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Friday, January 21, 2011

Time to get down on the kids

Amy Chua is more than willing to criticize her children, to look down her nose at their lamer accomplishments, and insult young children in order to spur them to greatness.

I think she's onto something.

The heart of the controversy surrounding her memoir is, I believe, the act of criticizing one's children. Somehow it fell out of fashion for Western parents to critique their children honestly.

And I think that we all crave criticism, even occasionally harsh criticism. We're loath to admit it at the time we're being criticized, but I think that baldly honest criticism does spur us on to be better at what we do.

I did the very best in the classes in which I had teachers who were paying attention to me enough to call me on the carpet as a Class A Slacker. I was so used to raking in the A's with minimal effort, whenever a teacher would give me a C for effort, I would snap to attention.

I fact, the only teachers I had who did that for me in high school were my German teacher and my English teacher. Then in college, I had exactly one professor who was Amy Chua-esque in his lack of sympathy for students' failure -- he was a literature professor whom I adored and I learned so much from him because he really made me focus on his words.

So I went on to major in German, and get an MFA in Poetry -- in large part due to the harsh criticisms I received from these teachers.

And I also excelled in piano, competing in citywide competitions, because my teacher was SO Amy Chua. She wasn't Chinese, but she was still an absolute Chinese Mother.

What if I'd had a parent who did this as well? I'll never know, but I suspect I wouldn't have sunk into that depressing "slackitude" in the first place if I'd had someone locking me out into the cold.

So I think more honest criticism is due our children, even from an early age. Obviously not the abusive, insane parenting techniques suggested by Chua in the memoir, but the ability to say, "No, I don't think that's your best painting. Give it another shot," is a very powerful statement versus, "Oooh, how beaaauuutiful" said for the hundredth time.


Julie Hedlund said...

Agreed. Every word.

meg said...

Thanks for your sweet comment on my blog! I didn't know you were back online :) So exciting! I have missed reading about your adventures! ...And I totally agree - sometimes criticism (or honesty), can help us be more successful!

M K said...

Hi! nice to read your post! I told you earlier my thoughts on Chua- how her brand of love doesn't translate well to the American audience (she has seemed harsh in articles but in a TV interview, her love/humility was more clear)... still my first reaction to her was very negative. I guess with me having life background with abusive language, any authority figures who used harsh words were deeply de-motivating in my life; the right balance of expectation & inspiration/faith in my abilities were the most effective. I still feel the sting of hearing what Chua said to her daughters, but at the end of the day, I am all for believing in assuming strength for our kids, having high expectations, and investing time in training them to be great. So, no matter how negatively I feel about some of what I've heard about her, and despite the fact that I don't think I can handle reading her book, I am happy that I feel spurred on to believe in my kids & drill them in the skills I know they need to have! At age 7, N. is on multiplications already, amazing, huh? I'm ready to work it until it's seamless! :D :D p.s. he enjoys it, making my job all the easier...

Toffee said...

I think there may be something lost in the translation too. In Chinese, some of the things in the language and culture may be perceived as harsh or cruel in American English language / culture. For example, the word "fat" is not necessarily "fat-ugly" but more "fat-you're looking well and can afford to buy enough food at your house."

Glad to see you are blogging...I haven't checked in in a while.

Lannae said...

I just think that Chua let the cat out of the bag. It is a great book. Asian parents from India to China are hard pushing on their kids. It is a way of life that is valid for the majority of the worlds population. Is it any better than the over indulging USA model for the entitled children? I don't know.

Funny enough, it wasn't so much my parents (oh, my dad was a softy and over indulgent), rather it was my oldest sister that was insulter, the one full of criticism. I don't talk to that sister at all anymore. She has a kid of her own now, and I hope she isn't as hard on her as she was on me growing up.