'Tiger Mom' Amy Chua More American Than Chinese

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,,, at 2/09/2011 12:15:00 AM
Oh, to be rid of this riff-raff once and for all. Let's face it: there are certain popular authors social science academics find cringeworthy. Reading the output of such writers usually reveals obvious shortcomings. Dambisa Moyo combines regurgitation of others' ideas with simple factual errors. Meanwhile, Amy Chua stretches personal anecdotes to represent wide-ranging phenomena. Views of (prejudiced) Chinese-Filipinos become the basis of setting the World on Fire. Or, in perhaps the most puzzling simplification to date, her wish to continue strict parenting she experienced becomes a 'Chinese' parenting war cry in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Although she claims this book to be more of a memoir, she does list it among her academic publications, so it's fair game here.

My first major objection is that Chua skips over her nanny's contributions:
...something doesn't add up. That missing piece is her Mandarin-speaking nanny.

That's right, the full-time growling Tiger Mom didn't raise her daughters herself, or even in a simple partnership with her husband. She isn't a stay-at-home mom, she isn't a middle-class working mom, she is a rich woman. And although she insists that her recently published book is not meant to be taken as parenting advice, its message is widely being read as suggesting that the "Chinese" mothering style is superior to the more lenient "Western" way. In any case, the truth is that for mothers who don't have her resources, following her lead would be impossible.
My second major objection is that, for someone teaching law--a trade where one should be precise with the use of words--she uses the term 'Chinese mother' in a very loose sense. In fact, I doubt whether she would even qualify as one. To be exact, she is a Filipino-Chinese migrant to the United States baptised as a Catholic who is not fluent in Mandarin:
She became a law professor and now teaches at Yale. She and her husband, another Yale law professor, hired a Chinese nanny to speak Mandarin, though Ms. Chua doesn’t speak it herself. Ms. Chua grew up as a Roman Catholic, but her daughters were raised as Jews.
My third major objection--one that various talking heads including those who claim to be international relations scholars haven't brought up yet--is that, for a lawyer by profession, Amy Chua does not seem to make much use of international law in discussing international parenting differences. This pattern of simplification is consistent with her previous work as I've mentioned above. Anyway, for the benefit of our dear readers, there is this thing called the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) under the auspices of the UN Children's Fund or UNICEF:
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights—-civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights. In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too...

By agreeing to undertake the obligations of the Convention (by ratifying or acceding to it), national governments have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children's rights and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community. States parties to the Convention are obliged to develop and undertake all actions and policies in the light of the best interests of the child.
However, alike with the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), let's say 'world leaders' of a certain North American nation have not signed up to this important international law. Which, in retrospect, is in keeping with environs where folks like Amy Chua can thrive. Contrary to the image Chua wants to portray, China has acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child unlike the United States. Embarrassingly, the only state other than the US not to ratify it is a failed one (Somalia). President Obama cringes at this fact, but then again, he's done next to nothing about the matter:
The head of a United Nations monitoring committee today called on Somalia and the United States, the only two countries not to have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to do so immediately. “With the best interests of all children at heart, I would respectfully like to reiterate our appeal that these States ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” Committee on the Rights of the Child Chairperson Yanghee Lee told the General Assembly today. That pact is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights – civil, cultural, economic, political and social – for youngsters under 18...

Asked at an earlier news conference why the United States had not ratified the treaty, she cited a raft of reasons from lack of political will to myths and misunderstandings about the convention. “The lack of political will is the biggest reason,” she said, noting that President Barack Obama in his 2008 election campaign had said that the US would ratify the treaty, “but we have yet to see that come to fruition.”

Ms. Lee noted that “then there is the misunderstanding that once you ratify this convention parents will have to give up their parental rights, and then children would be running around with all kinds of rights, taking the rights away from parents. “But that’s really a myth and a strong misunderstanding because the convention calls for guidance and support of parents, and families with responsibilities is one of the major provisions in the convention.”

Ms. Lee also cited a pushback from religious groups and also concerns from people who advocate home schooling and are concerned that CRC would abolish it. “But that’s not the case,” she stressed. “We have consistently said for States parties to provide for formal and non-formal education that also includes home schooling.” She also noted that some people have said CRC is pro-abortion and pro-adolescent health but “there is nothing in the convention that would suggest anything that the CRC is pro-abortion.”
It's insular America all over again, profoundly unconcerned about the rest of the world while constructing its own warped narratives. And just what would this self-styled 'Chinese tiger mom' be discouraged from doing? Let us count the ways:

Article 13

1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child's choice.
2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order, or of public health or morals.

Contrast this with tiger parenting:
  • As an adult, I once did the same thing to Sophia, calling her garbage in English
  • The fact is that Chinese parents can do things that would seem unimaginable—-even legally actionable—to Westerners. Chinese mothers can say to their daughters, "Hey fatty—-lose some weight."
  • Back at the piano, [7-year-old] Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu's dollhouse to the car and told her I'd donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn't have "The Little White Donkey" perfect by the next day.
  • [Recall those toothmarks on the piano keys from another anguished child]
And speaking of which, consider this article too:

Article 16

1. No child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.
2. The child has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Lastly, what would UNICEF suggest parents sensibly do?
  • Respect children. Use positive and non-violent discipline, including respecting the child’s perspective.
  • Communicate with children. Children and adults should actively and consistently talk to each other, sharing information and ideas in the home, school and community with mutual respect. Listen to, and take seriously, the views of both boys and girls. Ensure that vulnerable children are able to express their opinions and make decisions
She can say that the Convention is wishy-washy, that Chinese parents don't really abide by it, or that the US is right not to ratify it. However, not engaging with the Convention is a professional boo-boo. She seems to be pretty good at self-promotion, but not particularly at her job of understanding laws that pertain to things she's interested in--like parenting. Remember, she's the 'John M. Duff, Jr. Professor of Law,' not yours truly. Instead of attempting to generalize the experience of Chinese parents, she could have done any number of things like review the substantial literature on culturally-based parenting styles. I understand there are any number of academic journals on education, family studies, and cross-cultural differences. Or, she could have investigated why China has adopted the Convention while the United States not.

So, for (1) being ill-informed about a great many things the rest of us are aware of despite her high-faluting credentials [typical Amerocentrism]; (2) maltreating her kids in apparent contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child [which only the US and a failed state have failed to ratify]; (3) exploiting her kids for shameless self-promotion [America is the land of Jerry Springer and the reality show]; and (4) hypocritically failing to mention that a nanny does a considerable part of the upbringing in their household [too many examples of US hypocrisy to cite]--I dub Amy Chua an American phenomenon. I won't even mention the dubious genealogical bit.

Why does this sort of wilful kidsploitation gain so much attention Stateside and virtually none to intelligent debate about passing meaningful international laws concerning the protection of children? It shows you just how skewed American priorities are towards rewarding cheap sensationalism. Surely, I know which nation is famous for acting out its behavioural issues in public. While Americans may be preoccupied with obvious US decline, my argument is that Amy Chua presents nothing more than a caricature of being a Chinese parent. Jerry Springer, Ricki Lake, Amy Chua...honestly, what's the difference?

Amy Chua, do us a favour: You're supposedly a lawyer. Do your job and tell us something about laws pertaining to topics you're interested in.