Sunday, January 9, 2011

Strict Chinese Style Upbringing: Good or Bad?

Amy Chua recently published a book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, about bringing her half Chinese, half Jewish children in a more traditional Chinese American style.  An excerpt can be found in the Wall Street Journal

People are already criticizing the article, saying that it is abusive.  I do agree, but only to a certain extent. I also find it very strange that an American-raised woman would want to raise her kids the "old fashioned way."  Immigrant Asian parents did that for a reason - they wanted their kids to be successful.  Most who came here were from lower income families with NOTHING and now that they're middle class, want their children to be middle class.  They raise their kids with classical music (and for those who want their kids in sports, tennis, swimming and now, golf) because that's what wealthy people (whether it be locals or colonists) did.  They want their kids to major in subjects that will lead to successful careers because they want them to have a stable life.  A B.A. in English, especially these days won't lead to that, considering that many print publications are downsizing or folding.  In any case, a lot of magazines want people with JOURNALISM DEGREES (soooooo WTF, IMHO).  Having these things is a symbol of success.  It's not really that different from newly middle class families in Europe back some 200 years ago.  Anyone who doesn't truly get that needs to read a little more (I'm looking at you, Jezebel commenters!).

I do think that classical music can give a child some discipline, and perhaps allow them to better-understand the music they listen to on the radio.  I started piano when I was four years old and continued in a serious manner for the next decade and a bit.  I also took singing.  I found that my piano background helped me a great deal in understanding what I sang.  Unlike many others, I was able to read the music and have a basic understanding of the melody without needing the teacher to play it out. 

As for sports, it was important in my circle as well.  Before junior high, team sports were kind of rare, however.  Instead, most kids I knew grew up taking swimming and/or tennis lessons and perhaps some gymnastics or skating.  None played hockey.  In fact, more "dangerous" sports, ones with higher concussion rates just aren't part of Asian culture.  Asian parents seemed to prefer sports that could be played well into old age (and also sports that one might find at a country club) and I kind of understand that.

What I DON'T get are the rules of not being allowed to, say, audition for a play or go to a friend's house for a playdate.  Isn't theatre supposed to be sophisticated?  I realize that in some cultures, the theatre is connected with certain types of illicit behaviour, but still, shouldn't a parent be proud of a child who won the role of Mark Antony in Julius Caesar?  I mean, he DOES give one of the most famous speeches in any Shakespearean play.  And considering how many Asian parents actually DO consider theatre as "high art" and take often spend the money taking their kids to plays (over stadium style concerts).  Isn't it ironic that this is bad, while having a violin solo in a concert is good?  As for going to friends' homes, one needs to hang out with other people outside of school.  It's called having a social life and good interaction.  It's healthy to have friends.

I think there are good and bad things in many cultures.  Asian (well, Chinese, anyway) parents might raise more sophisticated kids in terms of music and art, while non-Chinese parents might have kids who're more familiar with playing team sports and kids who're um...better with "people."  Ideally, you'd want someone who could be both.  I actually think you'd have better politicians that way - one who can be both sophisticated and influential with people.  Especially considering how unpolished the current mayor of Toronto is.  ICK.

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