January 20, 2011

"I have never seen a wildly successful adult who got there because his mother made him cry over his grades."

Says Ben Stein:
Men and women succeed because they find a field of endeavor that matches their interests and abilities. It's that simple. They then motivate themselves and achieve.... I don't believe the most successful people are the ones who got the best grades, got into the best schools, or made the most money. The most successful ones are those who find peace of mind. If they can do it with mothers who manufacture self-loathing the way Ms. Chua or Ms. Waldman do, it's despite those Moms and not because of them. This whole idea that there is something noble about browbeating your own children is just plain sick.
And then there's Lee Siegel:
Ms. Chua's book is a case study in how lack of self-knowledge, absence of empathy, and poor writing skills can be a blessing if you possess enough robotic ambition, callousness toward other people and lack of honesty about yourself and your subject. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is an inspiration to aggressive mediocrities everywhere. The book wasn't written; it was assembled. 

51 comments:

John Lynch said...

Wow, people really don't like strict parents, especially moms.

There's plenty of literature about strict fathers.

Is Ben Stein really saying Tiger Woods wouldn't have gotten to golfing greatness without his dad?

I doubt it.

Dave said...

Sprezzatura? More like Spaz-atura.

Amirite?

Fred4Pres said...

Ben Stein is correct. Or as Joseph Campbell said: Follow your bliss.

However...

That said, kids do occasionally need a kick in the ass. And poverty, risk of failure, and shame are all excellent motivators. That said, discipline alone is not going to create the next Einstein or Mozart.

And let me ask this. Do our public schools suck because our kids are not disciplined enough or because our teachers are not disciplined enough?

Fred4Pres said...

Bueller?

bagoh20 said...

I've long appreciated the times my parents were tough on me, which they knew how to be, and wish they had been harder on me. Wasting time for most of us comes quite natural and needs little parental guidance. But my parents were very easy going and left me free to do what I wished most of the time. This left me a chronic under-achiever, although I'm pretty successful, by most normal standards. I'm addicted to moderation, which I think mostly served me well, and left me balanced, which is nice.

Revenant said...

Stein's right.

One of the Volokh Conspirators also noted that Jewish parents are famously permissive -- far more so than most American Gentiles -- and yet Jews are enormously successful.

Anecdotally, most of the people I've known who disliked their parents were Asian. Generally because the parents acted like Chua.

Joan said...

Love Lee Siegel, at least when he says things like this: The attention paid to Mommy books comes from a legitimate desire to see how other mothers are bearing up.

That desire will not be satisfied by reading Ms. Chua's thing.


"Thing" LOL I appreciate Siegel commenting on the book as a book, and not just focusing on the parenting "philosophy" stuff.

Waiting for Freeman Hunt to weigh in here, I know she has actually read the book.

buwaya said...

Fred,

Discipline alone may not create genius, but it certainly can create prosperity. It can make the most of mediocre material. It can make Chinese economically and educationally outperform most other cultural groups.

Amy Chua's previous book, "World on Fire" is worth reading. Not really because of its main premise, with which I disagree, but because of its survey of the relative success of Chinese communities everywhere. Chinese almost always outperform Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais, Malays, US and British Caucasians, arguably Vietnamese and Koreans (though there is a lot of argument there). Wherever there is a large Chinese community they dominate commerce and most learned professions.

Its not that there is some Chinese genetic superiority, some inborn native genius. I am willing to accept her explanation that it is the result of Chinese cultural practices, some of which she describes in "Tiger Mother". I have seen plenty of this all over East Asia, and what Chua says seems correct to me. I can give you plenty of eyewitness testimony of my own.

bagoh20 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bagoh20 said...

". Do our public schools suck because our kids are not disciplined enough or because our teachers are not disciplined enough?"

They are both victims of the same culture, so clearly both, which is why neither respects or values the other. I think discipline is the great equalizer for those not born with raw talent or intellect. Discipline often leads to superior performance over genetic gifts.

Revenant said...

Do our public schools suck because our kids are not disciplined enough or because our teachers are not disciplined enough?

Our schools suck because of bad incentives. The undisciplined kids and teachers are just a side effect of that.

The really big problem is that we reward schools and teachers for having lots of students who pass. Not lots of students with a brilliant grasp of the material -- students who know enough of the material to merit, basically, a C. Neither the teachers nor the schools receive extra benefits for churning out geniuses. It is all about shoving the kids through the system so they come out on the other end with a diploma. The unsurprising result? Triage. A and B students are ignored because they'll do ok anyway. F students are ignored because you can't polish a turd. All the effort goes into pushing those D students up to the C level.

