Some of the comments about Chua's piece were negative, even vehemently so. But others, a surprising number, were admiring and even envious. That even an exaggerated and half tongue-in-cheek account of a rigid, demanding, insensitive approach to parenthood elicited positive comments reflects, perhaps, our awareness of how soft and indulgent we've become.
"In one study," Chua writes, "of 50 Western American mothers and 48 Chinese immigrant mothers, almost 70 percent 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 percent of the Chinese mothers felt the same way."
Chinese (and other immigrant) parents believe that drill, effort, and some rote memorization are paths to accomplishment and that it is mastery -- not empty praise about how "special" each child is -- that builds self-esteem. The tiger mothers may overdo it a bit -- but let's face it, many American parents are too reluctant to demand work that isn't "fun" and too ready to believe that our children have something to teach us rather than the other way around.
Americans may also be spooked by an unavoidable reality of our shrinking planet -- our kids will have to compete with more than 2 billion Chinese, Indian and other Asian kids who, through whatever combination of genes, culture, and technique, are outperforming us. On a 2007 international test of math and science (in which China and India didn't participate) U.S. fourth- and eighth-graders lagged behind those in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Latvia, England, and Korea.
But parenting, in the end, is not about winning trophies, nor even about keeping up with the Asians. Could we stand a bit more steel in our spines? Sure. But to want your children to be happy is no sin -- after all, it's in our founding documents.