Tiger Moms, PISA Results, & Global Education

Why did “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior?” cause a media frenzy?

Fear of Failure: America’s Place in a Global Education

Amy Chua’s memoir about Chinese moms shows how education has become more global and has coalesced around a national fear of China taking over the world, solidified by Shanghai’s # 1 ranking on the PISA test.

In the era of a shortening 24-hour news cycle it’s amazing that Yale Law School professor, Amy Chua captured the media spotlight. Her essay called Why Chinese Mothers are Superior was published in the Wall Street Journal on January 8, 2011 and ignited a firestorm of debate about extreme parenting in the media.

The Wall Street Journal article has received more than 1 million hits and close to 9000 comments so far. The Amy Chua story has generated an incredible amount of press in print, television network news, blogosphere and magazines including appearances for Amy Chua on the Today Show. The New York Times dedicated a “Room for Debate” to the article with seven different scholars weighing in on the issues.

These articles about Amy Chua’s memoir Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother arrived in the press at the moment forces of globalization in the economy and education all coalesced around a national fear that China is about to take over the world.

Current Economic and Education landscape/Timeline

• Chinese economy continues to grow at a rate of more than 10% a year and the trade deficit between the nations expands in contrast
• USA’s recession since 2009 continues to slowly recover with little job growth.
• Two documentary films in the last few years popularized education reform and the political debate in education policy The Lottery in March & Waiting for Superman in September of 2010, respectively, premiered to huge audiences. Followed by two Oprah Winfrey shows discussing the awful state of USA’s failing education system.
• Dec 7, 2010, PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) 2009 test results become available. Shanghai students score #1 on the PISA test of 15 year olds from 65 nations. United States comes in 23rd out of 65 nations. (The results for 2012 have Shanghai at #1 again, USA 27th)Pisa Results up to UAE

• January 5, 2011, a New York Times article about Movement to Restore Children’s Play and in October the Ultimate Block Party in New York
• Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is visits China
• January 8, 2011 Why Chinese Mothers are Superior essay published in the Wall Street Journal
• January 19th, 2011 President Obama hosted a state dinner for President Hu Jintao of China

These events outlined above, juxtapose the impact of a direct contrast between permissive American parents protecting a child’s self esteem and Chinese parents requiring hours of drill and practice. Chua’s essay, in the Wall Street Journal triggered every mother’s insecurity about whether or not they were doing enough for their child. She also touched a nerve in every mother, inciting anxiety about being a good mother. For many parents who spend less time than Chua on working with their children, their guilt caused a fury of rage and inspired vicious name calling.

The news doesn’t seem to want to let the story die. A search on Google of Amy Chua and “Tiger mother” produces more than 547,000 hits. My brother always says “luck is what happens when you’re prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that happen.” Well, Amy Chua was more than lucky. She has found a miracle story that she is riding all the way along the media rainbow and straight to the bank holding a pot of gold for her.

Now, Time magazine has dedicated its cover article to extreme parenting techniques to debunk the myths from the research on parenting and which techniques are effective at producing thriving independent children. Time asserts in “Tiger Moms, Is Tough Parenting the Answer?”, that much of the research agrees with many of Amy Chua’s method of parenting and the Chinese immigrant parenting style so that they produce successful adults. Can we learn about parenting from Amy Chua’s example, rather than calling her a child abuser and other nastier words?

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a memoir of one parent’s experiences, not a how to book. It is as much about the art of learning to let go and relax as it is about extreme work ethic. Amy Chua allows us all the opportunity to understand how she wrestled with her own anxiety about being a parent. What are the questions that all parents wrestle with constantly? How does Amy Chua answer those questions in a modern digital era while still maintaining the values of a striving immigrant community?

3 Internal Parental Questions

• How do immigrant parents nurture a child’s perseverance and persistence instead of shielding them from difficult experiences?

• How does an immigrant parent’s value of high expectations and little praise, impact school success?

• How much practice is a fair requirement of students in a scheduled school day? (two hours of music practice and four hours of homework)

Instead of focusing on the criticism of permissive American parenting styles compared to virtues of Chinese mothers let’s see what we can learn from immigrant parents. Time magazine article “Tiger Moms, Is Tough Parenting the Answer?” has found research and has begun to tackle the answers to these questions. The research agrees with Chua on three key parenting beliefs.

Researchers Answers to 3 Parental questions

1. Children are strong and need not be shielded from hard work and the most difficult tasks. Challenge your children to meet the highest expectations. This is especially important in the age of global competition where rigor is key and challenging, higher-order thinking takes precedent. Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed profiles a few children who devote themselves to accomplishing a singular goal that requires years of hard work and persistence.

How Children Succeed

Estroff Marano, editor-at-large of Psychology Today magazine, marshals evidence that shows Chua is correct. “Research demonstrates that children who are protected from grappling with difficult tasks don’t develop what psychologists call ‘mastery experiences,’ ” Marano explains. “Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they’ve learned that they’re capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.” Children who have never had to test their abilities, says Marano, grow into “emotionally brittle” young adults who are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.”

2. Lots of unearned praise spoil a child and deter hard work and trying new opportunities. Praise children for effort and hard work not talent, intelligence or physical beauty. Set high expectations and only compliment your child for the hard work needed to achieve these goals. Children who receive praise on hard work are motivated to try new challenges.Smartest Kids in the World Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World, profiles three American exchange students in Poland, Finland, and South Korea who notice the difference between the required effort of American High Schools versus International schools, which emphasize rigor.

“Research performed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has found that the way parents offer approval affects the way children perform, even the way they feel about themselves. Experimenters gave the subjects a set of difficult problems from an IQ test. Afterward, some of the young people were praised for their ability: “You must be smart at this.” Others were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.” The kids who were complimented on their intelligence were much more likely to turn down the opportunity to do a challenging new task that they could learn from. “They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their deficiencies and call into question their talent,” Dweck says. Ninety percent of the kids who were praised for their hard work, however, were eager to take on the demanding new exercise.”

3. A great deal of repetitive practice is necessary to become good at anything. It’s true that some things only become fun once you’re good at them. It’s impossible to become a good advanced math student if you have not practiced your math multiplication tables for enough hours in order for operations to become automatic. In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he explains the 10,000 hour rule. That, in order to achieve expert status, you must practice something for roughly 10,000 hours.


Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, states that, “It’s virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extensive practice, He notes, “if you repeat the same task again and again, it will eventually become automatic. Your brain will literally change so that you can complete the task without thinking about it.” Once this happens, the brain has made mental space for higher-order operations: for interpreting literary works, say, and not simply decoding their words; for exploring the emotional content of a piece of music, and not just playing the notes. Brain scans of experimental subjects who are asked to execute a sequence of movements, for example, show that as the sequence is repeated, the parts of the brain associated with motor skills become less active, allowing brain activity to shift to the areas associated with higher-level thinking and reflection.

Children are not fragile; have faith in their ability to succeed and work hard. Set extremely high expectations and do not accept less than 110% effort and stellar performances. Comfort your child with a hug and praise for hard work and daily practice needed to achieve big goals. Require many hours of practice and multiple hours of homework each day. Practice makes perfect for music as well as parenting. If we are to evolve into the nuanced analysis necessary for the most advanced balancing act of parenting, artistic interpretation of music and creative innovation, the basics must become automatic skills.

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