A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it's like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I've done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:She goes on to outline her underlying premises and relate a vicious fight she had with her daughter. Judging by the comments, this kind of parenting strikes people as barbaric, but I think there are several different issues with what Chua is saying. First, there's a kind of categorical imperative problem with the grades. Suppose every parent behaves according to Chua's scheme. Grading on a curve (still somewhat common) means that it is physically impossible for every child to receive an A. Pressure like this on children and administrators are, I suspect, largely behind the trend of grade inflation.
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
Second is a kind of elitism. I played saxophone in high school, and loved being in the jazz band. Is that really so much worse than piano? In my opinion, Charlie Parker is a figure of comparable significance to, say, Rachmaninoff or Paganini, and if Chua disagrees she can bite me. Why is drama so worthless? And TV aside, computer games are an art form, full stop. Like any other art form, they're about 90% crap and 10% brilliant, but this kind of snide dismissal is baseless and irritating.
Third is her idea of being extremely demanding. Now, Chua takes this a lot farther than most, but I think there's probably something to it. I've known a lot of people whose parents were very demanding, and it seemed to make them smarter, at the cost of a great deal of animosity. It's not how I'd raise my kids, but I don't think it's quite as horrifying as people seem to think, and I think a bit of high expectations is probably a good thing in general.
Fourth, and I notice that a lot of people are conflating this one with number three, is her idea of being very controlling. I know parents that will let their kids mostly run wild, so long as they're doing well on the chosen metrics, and only punish them or take away their freedom if they fail to perform (not to necessarily endorse this view, just to distinguish it analytically from number three). I think this is where Chua is most insane, and she doesn't really defend it in her article; she mostly concentrates on the demanding part. No school plays? No sleepovers? No playdates, fer Chrissakes? Being a human being is not all about playing the piano and solving differential equations. A much greater part is taken up by interactions with one's peer group. Aside from those kind of experiences being some of my most treasured memories of childhood, playdates and sleepovers are where people begin to learn those key skills. We are primates, and it seems borderline psychotic to isolate one's children so thoroughly.
Chua seems to think raising a child is like stamping a license plate out of recalcitrant scrap metal. For my money Yglesias had the best line on the subject:
The larger issue about Chua’s piece is that it just seems very strange for her to be so worried about this. On the list of problems typically experienced by the children of Yale Law School faculty “not successful enough” comes way below “has dysfunctional relationship with mother.”