In short? Our students are mediocre because we don't reward anything better than that. Obviously parents would PREFER for the schools to be focusing on helping their B student become "A" material -- but who cares? The parent doesn't pay the bills, taxpayers do.

bagoh20 said...

I don't see the Chinese communities that outperform the British or U.S. communities they coexist in. Every "Chinatown" I've been too is far from the top of the heap in that city. I've been to China and Vietnam and without the western technology that they borrow or steal, they would be pretty sad places and actually are mostly. This is even after many decades of absorption of outside know how.

Revenant said...

It can make the most of mediocre material. It can make Chinese economically and educationally outperform most other cultural groups.

I respectfully suggest that if "discipline" was the way for a cultural group to economically outperform other groups, China wouldn't be getting is ass kicked two to one by Mexico in the Per Capital GDP event. :)

A certain degree of discipline is necessary -- a work ethic, for example. Discipline beyond that can do more harm then good, because it punishes independent thought and non-conformity, which are crucial forces in capitalism.

buwaya said...

Take Chinese out of their native land and they beat nearly everyone.

They certainly do beat Caucasians in the US and Britain - tests like the SAT and NAEP prove that, as well as the disproportionate rates of AP completion and rates of admission to the best universities. And they also disproportionately populate science and tech graduate schools.

Its likely that Jews in general outperform Chinese, but I think that is only barely true at the moment.

There are poor Chinatowns in the US, but the residents there are mostly fresh off the boat, so to speak. There were also lots of poor Jews in the US at one time, when they were in a similar position. But the second and third generations are different.

The Chinese in China I think suffered from being in a social and economic system that suppressed the potential of the culture. And here I am talking of the imposed feudalism and Luddism of the Imperial regimes as well as Communism. They are in the process of breaking out of that now. By moving out of China they break away from it entirely.

bagoh20 said...

There is no doubt that parental imposed discipline usually will improve academic performance, but thats not the real goal I would think. Creativity, flexibility, risk taking are required for real success, and are what propel a culture along.

Both are required to escape mediocrity in a real way. The Chinese have it half right and the U.S. used to have it more than half right, but I now think we are less creative AND less disciplined. The Chinese seem to be moving in the right direction, and loosening up is a lot easier than clamping down

Even more important is that like true success, happiness requires both discipline and freedom.

bagoh20 said...

Gotta love this:

Many students learn little to nothing in college - surprise

Sheepman said...

Is Ben Stein really saying Tiger Woods wouldn't have gotten to golfing greatness without his dad?

No, but he might not have been such a dickhead.

Revenant said...

buwaya,

The scenario you're painting describes most immigrant groups, the exception being the mobs of unskilled workers that sneak across the border. There's nothing special about the Chinese. They're just the latest in a long line of immigrants to show up American youth. :)

Revenant said...

The Chinese have it half right and the U.S. used to have it more than half right, but I now think we are less creative AND less disciplined.

With all due respect, the last interesting innovation to come out of China was gunpowder.

Seven Machos said...

John Lynch -- Here's a story about Earl Woods that Tiger Woods tells:

Young Tiger was going to compete at some amateur event a good distance away. His Dad told him to put the clubs in the trunk and Tiger didn't do it. He assumed his Dad would. So, his Dad just let it go, knowing the clubs weren't in the trunk, and they drove all the way to the tournament. When they got there, Tiger had no clubs and he couldn't play. Tiger cried. But Tiger also never failed to put his clubs in the trunk again.

The wonderful irony of "Tiger" as a word here notwithstanding, what are the odds that Anmy Chua would pull that stunt as a parent?

Further, and finally, fatherly sternness is totally different than what is going on with Chua. Fatherly sternness frequently equates to the thing Earl Woods did: you fucked up; you knew better than to fuck up; you will now suffer in such a way that you are not likely to fuck up again, at least in this way.

Seven Machos said...

I see that this thread has been commandeered by one of those people who believes that geopolitical inheritance confers intelligence. Sad.

edutcher said...

Stein is making a distinction about how success is defined. The Chinese mother thing may work for somebody who has the ability and wants to work 18 hour days to make baskets of money - in the Michael Milken mode - but do they end up like him?

Fred4Pres said...

Ben Stein is correct. Or as Joseph Campbell said: Follow your bliss.

However...

That said, kids do occasionally need a kick in the ass. And poverty, risk of failure, and shame are all excellent motivators. That said, discipline alone is not going to create the next Einstein or Mozart.

