I enjoyed reading this article which explains how the “Chinese mother” is a superior parent to the modern Western mother, but I didn’t know what to think about it. James Fallows says (jokingly) that commentary on the article is bringing the internet to its knees, but for some reason I haven’t run across any of it.
Fallows suggests that Amy Chua has actually written a Swiftian satire, and I tend to agree with that. Taken that way, she does a masterful job of tweaking the noses of people who vaguely envy the stereotypical successes of Asian children—while still reveling in those successes, which is the part that amazes the writer in me.
But I’m curious about one thing: why are we envious of the specific accomplishments she parades past us? For example, she brags about how her children were not allowed to play any instrument other than piano or violin, and not allowed not to play piano or violin. Is excellence on piano or violin (presumably playing classical music) a hallmark of a properly educated child? Does it enrich your mind in a fundamental way that, say, playing guitar or banjo—or even listening to music intelligently—does not? Does it make you more welcome at parties, i.e. do our eyes light up when our piano- or violin-playing friend shows up so we can beg them to entertain us with a performance? Does it get you anything except frustration over not having opportunities to exercise a hard-won skill?
I do think that Chua has done a good job of zeroing in on what we have come to see as excellence, and of demonstrating the hard work (and unyielding attitude) that is required to achieve such excellence. But it wouldn’t hurt to go over her article, skill by skill, asking the question: Would you remind me again why this one is important?