[Another old school paper (turns out this is a good source of material. I'll likely trim down the random crap I'm putting on here later, but for now I am just trying to add as much decent material as possible to build up the site. This is different from my usual writing style because I wrote for a grade. Original date of writing 03/01/11]
We all remember that kid from high school who never had any free time because they were taking all advanced placement classes. I’m pretty sure most of the kids I knew in that situation chose it voluntarily because they were all ready planning on attending specific colleges. I also knew one classmate who didn’t just take advanced classes, but who’s parents made him do practice tests and hours of study every day. Parenting is one of those things that there are many ways of doing well. I like to use the imagery of multiple high peaks on a mountain range. It’s easy to see that there are many more wrong ways to raise a child than right ones, and the point is to find the best path and pursue it. I can only assume every parent wants his or her children to be the best they can be. Parents have different goals for their children; financial success or a good job, prestige or personal fulfillment. Whatever path a parent encourages (or shoves) their child down, every parent wants the best for his or her children.
The path to the highest peak, argues author Amy Chua, is an extraordinarily rigid and highly controlled one. Chua wrote a provocative book called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which, like all good things provocative, sparked a lot of vehement controversy. In the article she wrote summarizing her book, Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior, she outlines her approach to child-rearing. The short version is that she raised her children to be model students. No friends. No games. No free time. She allowed nothing less than the best in classes. In short, nothing less than perfection. Her children had it made clear to them that anything less than #1 was unacceptable. It is no surprise that many people thought that she was a little over-bearing. She was met with resistance to Western-style parents who thought that treating children like people with value in themselves was a better route to happiness for them.
As it turns out though, happiness may not be the goal of Eastern parents. Some cultural back ground is necessary before moving on. As explained by Jessica A. Larson-Wang, a writer for echinacities.com, the impact from feudal Confucianism still has an impact in today’s society. Parent-child relationships were condemned by Confucian principals where obedience to parents was as essential and natural as obedience to the emperor. The social hierarchy was part of the fabric of society and children were at the bottom of it. One more thing needs to be added, and that’s the fact that your actions in this culture reflected on your family much more than it does here. If your kids misbehaved, it was seen as a huge sign that the parents were incapable of raising good kids and it made the entire family look bad.
You might have noticed that happiness didn’t factor in anywhere in the above outline. Honor, not happiness, was the force behind your actions. Indeed, happiness is still not a major factor with many Asian-Americans. A study published in Pastoral Care in Education Vol. 27, No. 2, June 2009, pp. 135–156 by Lauren Dundes, Eunice Cho, and Spencer Kwak called “The Duty to Succeed: Honor Versus Happiness in College and Career Choices of East Asian Students in the United States” showed that 41% of the sampled group of Asian-Americans prioritized prestige over happiness, as opposed to only 9% of whites. Of that percentage of Asian-Americans, 51% of them said their mothers pushed them to select prestigious schools and 34% of their fathers. The numbers were 9% and 17% respectively for the white American students. While this study is too small to draw any solid conclusions, it is suggestive.
Larson-Wang’s article above answered a few inquiries about Chua’s article. I for one was curious about the practicality of what happens when every child is expected by their parents to be number 1. When Chua spelled out the height of the expectations of parents who followed her style, many people wondered what happened to the kids who couldn’t be the best (which logic dictates would be all but one student per class). According to Larson-Wang, many of them commit suicide. “The suicide rates in China are amongst the world’s highest, despite a strong social stigma against suicide, and over 20% of high school students in China say they have strongly considered suicide at some point in their short lives.” Chinatoday.com states that 260,000 Chinese people kill themselves every year. I wasn’t able to find statistics on youth suicides, but Larson-Wang’s analysis leads me to believe that it is likely a substantial fraction. Compared to the roughly 35,000 suicides in the US every year, when you take the population differences into account, it’s about twice as many suicides per year per population.
Is there any bright side to Chua’s style of parenting? Well, possibly. The valedictorian of Rocky Mountain High School in 2006 was a Vietnamese student who moved to the US in his early teens. He had to overcome much more than most students at the school (his first language didn’t even use our alphabet) but he rose to a higher educational status than anyone else in the school. Those who knew him said that they suspected he had a stereotypical “Asian upbringing.” There is non-anecdotal evidence as well. As of 2010, Asians in America make an average household income of $65,469, as opposed the national average of $49,777. Of course, there is no of knowing whether or not it is due to their upbringing as we might expect instead of some other possible factor(s). Not to mention that even if it was somehow confirmed that Chua-like upbringing led to a higher average annual income, it wouldn’t necessarily justify that sort of treatment. It is certainly conceivable that some forms of child-rearing are morally impermissible, even if they do lead to higher incomes. It’s an open question whether or not Chua’s style falls into that category, but I wont explore it further. This does raise another question which I will explore: what should the goals of a parent be?
I hope my claim that there are right and wrong ways to raise children doesn’t need defending, but it has been pointed out to me that is might. It is trendy with fashionable post-modernists to say that all ways of doing everything are equally good because there is no truth to anything anyway. A full refutation of this sort of position would take me too far afield, but I will say one thing. A person who truly commits himself/herself to this line of reasoning would do well to find a starving person, hand them a fistful of dirt and tell them that all diets are equally valid and that there are no truths to be known about human nutrition.
