Are Chinese Mothers Superior?

Last week saw the rise of a new contender for most reviled woman in America. A Chinese-American Yale professor, author, and mom proved once again that Americans have little patience with self-confident, achievement-oriented mothers, especially those that express themselves with authenticity, humor, and conviction.

Amy Chua proved also that multiculturalism and diversity were never intended to help us set the bar higher, but only to validate underachievers.

For decades now, we’ve stood by in denial as affirmative action programs have dumbed down our university/college system and work environments. We’ve been vaguely aware that the drive to include more blacks and Hispanics has been at the sacrifice of better-qualified Asians (see "Do colleges redline Asian-Americans?").

Most of us have worked alongside, gone to school with, or lived next door to Asians. We know their grades, SAT scores, and need to succeed are typically higher. There truly is something about Asians -- as an adoptive mother of a Taiwanese son, I see it every day.

Consider the spine-tingling 2008 Beijing Olympics opening ceremony and the incredible self-discipline required of each individual to produce such unity and precision. This is incomprehensible to Americans, whose religious devotion to individualism -- and the modern Have It Your Way mentality -- is producing signs of strain on our social fabric, transforming our universities into places where many undisciplined girls and boys party hearty on their parents’ dime.

These were not my first reflections on reading Chua’s now-infamous piece -- at least the piece presented/misrepresented in the Wall Street Journal. Book sales aside, the Journal certainly did the author no favors when they wove together segments from her memoir Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother to present a skewed and provocative essay with Chua’s byline and the Journal’s heavy-handed title: "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior."

Unlike many of those in the nearly 7000 comments to date, I was not threatened or deeply disturbed by Chua’s well-written and humorous narrative. First of all, much of it rang true. As a San Francisco Montessori teacher, my class was 50% Asian. And for seven years our family was neighbors with a wonderful Chinese family in Marin. So I’ve seen strict and bossy up close and personal. I’ve seen the drills, the Kumon classes, the piano practice, the push for perfection.

It might not have been my style of parenting, but I felt comfortable living alongside it. In fact, I felt like my kids would probably be a little better off if a little of that Chinese mother stuff would rub off on me.

I never felt the need to judge or condemn my dear friend (and her mother-in-law) because their tone of voice was harsher than mine. Isn’t that what multiculturalism and diversity are all about?

In the immediate aftermath of the Journal's piece -- as every mother with a keyboard registered her alarm -- my first thought was that this was yet another media-created MommyWar. After all, as a blogger who happens to be a mom, I’ve seen several of those in the past six years.

But when the backlash and tone grew worse, beyond any MommyWar to date -- to vicious personal attacks, mockery, and even death threats -- I knew that there was more afoot.

You see, someone can write a book or make a movie about a girl named Precious and we don’t attack the indigent, neglectful, and monstrously selfish mother because we accept she just can’t do any better. Since she makes a normal mother look like Mother Teresa, she actually is useful. She poses no threat.

But a mother determined to produce exceptional children with a skill level developed only with discipline -- why, how dare she share how she encourages her children to meet their potential? What an outrage that she chose a path different than we American moms!