And let me ask this. Do our public schools suck because our kids are not disciplined enough or because our teachers are not disciplined enough?


Maybe it's because our teachers parrot an agenda dreamed up by a bunch of small c communists at fashionable Ivy League universities.

Revenant said...

Stein's right.

One of the Volokh Conspirators also noted that Jewish parents are famously permissive -- far more so than most American Gentiles -- and yet Jews are enormously successful.


Jewish mothers are also legendary guilt dispensers.

Bob_R said...

Ben Stein's made a fool of himself falling for the ID crowd's nonsense. Presenting his biases as fact is second nature to him now. The fact that in this case I share his biases doesn't make them right. Of course, Chua is doing the same thing with her book. All of these "experts" on child rearing can stick in their correlation/causation hole.

tim maguire said...

People talking about the Chinese immigrants outperforming their community need to keep in mind that you are comparing the cream of the Chinese crop against the average of the other groups.

Daniel Fielding said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rhhardin said...

Ms. Chua's book is a case study in how lack of self-knowledge, absence of empathy, and poor writing skills can be a blessing if you possess enough robotic ambition, callousness toward other people and lack of honesty about yourself and your subject.

It's a robotic slam.

Shanna said...

I definately think we could use more discipline in this country (for instance, to be at the top of a sports or music field, you often have to start very early-although starting early certainly doesn't guarantee success!). That doesn't mean we can't use a dose of kindness while doing so. I don't think parent can generally determine at 3 what you are going to be best at and what you are best at might not make you happy.

MadisonMan said...

I've not read the book, or the links. Bad me.

One of the hardest things to do as a parent is to let your child fail, or travel down a path that you the parent think is going to lead to failure. But no one learned anything, or became expert at anything, without a good deal of failure.

David said...

I'm an engineer and have worked with lots of Chinese, Arab, and Indian expats. As with anything there is wide variation between individuals, but a common thread is they are cautious, credential oriented people.

I met a very PC woman on a train that asked me why a client overseas had us come. I responded that they needed an American to come and kick some ass. She was slightly offended, and I explained that only an American could afford to take risks and speak the truth. Most kids of "Chinese" moms can't do that.

DADvocate said...

I've seen several studies over the years that show that B to B+ level students do better overall as adults. School grades rarely include into account risk taking, creativity, and all sorts of other qualities that contribute to success after school. Social skills and emotional intelligence make a huge difference.

Chau's method is one of conformity, suppression, and acceptance of established authority. This will develop qualities that will help in some fields and not others.

An intereesting take here.
"What's happened the last 10 years that has changed the lives of people all over the world? The iPhone: USA. Twitter: Started by a guy from Nebraska. Facebook: Started by a guy from Florida who went to Harvard and dropped out."

And not just because America is a rich country with more time to think and create. Pink also credits what's been a nurturing environment.

"In this country failure is less stigmatized than in other countries," he said. "If I start a business and it fails, I don't shame my entire family, okay? In fact, the bankruptcy code in this country affords me, quote, 'a fresh start.'"

DADvocate said...

I now think we are less creative AND less disciplined.

We're too concerned with PC crap and equal outcomes to think about anything else.

Immigrants from China, Japan and many other countries, probably including the Latin American countries, are not an accurate reflection of that countries population. The immigrants and their families that come here are more likely to be more intelligent, more motivated, greater risk takers, more self-confident, and more disciplined that the typical person in their country. Otherwise, they would as stayed in their country doing the typical things typical people in their country do.

Timon said...

Chua is right; public schools will ruin any child's education if it is not supplemented or even counteracted at home. I imagine that to be the real interest in the sort of discipline and expectations that many Asian parents have.

Freeman Hunt said...

Ha. So how many of you have actually read the book? I'm guessing none based on how most of you are characterizing it.

Siegel cannot spot a tongue planted in a cheek, but he is right that the part about the sister comes out of nowhere. I don't know why that was in the book. I figured it was added as a lady sop component. One thing he doesn't mention is that a little chunk of Chua's book, the part about her own history, is copied verbatim from one of her other books. That was odd, but so it goes.

Freeman Hunt said...

Surprised at all the "Asians aren't creative" stereotypes. A few movie rentals should dissuade that notion.

Freeman Hunt said...

Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I am anti-browbeating. (And by the end of the book, Chua is too.) But I'm pro high expectations, instilling a strong work ethic, and teaching kids to stick with certain things.

buwaya said...

Oye Machito,

Whats this "geopolitical inheritance" ? Whats this "intelligence" ?

