that’s what happened to my city, folks, the same as happened to so much of flooded Queensland. We did stupid and really, really dumb things because we thought we could get away with them. We built the wrong sort of houses and the wrong sort of bridges. We built towns and suburbs on flood plains. And we ignored at our peril the forces of nature and the history of the great floods that have shaped this continent for thousands of years.

In our arrogance, we created towns and cities better suited to the whims of bean-counters and city-bound architects than the natural lie of the land. And for 20 years we cheerfully welcomed new settlers to Queensland with a “beautiful one day, perfect the next”.

We didn’t tell them what this place was really like when it rained. And we were wrong.

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

Fancy a bit of online skywatching?

Filed under: Science, Space — Tags: — Nicholas @ 09:08

Here’s the home page of the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Another eco-panic? Must be Wednesday, then.

Filed under: Britain, Environment, Government, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:27

James Delingpole falls for the latest cry of ecological doom:

The Zoological Society of London has drawn up a hit list of the 10 attractive coral species most likely to die quite soon. Well, of course it has. Nothing suits the ZSL’s spirit of misanthropy and catastrophism better than another mournful litany of all the species loss which is bound to occur as a result of mankind’s ongoing crime of having the temerity to exist.

Look: those of us on the other side of the argument like corals too. The difference is, we see them as something to celebrate and enjoy rather than things to be regarded solely through a prism of guilt, self-hatred and apocalyptic despair. Naturalists never used to talk this way. Until the Nazis — and, before them, the German romantics — started poisoning the wells, nature was something we could all happily appreciate without being made to feel by yet another eco-fascist that we were personally going to be the cause of its imminent demise.

If the ZSL wants to make a list of pretty corals, why can’t it just distribute it with facts about their habitats and their formation, maybe with lots of nice shiny pictures for us all to wonder at? Why must they lace their message with doom and misanthropy?

I suppose their excuse will be that these corals ARE endangered and that something must be done by YESTERDAY at the latest. But is this another of those overblown eco-panics in the manner of the floating island of plastic bags twice the size of Texas which in fact turned out to be 1/100th the size of Texas?

It’s an unfortunate fact that in order to get media attention to their cause du jour, the situation not only has to be defined as simply as possible, it also has to be positioned in such a way that the media want to get the message out. The easiest way to accomplish this is to go apocalyptic: doom, Doom, DOOM!

Armenian discovery may be earliest winery

Filed under: History, Wine — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:47

A recent find in Armenia shows evidence of grape pressing, vine cuttings, and fermentation vessels. It may be the earliest winery ever discovered:

While older evidence of wine drinking has been found, this is the earliest example of complete wine production, according to Gregory Areshian of the University of California, Los Angeles, co-director of the excavation.

The findings, announced Tuesday by the National Geographic Society, are published in the online edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“The evidence argues convincingly for a wine-making facility,” said Patrick McGovern, scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum in Philadelphia, who was not part of the research team.

I don’t know how far back it goes, but the evidence at this site shows that even 6,000 years ago, Vitis vinifera vinifera was the best choice to turn into wine.

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