Saturday, January 08, 2011

Mother Superior jumped the gun

Wow. Huge article in today's WSJ by Yale Law professor Amy Chua (of World on Fire "fame") called, "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior". Should have been titled "I am a raging, abusive, racist, a-hole".

It's terrific to read the whole thing. You think it can't get any worse and then it does.

Here's a lovely vignette involving her masochistic husband, Jed and daughter Lulu, that followed Lulu's inability to play a certain piece of music on the piano:

Jed took me aside. He told me to stop insulting Lulu—which I wasn't even doing, I was just motivating her—and that he didn't think threatening Lulu was helpful. Also, he said, maybe Lulu really just couldn't do the technique—perhaps she didn't have the coordination yet—had I considered that possibility?

"You just don't believe in her," I accused.

"That's ridiculous," Jed said scornfully. "Of course I do."

"Sophia could play the piece when she was this age."

"But Lulu and Sophia are different people," Jed pointed out.

"Oh no, not this," I said, rolling my eyes. "Everyone is special in their special own way," I mimicked sarcastically. "Even losers are special in their own special way. Well don't worry, you don't have to lift a finger. I'm willing to put in as long as it takes, and I'm happy to be the one hated. And you can be the one they adore because you make them pancakes and take them to Yankees games."

I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn't let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom.

Holy Crap!


zimaroll said...

I kept waiting for it to be easily identified as satire...but the moment never came. That b**ch be whacked.
I have absolutely no evidence for this, and all I can do is cross my fingers, bite my lip , and believe that her method would churn out 1 million kids who could play The Little Donkey, but zero who could compose it. I hope I'm right that the 'western' way leads to inspiration, regardless of perspiration.

Max said...

It will not, because probably the road to success is neither the one nor the other. At least, when ever I saw gifted people they did a lot of basic learning until they got the basics right, but they also did a lot of creative work that wasn't bound to a schedule or anything. So, it is always the two in tandem: Training of the basics and then the use of creative divergence. Those two will get you a person that excells and probably might be a genius in his/her specific field of interest.

How badly the chinese method fares can be observed when you give them some test where the standard repetitive answers are not enough. We did this in a thermodynamics test, where we used an old exam and just changed some numbers. We got a lot of people just pasting the old texts because they thought it is the same (we only changed a boundary condition from plus to minus and thus the solution only changed in sign).

So, there are limits to just memorizing things and once you reach them you have to use those, as she calls them, "inferior" western techniques of creative abstraction.

John Covil said...

Yeah, clearly there's a balance to be found between the two extremes she identifies as "Western" and "Chinese."

Anonymous said...

"A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies"

Selection bias?

And then I looked at her list of things her kids couldn't do and it reminded me of a lot of some kids I knew in High School. They were model children around adults and then they got to college... I hated those guys, they would wake you up at 9am on a Saturday and shove a bottle of rum into your hands, gotta get ready for the football game at 2:00!

It might be an interesting phenomenon to study. My guess is that better results after education are more likely correlated with their parents' finding them the right jobs than the kids' grades in school.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting that these great Asian parents need to emigrate to the West in order to raise their children with such discipline.

Since China has hundreds of millions of these Asian mothers, I would expect that all of the Chinese children in China are also getting all A's, playing piano and violin expertly, not watching any television, etc.

John Covil said...

When you think about it, it probably wouldn't take too many generations in an authoritarian society to produce this kind of parenting mindset. Being the most technically correct at something is the only way to stand apart in a country like that, if my biased understanding of countries like that, informed by vague memories of chess heroes and Ivan Drago, is accurate.

chofland said...

Two words, bitch: "Amy. Tan."