With that out of the way, let’s focus on how parents ought to raise their kids. Should parents mold them into perfect employees by controlling every facet of their lives for as long as possible or should parents let their kids do whatever they want and never try to control them? Or does the best solution, like so many issues, lie somewhere between these two extremes? A step must be taken before even trying to find the best path and it’s so obvious that it’s easy to overlook; What do parents want for their children? If they prioritize financial success over all else, a Chua-style approach is probably appropriate. If all they want is for their child to be happy, that might not be the best approach. The question then comes to: what do the parents value? Or maybe, what should they value?
You can answer the first question by simply asking the parents, and possibly the kids and then infer the goals of the parents. The second is a harder question to answer. I’m obviously biased toward the “let the child flourish as he or she wishes” camp, because that was the way I was raised and I find the idea of being raised in such a way where I have virtually no choice in anything I do objectionable for the same reasons as all of the other westerners who disagree with Chua’s perspective do. A study called “The Contribution of Social Relationships to Children’s Happiness” shows us what we all suspected: good relationships are important components of children’s happiness. I suspect the same is true of adults. In this study however, it seemed that everything that Chua advocates, a hierarchical relationship to parents, no time for personal lives or friends, and not being involved in peer functions are all good predictors of unhappiness in children. This probably helps to explain the high rate of suicidal contemplation among the youth raised in this manner. But even from my position, it’s not hard for me to imagine some of the benefits of that sort of upbringing. For example, I’m sure that if I were forced to spend three hours per day since I was old enough to hold a pen running math problems, I’d probably be a lot more proficient. I don’t know whether or not I’d be willing to sacrifice my entire childhood for better math and music skills, however.
This is where Chua’s argument fails: She makes a case that her variety of child raising is the best because it leads to the most academic success, but she never defends the premise that academic success is worth valuing. It probably is, but it’s probably not the only thing worth wanting. While it’s true that applicants who did well in school are more likely to be hired than ones who didn’t, Chua’s argument is only valid if we adopt the same assumptions that she does about what we ought to value. As I alluded to in my opening paragraph, I don’t think this is the kind of debate that we can settle. This does not mean that all ways of raising children are equally good however.
If we take the metaphor of the mountain range, we need only concede that Chua’s method represents one peak on the land scape, not the best way possible. It is possible that customary western style parenting represents another peak. It depends on what your priorities are. In any case, there are many more bad ways to raise a child than good ones. Any method of child rearing that involves keeping a child locked indoors until it is fifteen years old and keeping it illiterate almost certainly represents a trench on the metaphorical landscape.
So this seems to be the end of the thought process. What is the right approach to parenting? It depends on the parent’s priorities. What do they want for their kids; personal fulfillment or big paychecks? There is a wide spectrum of good answers. It is hard to say that, for example, wanting your child to be a great doctor is objectively better than wanting him or her to be a star athlete. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that once you decide which path you want to travel, once you figure out what it is you want, there will be right and wrong ways to succeed. The steps necessary to become a college professor are likely not the same steps needed to become a supreme court judge. If I had to put my money on one best way (which I will, as I plan on becoming a parent one day) I’d say this: try your best to find a happy medium. Try to raise your child in such a way that he or she is at least proficient in as many fields as possible and, when the time comes, let your child choose his or her own path.
“China Statistics, China Data, China Facts and Figures.” China General Information, China Information, the People’s Republic of China. China Today. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. .
This is simply the source where I got my numbers for suicide rates in China. It contains just about every other population statistic you can think of.
Chua, Amy. “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior – WSJ.com.” Business News & Financial News – The Wall Street Journal – Wsj.com. Wall Street Journal, 08 Jan. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. .
This was our prompting article for this assignment. In this article, Amy Chua lays out her parenting style, outlined above, and argues that it’s is superior to other styles of parenting.
“FASTSTATS – Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC, 05 Oct. 2010. Web. 01 Mar. 2011. .
This is the website I got the suicide rates in the US from. It’s a CDC website, so I think I can trust the numbers.
Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free, 2010. Print.
This book didn’t directly contribute anything to my paper except for the imagery of the landscape with multiple high peaks. Harris is talking about morality, whereas I’m talking about child rearing. He did have some information about the efficacy of spanking and other corporeal punishment, but I couldn’t find a good place to put that in.
Larson-Wang, Jessica A. “Tiger Mothers and Chinese Parenting: Is Strict Discipline Really Superior? – Expat Corner | EChinacities.com.” China Expat | Expat China – Guides to 41 Chinese Cities | EChinacities.com. 24 Jan. 2011. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. .
This article is where I got my facts about the suicide contemplation rates as well as the historical context of child rearing in Chinese culture. This article was written as specifically as a rebuttal against Chua’s article. Her main point is that the Chua style parenting doesn’t create happy kids because it’s not designed to.
Weisenthal, Joe. “Median Income by Race.” Grasping Reality with a Sharp Beak. Department of Economics, U.C. Berkeley, 16 Sept. 2010. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. .
This is the website where I got my numbers for average incomes by race distribution. It’s outlet on the web looks informal, but the information was collected by the Department of Economics at U.C. Berkeley, and thus I’m inclined to take the numbers at face value.
Williams, Ray. “Does Happiness Bring You Financial Success? Or Financial Success Bring You Happiness? – FP Posted.” CS Redir. Financial Post, 09 Feb. 2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2011. .
This was my source that explained the study that found that happiness is correlated with income. Sonja Lyubamirsky, a University of California author of The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want, has studied happiness extensively for almost 20 years. Her recent study found that, instead of the common sense belief that more income equals more happiness, happy people tend to be the ones who get high paying jobs.