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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.
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