Friday, December 16, 2011

Enough of tiger moms and wolf dads

Amy Chua gained some serious attention when The Wall Street Journal ran her story Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.Yong Zhao wrote a brilliant critique of Chua's take on Chinese parenting, and now so has Berlin Fang. This was written by Berlin Fang and appeared on here:

By Berlin Fang

Thomas Friedman wrote in his column, "How about better parents?" (The New York Times, Nov19), that parent involvement is key to student success.

Fed up with the status quo of American education, and desperate for an alternative model,some readers peppered the word "Asian" throughout the comments section for Friedman'sarticle. One reader wrote: " the question among the coaches was the usual, why were so many of our top students are Asian. I asked when was the last time they had an Asian parentcomplain about too much homework."

This statement, however, proves nothing except the theory of relativity in human opinions.Asian parents in the United States rarely complain about children's homework because it is apicnic compared to what we had to go through in our younger days in our home country. But inAsian countries, like any other, complaints abound. In China, I constantly hear parentscomplain that their children cannot go to bed till 11 pm because they have too manyassignments.

Active involvement of Chinese parents is at best a myth, and the myth is running wild in themedia. After discussions on the "Tiger Mom" (Yale Professor Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymnsof the Tiger Mom), the Chinese media recently brought to light a certain "wolf dad", Hong Kong-based businessman Xiao Baiyou, who used chicken feather dusters to spank three of hischildren into Peking University, one of China's top institutions of higher learning.

First tigers and now wolves, I suppose we'll get the entire animal kingdom covered pretty soon.Such reports of Spartan parenting instill fear among Western parents and complacency amongtheir Chinese counterparts, none of which is healthy or justifiable.

Generally speaking, Chinese parents lag far behind their American peers in participating in theeducation of their children. In the Chinese countryside, many parents leave home to earn aliving as migrant workers. Their children thus live with grandparents, who often have little or noeducation. Pre-school is either unavailable or expensive. Many such children, often called "left-behind children", grow up without either proper parenting or school education.

Though children in middle class families live with parents, real involvement is far from desirable.Many Chinese families in towns and cities are dual-income families, some by necessity, othersby choice. Some American moms quit their jobs after childbirth to take care of their children.Chinese moms often quit their children to take care of their jobs. While parents are busy withtheir jobs or careers, many children are brought up to a large extent by grandparents, or"outsourced" to private tutors or even nannies.

In either situation, a predominantly materialistic worldview drives parents to spend their timeand energy making money to "guarantee" their children's future. Most spend money generouslyon children's education, buying them good things and sending them to private classes. Moneycan buy some relief from the guilt of staying on the margins of their children's development, butchildren do not get what they really need from parents: their time, for instance.

Friedman quotes a report by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) thatparent-child reading time correlates to student achievement in PISA tests. When was the lasttime you saw a Chinese parent returning with bags of entertainment reading from libraries orbookstores as American parents do? How often does a Chinese parent actually read a booktogether with his/her child?

Many parents even forbid their children from reading "useless" books such as novels, fairytales or poems for fear that such reading will distract students from preparing for exams.

The wrong focus on exams frees parents from participating in their children's education. Apartfrom not reading, parents don't work with children on school projects, because much ofhomework is exam-related which children are supposed to work on individually.

Parents' role is thus reduced to that of an alarm clock - to prompt children to do this or that atcertain hours of the day. No wonder, nannies can do substitute parenting. Fortunately, even analarm clock has its virtues. Chinese parents do a fairly good job of ensuring their childrenspend adequate time studying. Such increased time on educational tasks partially explains whythey excel in international benchmarking tests.

That being said, involvement can be deeper and richer in a child's path of growth. Chineseparents should spend more time with their children, rather than keeping time for them like aclock. Parents should work with children as a developing person, not just a test-taker. Parentsought to meet the kinetic, artistic, mental, social, psychological and spiritual needs of theirchildren.

Remember that children are human beings in stages of development. So why not forget abouttiger moms and wolf dads, and focus on being human parents instead?

The author is a US-based instructional designer, literary translator and columnist writing oncross-cultural issues.


You can read more about more here:

And you thought the Tiger Mother was Tough

A Memoir Of A Tiger Mother's Quest for Perfection

I have written a number of posts on rethinking discipline that act as sharp critiques of the Tiger Moms and Wolf Dads in this world.

I also suggest you read Alfie Kohn's book Unconditional Parenting.


  1. Get with the program!

    In 2012, good parents will need brand their children with hot cattle prods.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. 2012 Headline...

    "Charter School Advocates Call for Filicide in Order to Raise Test Scores"


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