We have observed facts, which cannot be denied. Chua says that the observed facts are explained not by geopolitics or genetics but by what their mamas do to make them work hard. I agree with Chua.

I have lived with Chinese my whole life. I have seen how they succeed. When I was a kid in the old country, half the entering class in my engineering school was Chinese. I was one of the few non-Chinese survivors in the graduating class. The Chinese were doing daily study groups to midnight, while the Filipinos were at the pool hall. You see the same thing here.

My daughter is in high school. An A- is called "Asian Fail" - the kids really do say that.

Freeman Hunt said...

Stein is right that you can be wildly successful without having great grades from a status school.

But he's wrong that he's never seen a wildly successful adult who didn't have extraordinarily demanding parents. Jackie Chan, for example, was raised at the positively abusive Peking Opera School, and he is one of an endless number of huge successes in the entertainment field who came out of childhoods with grueling practice schedules. You'll find the same in sports.

Now, I'm not defending those extremes, but I will say that it is simply incorrect to say that no wild successes have come out of those environments.

MadisonMan said...

But I'm pro high expectations, instilling a strong work ethic, and teaching kids to stick with certain things.

Yes. This is a good recipe. But it's kinda boring, only would be a couple paragraphs at most expanded, so how could you write a book about it? And create a blogstorm?

jayne_cobb said...

David,

My father is an electrical engineer who does a great deal of business in various Asian nations, and his stories pretty much match up with your account.

For instance in one of his anecdotes he had to be brought in to fix, in his words, "a simple problem". The reason that the Asian engineers couldn't do it was because there was a typo in the manual and they were terrified of deviating from the exact instructions.


As to the performance of Asian immigrants in the US, I think that has more to do with our immigration system than anything else. In regards to Asian immigrants the US policy is relatively effective (although that probably has a lot to do with the Pacific Ocean).

We try to only allow in those Asian immigrants who are highly skilled or those who have jobs lined up; and this is on top of the huge amount of time that one must put in to get a green card.

Simply put the system is setup to weed out those who don't want to work. The lazy and the stupid can't be bothered to put in the effort and as such they don't move over here.

We essentially get the cream of the crop from certain nations, and the children of successful people tend to be successful themselves.

buwaya said...

Chinese certainly are risk takers, much more so than most other Asian groups, or even Americans.

They are quick to put their own money down to back an enterprise. The ease of raising capital in Chinese communities has been put out as an explanation of Chinese commercial success. If someone were to make a study on the rate of small business formation by ethnic group in the US I think the Chinese would rate very high if not at the top.

buwaya said...

The overseas Chinese who effectively own the economies of several non-Chinese Asian nations were certainly not originally the cream of the crop. Almost all of them were poor peasants from Canton or Fukien who more or less sold themselves as indentured laborers because they were starving.

When I was a kid in Manila you had Chinese amahs and rickshaw-pullers. You certainly don't see that anymore.

The Chinese immigrants to the US are from that source also, and of the same social class. Maybe a third or a quarter of the Chinese adults in San Francisco speak no English. You will however find them attending school board meetings in groups and designating an English-speaking representative.

Most are in this country on "family unification" grounds, not H1 visas. Indians are let in mainly on educational visas or professional credentials, but mostly not Chinese.

DADvocate said...

But I'm pro high expectations, instilling a strong work ethic, and teaching kids to stick with certain things.

From the start I clearly let my kids know I expected them to do well in school and that they were plenty smart enough to do so. I emphasized that there are plenty of smart and talented people and that hard work often makes the diffrence. And, that no one can be great at everything, find what you enjoy and you're good at and stick to it.

THis past week I enjoyed seeing some of the fruits of that approach. (I tell myself at least.) My son and I visited three colleges where he's been offered football scholarships. As he's a good student (National Honor Society and National Art Honor Society) as well as a good football player, he's eligible for many academic scholarships.

At "only" 6' 3" and 290 lbs, he's a little small for offensive line for major colleges. (Believe it or not. Many major colleges won't look at a lineman under 6' 5".) But, several smaller schools are licking thier chops over him. It's because of his work ethic. Guys his size aren't that rare. Guys who work like him on and off the field are.

DADvocate said...

were certainly not originally the cream of the crop.

You're confusing social class with intelligence, ability and the other qualities that contribute to success.

In my closet I have a wooden chest that measures approx 2'x1.5'x4'. About 130 years ago, my great-grandfather came over from Germany and every earthly possession of his was in that chest. He met my great-grandmother on the ship and they married.

Through the values of hard work and determination, they prospered and his offspring and thier offspring prospered despite being virtual paupers in Germany.

