I was mesmerized by this book by Amy Chua entitled The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Chua’s book read like a personal journal of a sadistic-control-driven-mad-woman admitting the difficulties in parenting and the self-inflicted punishment and self-imposed grueling lifestyle of of being so driven. The story intrigued me that I finished the entire book anticipating the outcome. I was exhausted by the schedule that Amy both endured, and inflicted upon her family. I wondered when this woman slept, if at all. Perhaps Asians need less sleep than the weak Americans. Note to self: Investigate the cultural differences of sleep needs. Even Amy states, “As a purely mathematical fact, people who sleep less live more.” There were times that I literally laughed out loud and other times I gasped at the intense methods and means by which Amy amassed to get her children to do what she wanted them to do. And yet all this was strangely familiar.
As Michelle and I are homeschooling parents and somewhat academics ourselves, (my wife with a masters degree and two undergraduate degrees graduating with summa cum laude from both institutions and myself working on a doctorate), the book got me thinking of how we conduct our education with our four children and contrasting it with the Chinese education model. I also thought the fact that my wife and I lead Chinese students every summer for two weeks as they arrive to learn English and encounter the American culture. This is where Amy’s story was familiar. The Chinese kids we host each summer, ranging from the ages of 8 to 15, and numbering around 50, are always overwhelmed by the love that they receive from their host mother and father and family members. They admitted to us it is all so foreign to them. Not just the culture and language but the enjoyment of life itself. As they eventually become comfortable with us they share the daily grind and pressure they are under back at home to both perform well and achieve the highest honors. The very reason they are traveling to America and other western nations at such young ages is to place such experiences in their resumes. Yes, 10 and 11-year-olds have resumes and they are fairly impressive. Last summer one young 14 year old had already traveled to England, France, Australia, Ireland, and was now in the US for the second time. Each of her trips were for two weeks and without her parents.
Amy Chua argues that Western parenting tries to respect and nurture children’s individuality, by contrast Amy states, “Chinese parenting is one of the most difficult things I can think of. You have to be hated sometimes by someone you love and who hopefully loves you, and there’s just no letting up, no point at which it suddenly becomes easy.” Such a strict parenting model goes “up against an entire value system-rooted in the Enlightenment, individual autonomy, child development theory, and the Universal declaration of human rights-and there’s no one you can talk to honestly, not even people you like and deeply respect.”
All of this reminded me of an article I once read about education in America from a businessman’s perspective. He openly mocked how the educational system tended to cuddle and bend towards individualism of students. “The current public education in America,” he chided, “has the philosophy that each child is like a flower that needs a individual amount of water and sunshine. Therefore, each child should be treated differently as they are individuals who need specific and specialized nurturing and instruction suited to their particular individual needs to help them bloom and blossom into their own individualistic and full potential.” After setting the stage with such “flowering words” (pun totally intended) he proceeded to provide reality to the overgrown individualistic situation. He suggested that in the “real world” individuals cannot go to their bosses in the factory or plant and declare to them, “but boss, I’m an individual flower and need to be treated as such. I am not a morning person and therefore don’t think it is best for me to arrive here with all the other workers so early in the morning.” Do that and see how your flower blossoms.
The majority of the workforce coming out of our public schools will not be treated with such placating individualistic nurturing. The sharp contrast between the current public educational dream world and the reality of future employment experience was detailed and extrapolated quite vividly by the no-nonsense business man. The reality is that conformity is not only expected, but demanded by all in the workforce. You are expected to give 100% to the company. If not you can be replaced with another “flower.” In the real world expectations are set for certain arrival times, lengths of breaks, output of production, obedience to company policy and employer’s demands. There are no “flower tenders” in today’s competitive workforce. Are we really preparing our children to face that reality through our individualistic nurturing methods or do we need a little more Tiger mother mentality in our education system?
As I read through the battle hymn of the Tiger mother I realized that though there is a cultural difference between Amy and, say Michelle, both mothers want what is best for their children. I have heard the “Tiger Mother” come out in Michelle during those grueling homeschool hours. I have since moved out into the garage and set up my standing work station out there. Peace and quite and no prowling Tigers. Yet, as I read some excerpts from the book to Michelle she was horrified at some of the tactics used by Amy. In comparison Michelle looked more like a house pussycat than a Tiger. Regardless of culture the struggle to do the best for your children is always there. “How much do you push?” is always the question. My oldest daughter is self driven. More than any other teenager I have ever met, and remember I youth pastored for 12 years in three different states. She sets her schedule, has her to do list, exercises regularly, does daily devotions, plays classical piano, was a competitive gymnast winning both state and regional championships, enrolled in advance college courses at age 15, volunteers with an inner city ministry, and plays for the children’s worship band. Many parents have asked us how many hours we “have” Briana practice daily on the piano. We laugh as we realize that we have never set an amount for her to practice. She governs herself. Now, if I could say that all my children were that way it would be wonderful, but alas the other three flowers of mine are growing in much different ways. They need the Tiger loosed on them every once in a while. And I do believe that a little tiger will do the body good. Attached is our daughter’s recent recital where she was the grand finale performing Arabesque No. 1 by Claude Debussy. Not perfection but enjoyable.
 Amy Chua, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Reprint edition (New York: Penguin Books, 2011), Loc. 2340.
 Ibid., Loc. 1832.
 Ibid., Loc. 1819 .