AAE 4-12-2012 Class Notes

The Asian American Experience
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Class Notes
Amy Chua – Background/Bio (1962-present)
A. Born in Champagne, IL to ethnic Chinese from the Philippines who emigrated
to the US
B. Parents:
1. Leon Chua is an Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences
professor at the University of California, Berkeley and is known as the
father of nonlinear circuit theory, cellular neural networks, and
discovered the memristor.
a. Attended MIT and then become assistant professor at Purdue
University in Indiana
2. Mother arrived in the Philippines when she was two.
a. Lost her infant brother during Japanese occupation and
watched Japanese soldiers torture her uncle
b. Attended a Dominican high school and converted to
c. Graduated from the University of Santo Tomas, first in her
class, summa cum laude with a degree in chemical engineering
C. Education:
1. Chua went to El Cerrito High School.
2. Graduated magna cum laude with an A.B. in Economics from Harvard
College in 1984.
3. She obtained her J.D. cum laude in 1987 from Harvard Law School,
where she was an Executive Editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Reception
A. “In truth, Ms. Chua’s memoir is about one little narcissist’s book-length
search for happiness.” (NYT 2011, Janet Maslin)
III. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother: Discussion
A. How does Amy Chua define the term, “Chinese mother?” Describe the
form of parenting that the Chinese mother exercises.
1. The Chinese mother is able to raise stereotypically successful kids,
math whizzes and music prodigies.
2. An extreme and strict form of parenting which enforces high standards
on children and involves direct and close supervision from parents.
3. “Some might think that the American sports parent is an analog to the
Chinese mother. This is so wrong. Unlike your typical Western overscheduling soccer
mom, the Chinese mother believes that (1) schoolwork always comes first; (2) an Aminus is a bad grade; (3) your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in
math; (4) you must never compliment your children in public; (5) if your child ever
disagrees with a teacher or coach, you must always take the side of the teacher or coach;
(6) the only activities your children should be permitted to do are those in which they can
eventually win a medal; and (7) that medal must be gold.” (Chua, 5)
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B. What is your overall reaction to Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother? Are
you appalled or impressed, in agreement, disagreement or something else?
C. Is this a parenting manual? Are Western parents too soft on, or too
permissive towards their children?
1. “In one study of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese
immigrant mothers, almost 70% of the Western mothers said either that “stressing
academic success is not good for children” or that “parents need to foster the idea
that learning is fun.” BY contrast, roughly 0% of the Chinese mothers said that
they believe their children can be “the best” students, that “academic achievement
reflects successful parenting,” and that if children did not excel at school then
there was “a problem” and parents “were not doing their job.” Other studies
indicate that compared to Western parents, Chinese parents spend approximately
ten times as long every day drilling academic activities with their children. By
contrast, Western kids are more likely to participate in sports teams.” (5)
D. What is the most extreme example of Amy Chua’s mothering? Which
incidents struck with you more than other? Evaluate her methods in these
1. “The truth is, it wasn’t always enjoyable for Sophia to have me as a
mother. According to Sophia, here are three things I actually said to her at the
piano as I supervised her practicing:
1. Oh my God, you’re just getting worse and worse.
2. I’m going to count to three, then I want musicality!
3. If the next time’s not PERFECT, I’m going to TAKE ALL
2. Face off with Lulu: “The wind chill was twenty degrees and my own
face hurt rom just a few seconds’ exposure to the icy air…”You can’t stay in the
house if you don’t listen to Mommy,” I aid sternly. “Now, are you ready to be a
good girl? Or do you want to go outside?” (12)
3. “The Little White Donkey” – “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…I told her to stop being
lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent, and pathetic.” (61)
4. Practicing in Greece: “When it was all over, Lulu was furious and tearstained, Jed was tight-lipped, my parents were sleepy – and the Palace of Knossos
was closed for the day.” (91)
5. Birthday Card: “It was my birthday, and we were celebrating at a
mediocre Italian restaurant, because Jed had forgotten to make reservations at a
better place…”I don’t want this,” I said. “I want a better one- one that you’ve put
some thought and effort into. (103)
E. Success for Chua is important: how does she define success? How does
her definition of success compare to standard American definitions of
success? How does her definition of success compare to yours?
1. “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re
good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own
never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.” (29)
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2. Success for Chua is judged by external awards, accolades, and awards.
There is little attention given to inner happiness or peace, doing something for the
sake of personal satisfaction.
F. Consider whether Chua’s children are such extraordinarily high
achievers (musically and academically) because of their strict upbringing, or
because of their innate abilities, ie, genetics?
1. “Amazingly, even though I had chosen the violin for Lulu, it was
immediately apparent that she had a natural affinity for it.” (45)
2. Environment plays a role. Both mother and father are extremely
successful, high achievers.
3. Nature vs. Nurture
G. According to Chua, her parenting method is typical of Chinese families.
Is their method –with its strict demands for high achievement – superior to
that of Western parents? How would you describe the differences between
parenting in the two cultures?
1. The example of Amy’s father:
a. “When I was extremely disrespectful to my mother, my father
angrily called me ‘garbage’ in our native Hokkien dialect.” (50)
b. “In eighth grade, I won second place in a history contest and
brought my family to the awards ceremony. Somebody else had won the Kiwanis
prize for best all-around student. Afterward, my father said to me: “never, never
disgrace me like that again.” (17)
2. Some roots in Confucianism that stresses achievement in academics
and views academic success as a means to demonstrate filial piety.
