Tiger Mother: Why is it so controversial?

by Kristy Kim

Asian failure = A-
“Don’t worry about exam too much Kristy! I know that for you Asians, the
worst grade is A-”
This is what my friend said to me last semester. Of course, this is NOT true.

I think that the big controversy over tiger mom is not just about the Amy
Chua’s book ‘Battle hymn of the tiger mother’. First of all, endless controversy
about her book and article represents white American parents’ huge anxiety about
seeing their children fall behind academically. Asian parenting style focused on child
education has come into the spotlight within several years. For example, two years
ago, President Obama praised Korean Education System. “Our children – listen to
this – our children spend over a month less in school than children in South Korea
every year,” he told a gathering at the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “That’s
no way to prepare them for a 21st-century economy.”

2010 international test scores made people all over the world be interested
in the Asian education system. According to Reading, Math and Science scores, it
is obvious that Asian students do well in school in general. (Shanghai tops the latest
tests. Also, Shanghai, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore ranks within top 5 in
all three subjects). The U.S. is traditionally ranked against other OECD countries. On
an absolute basis, students from 24 of 34 OECD countries had higher scores than
U.S. students, and the Education Department said 17 were better on a statistically
significant basis. For example, 15-year-olds in the United States had an average
score of 487 in math on a 1,000-point scale. In contrast, Shanghai students scored
600, Singapore, 562; South Korea, Hong Kong, 555; Finland, 541.

These series of news, combined to the intensive coverage of news
about China’s fast economic growth, attract huge public attention. Although it
is hard to conclude that the higher scores are really the result of parenting style,

many educational experts started to show interest in aspects of the Asian parenting
style which focuses on children’s academic performance. In particular, American

parents who have believed in liberal and lenient western parenting style
started to have doubts. They feel threatened by the prospect of Asian students
getting ahead under the supervision of their super supportive parents.

Amy Chua has been criticized a lot after the Wall Street Journal published an
excerpt of her book with the title ‘Why Chinese mothers are superior?’. Critics in the

Asian American community say that Amy Chua uses overgeneralizations and unfair
stereotypes. They argue that “Amy Chua is giving us a bad name. She is making us
look like we are all harsh dragon moms”.

However, at a San Francisco book event on January, she made it clear that
her book is not a parenting guide book. She says “This book is a memoir. I never
intended to say my style is superior”. The book is meant to show the strengths as
well as the weaknesses of her parenting style. She says she believes it also
captures an aspect of the Asian immigrant reality, because she talked to many
immigrants families and she realized that they have important points in common
when it comes to parenting styles.

Most of my friends in Berkeley say “Amy Chua is wrong, my mom is anything
but a tiger mom, but I ended up in Berkeley”. However, in my opinion, Amy Chua
has good reasons to raise her children in strict way. She says “I was raised by
extremely strict but also extremely loving Chinese immigrants. Looking back on my
childhood, my parents’ high expectation was the greatest gift to me”

A mistake she says she made was to be overconfident in her parenting style.
The strict parenting style which came from her parents didn’t work for her own
children. She struggled when her second daughter started hating her and their
relationship became disastrous. At this moment of her crisis she decided to write a
book and finished it just in 2 months.

Readers were shocked when they came to the passage which describes Amy
Chua prohibiting her children getting grades lower than an A, TV, playdates and
sleepovers, and warning her pianist child that “if the next time’s not perfect, I’m going
to take all your stuffed animals and burn them”. Some accused Amy Chua of being
heartless and a lunatic, but some started to think “maybe she is right”. They love her
or love to hate her.

In truth, tiger mothers have existed for a long time. Why is it so controversial
right now? Here is my answer: these past few years, Asian students’ academic
achievements drew global attention toward Asian students and the Asian
educational system. Just then, people found Amy Chua’s book which describes strict
Chinese parenting style in detail. Here is my advice for parents who are worrying
about their children getting behind because they never have been pushing their
children as much as Amy did: When it comes to the parenting style, there is no right
answer, the most important thing is understanding your children first before deciding
which parenting style to stick to.