William said...

Is there any significance in the fact that Amy Chua has a western husband? However much she admires the Chinese work ethic, she did not want to embrace it on the marital bed.....I don't think it's possible to get kids to do anything without a certain amount of judicious nagging. I would recommend that chilren be allowed to eat donuts instead of broccoli if they finish their homework before supper.

jayne_cobb said...

"Chinese certainly are risk takers, much more so than most other Asian groups, or even Americans.

They are quick to put their own money down to back an enterprise. The ease of raising capital in Chinese communities has been put out as an explanation of Chinese commercial success. If someone were to make a study on the rate of small business formation by ethnic group in the US I think the Chinese would rate very high if not at the top."

In the US, yes. As I said our immigration system works to make sure that those coming over here have to really want to be here. You either need to be skilled, go to school, or have a job lined up in order to arrive legally. All of those factors lend themselves to a population that is willing to work hard and be successful.

And even when all that is taken into consideration the people still need to be willing to move from an area they have known all their life to a country that is mostly unknown to them.

So we end up with an immigrant community that is skilled/educated/hard working and willing to take risks.



"Most are in this country on "family unification" grounds"

Even then they are families where at least one of the members had to have gotten in on non-unification grounds, which suggests that the values conducive to success are likely to be present amongst those relatives.

A father that is hard working is likely to have children that are hard working.

buwaya said...

If you are going to take the position that selection due to immigration explain the Chinese, then you also need to explain their superior performance vis-a-vis other immigrants who also benefit, if thats the case, from the same selection effects.

We do not see the same performance from Filipinos or Mexicans or Samoans for instance. You could say that the Koreans or arguably the Vietnamese also outperform expectations, unfortunately the data is not available to back that conclusion.

Deb said...

@bahoh20:

Yeah. Me Too.

jayne_cobb said...

We have little to no enforcement of policies regarding immigration from Mexico (or anywhere in Central America) and the border is also a hell of a lot easier to cross (as opposed to the Pacific Ocean), so we get a lot more immigrants who lack the values necessary for success.

Somoans (at least American Somoans) are US nationals so they can come and go as they please. There are no real restrictions.

I don't know the exact numbers for the groups you mention, and frankly any such point would require a great deal of history in regards to the various nations (e.g. How did the Vietnam War affect immigration policy in regards to that particular group; did the community originate primarily as refugees).

I suppose that the best evidence is that Indians are the wealthiest group in the US and, as you noted, they tend to arrive here primarily for education or job related reasons. From a 2006 NYT article on the subject:

"From India, 85,000 people came to the United States legally last year, said Jane Delung, president of the Population Resource Center in Princeton, New Jersey. More than half of those arrived on the employer-linked work visas that bring many technology workers and professionals. Most of the rest have family members in the United States."

harkin said...

Have not read the book so I'm not sure how much this pertains but reagarding discipline:

I was an A and B student for grade school and junior high. When I got to high school I started goofing off and my first freshman report card had 2 Ds and an F.

My dad had me make a sign saying I got two Ds and an F and place it in my window at the front of the house where anyone visiting could see it. I could not take it down until I improved to B or better, which I did on the next card.

I also never got another D or F from then all the way through college.

I got caught smoking when I was in the 5th grade. My Pop also found out I stole 2 packs of Marlboro from the corner market. I had to take the unopened pack back to the store and pay for the partial my dad found hidden in the garage. I also had to offer my services for a week for free to the store owner - he had me clean the vacant lot and the area in front/behind the store every day after school. The open pack my dad found? I got to eat those babies. I never smoked (tobacco)again and theft has never been my deal either.

I have to add that these episodes did nothing to stunt my creativity, curiosity or love of adventure. I also have to say that unless I was doing something knuckleheaded, my parents were pretty tolerant regarding what I could do on my own, how far I could travel and how late I could stay out etc as long as the chores and homework were done and we were in a period of trust (all kids push the boundaries and I was grounded a few times).

God bless my old man (and Mom too!).

Phil 3:14 said...

Stein vs Chua

son of a Jewish Mom vs the daughter of a Chinese mom

Interesting insofar that for each ethnicity the stereotype is higher learning and success. Maybe there are differing paths to the same destination.

mariner said...

Revenant,

Obviously parents would PREFER for the schools to be focusing on helping their B student become "A" material -- but who cares? The parent doesn't pay the bills, taxpayers do.
(emphasis mine)
And that is the problem.

Let's get rid of mandatory public financing for mandatory public education. Let parents pay directly for their children's education.