3. The difference in parenting between the two cultures:
a. Grades (52)..Chinese parents accept nothing less than an A,
Western parents praise mediocrity
b. Chinese parents believe that their kids owe them everything
(Confucian filial piety) vs. Westerners (Jed) Children don’t choose their parents,
so it’s the parents’ responsibility to provide for them.” 53)
c. Chinese parents believe that they know what is best for their
children and override all of their children’s own desires and preferences.” (53)
H. Chua wishes to reverse what she sees as ‘a remarkably common pattern’
of decline in the Chinese immigrant family. According to Chua, first
generation immigrants exercise strict discipline. Their children, the second
generation, will ‘typically be high-achieving’ but less strict with their
children. And the third generation, ‘will feel that they have individual rights
guaranteed by the US Constitution.’ -an attitude that ultimately leads to
disobedience and generational decline. Is the decline Chua describes real?
Have other immigrant populations experienced the same pattern?
1. Chapter 5
2. This pattern could be descriptive of many immigrant parents.
Immigrants generally come to the US in search of a better life and more
opportunity. This fear that subsequent generations will not work as hard or
struggle is endemic to many immigrant populations as well as non immigrant
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families. Also, Midwestern families that come from Western Kansas have
expressed this fear.
I. Do you agree or disagree with Chua’s criticisms of various aspects of
Western culture –Facebook and junk food being two examples?
J. What does Chua think of the Western emphasis on self-esteem? Do you
agree or disagree with her assessment?
1. “I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their
children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail
at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good
they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other
words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese
parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave
very differently.” (52)
K. Chua dismisses the happy endings of Disney family movies by saying that
that’s “just Disney’s way of appealing to all the people who never win
prizes.” What do you think – are the movies’ soft focus on parenting values
pandering to low-achievers, to those who will never rise above average?
L. Chua dismisses the happy endings of Disney family movies by saying that
that’s “just Disney’s way of appealing to all the people who never win
prizes.” What do you think – are the movies’ soft focus on parenting values
pandering to low-achievers, to those who will never rise above average?
M. Part of Chua’s rationale is that she understands what all Chinese parents
understand: “That nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” Do you agree? Is
playing the piano well as an adult, for instance, worth those tooth marks
bitten into the piano as a child?
1. Many things can be fun even if you’re not good at it. Her emphasis is
on outward achievement, but what about personal goals and inward pride.
2. Anecdote about a friend whose child does track and always comes in
last place, yet think of all the benefits (health, self esteem)
N. What role does Chua’s husband, Jed, play in all this? What should his
role have been? What do you make of that fact that Chua is not unlike her
own mother?
1. “Although Jed and I didn’t explicitly negotiate the issue, we basically
ended up adopting the Chinese parenting model in our household. Jed favored
strict parenting, but while Jed was good at saying no to the girls, he didn’t have an
affirmative plan for them (56)
2. “I had an American husband who believed that childhood should be
fun. Jed always wanted to play board games with the girls, or go mini-golfing
with them, or worst of all, drive them to faraway water parks with dangerous
slides.” (46)
3. “Jed is constantly criticizing me for comparing Sophia and Lulu. And
it’s true that I’ve said things to Lulu like ‘When I tell Sophia to do something, she
responds instantly. That’s why she improves so fast.’ But Westerners
misunderstand. When I say such things I’m not favoring Sophia; just the
opposite, I’m expressing confidence in Lulu. I believe that she can do anything
Sophia can do and that she’s strong enough to handle to the truth.” (43)
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O. Is success worth the time and effort it takes to maintain oversight and
discipline, and most especially, is it worth a child’s unhappiness? Is that
unhappiness only momentary in the larger scheme of life? In the end, is the
payoff –a lifetime of accomplishment – worth the cost?
P. What do you predict for Chua’s daughters? Do you think they will raise
their children with the same strict standards their mother applied to them?
1. "Dear Tiger Mom, You've been criticized a lot since you published
your memoir, 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.' One problem is that some people don't
get your humor," Chua-Rubenfeld writes. "They think you're serious about all this, and
they assume Lulu and I are oppressed by our evil mother. That is so not true. Every other
Thursday, you take off our chains and let us play math games in the basement.
"But for real, it's not their fault. No outsider can know what our family is really like.
They don't hear us cracking up over each other's jokes. They don't see us eating our
hamburgers with fried rice. They don't know how much fun we have when the six of us -dogs included -- squeeze into one bed and argue about what movies to download from
Chua-Rubenfeld writes in the Post that having Chua as a mother has been no "tea party."
"But now that I'm 18 and about to leave the tiger den, I'm glad you and Daddy raised me
the way you did," she adds.
2. Sophia attends Harvard and has her own blog:
3. Lulu:
a. Faceoff in Red Square when Lulu won’t try caviar (204)
b. Lulu gives up the violin and takes up tennis
P. Do you think Amy Chua presents an accurate picture of Chinese
parenting or is she a particularly controlling and driven individual?
Q. How does Chua’s Battle Hymn relate to the myth of the model minority?
R. What do you think is Chua’s motivation for writing this work?
1. Sales, sensationalism, information
S. Compare Amy Chua, the tiger mother, to the woman warrior’s mother, Brave
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