I Haven’t Read the Book
I’m fascinated by the reaction to Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, or more accurately, to the article about it in the Wall Street Journal. Commentary has popped up in every newspaper, many blogs, and all over my Facebook page. I’ve yet to talk to one person who actually read the book. Here’s a mother, whose second child apparently schooled her on her parenting techniques, who touched a nerve. Why does anyone care what she thinks?
Let me disclose from the beginning, I haven’t read the book, nor will I. This doesn’t have anything to do with Chua. I’ve read shelves of parenting books and mommy memoirs and I really don’t think I could stomach another one. The last parenting talk I attended the speaker flippantly asked “why are you here? You’d be better off spending the time with your kids.” I took him at his word. Rather than reading various conflicting parenting techniques (don’t be a helicopter parent vs. make your kids practice the piano for three hours a day) either in memoir or how-to form, I spend the time with my kids. It’s not that I think the books are wrong or useless, but at some point every parent has to decide the best method for her family and then, well, parent.
Racism as Marketing
I surmise that the reaction is less about the book (if you have actually read it, let me know what you think) and more about the WSJ article. Chua sets up a comparison of her parenting and other approaches in such a way that her model brings forth better results. Of course, she also set the standard for what is best. Apparently, obtaining straight As the most important criteria in her family. From the article, it seems that what her children do is valued far more than who they are. The flood of commentary seems to buy into her paradigm and focus on ‘why other/my parenting is good.’ As if there is a need for justification. As I’ve told my kids after a bad encounter on the playground, just because she said it, doesn’t mean it’s true.
Of course, I left out one important fact, she labeled her technique as Chinese and the other ‘failing’ approaches as Western. She is Chinese and she didn’t invent the label, but the choice of terminology is deliberate. I really question whether the reaction is about what she said or the fact that she labeled it as a ‘Chinese method.’ Would we care if this was written by a white, farm-girl from Indiana? Or an immigrant from Chile? I tend to doubt it. I think the reaction says something about her and us and race.
We have a long history of race issues with the Chinese. They built much of the transcontinental railway in the 19th century, but were largely unwelcome in society. Many Americans reacted to the 2008 Olympic opening ceremonies with stunned awe mixed with a tinge of fear. Now “China” is a sword used by both of the political parties to sway voters. Remember those commercials depicting China as the next super power on election night? That was the Republican attempt to scare us into supporting their policies. Listen to Obama’s State of the Union last night with the comparisons to China? His political subtext was ‘right back at ya’ to the Republicans. As a nation, we’ve always struggled with the fear of ‘the other,’ now the prime ‘other’ is China.
It’s inconceivable to me that Chua didn’t know she was picking at this nerve to stir up discussion about her book. Then again, if she’s spent endless hours drilling her kids, sitting next to them at the piano, and driving them to lessons, all without an afternoon off because they can’t visit a friend, maybe she’s clueless about the world. But I doubt it. Chua didn’t cause our problem with race, it is the responsibility of the entire American society past and present, but she did chose to market her book in a way that would stir this pot. I’m all for exposing and discussing our race issues, pretending they don’t exist or hiding them (imagine my thoughts on the new Huck Finn edition) only strengthens one of the worst aspects of our country. But it angers me that she used it to promote her book.
I couldn’t care less how she raises her kids or that she thinks her method is better; I do care that she marketed her book through her article in the WSJ in a racially sensational manner. But then again, I wasn’t going to read it anyway.