January 27, 2011

HA, Tiger Mom's At Davos, And You're Not

Well, most of you are not. I've been surprised to get a few tweets, you know who you are.

Anyway, not only is random Yale Law professor Amy Chua at the World Economic Forum; she's on a panel at the World Economic Forum.

An extraordinarily asymmetrical panel, with former Treasury Secretary/Harvard president/ Chief White House Economic Adviser-turned random Harvard professor Larry Summers, where she actually utters this line in public:

I certainly never expected to talk about my parenting skills, or lack thereof, at the World Economic Forum.
Whoa, we agree on something! Good thing her book just came out last week, otherwise, whatever would she talk about?

The killer part? She also manages to make Summers sound like the sympathetic voice of reason:

"In a world where things that require discipline and steadiness can be done increasingly by computers, is the traditional educational emphasis on discipline, accuracy and successful performance and regularity really what we want?" he asked. Creativity, he said, might be an even more valuable asset that educators and parents should emphasize. At Harvard, he quipped, the A students tend to become professors and the C students become wealthy donors.

"It is not entirely clear that your veneration of traditional academic achievement is exactly well placed," he said to Ms. Chua.

With this combination of extraordinary combination of backdrop, self-serious self-regard, and laughable cluelessness, I think we can now safely say that Amy Chua is to parenting what Wai Lana is to yoga.

From the Wall Street Journal's Davos Liveblog [!]: Larry Summers says 'Tiger Mom' Amy Chua may be wrong [wsj]

Previously: Wai Lana: Clown Princess of Yoga


That's an old law school adage too: "The A students become professors and the B students end up working for the C students."

While it's taboo to admit it on the Upper West Side of Manhattan I am generally a fan of Larry Summers. That said, he's always just a little too cocky. Chua wrote a (don't-call-it-a) parenting book that is getting attention more for her successful marketing/PR efforts and a few controversial anecdotes than for it's value or importance. As such, Summers' criticism seems a bit over-the-top. At Davos, you would hope that it would be Summers who was on the defensive as it is not entirely clear that his development and application of economic advice was exactly well placed.

So it should have been Summers who said, "I can't believe I'm talking about your parenting at Davos."

So we're saying that quality really doesn't matter anymore, as long as something is creative, the functional fine-tuning isn't important?

Creativity and social skills are very important in the coming decades, I have no doubt, but don't discipline, quality, and talent also have a place?

Wasn't there a study a few years ago about truly amazing talent - the super athletes, music performers, etc. - having not only some innate talent but also having spent something like 10,000 hours practicing their skill already by age 10?

Does it serve any of us to give every creative act by our kids the grandmotherly praise of "Great job!"? When MY kid doesn't like his own drawing, for his own legitimate reasons, how does it help him to railroad over his opinion and say "No, no, honey it's wonderful!" aka your self-critical analysis is WRONG because everything you do is wondrously amazing!?

Calling your kid garbage is not OK, definitely, but I think the aggressive criticism of Chua's ideas is pretty unfair, and frankly a bit racist, and that some good points are being lost because it's more fun to joke that she "refused her daughter's birthday cards". Ooh, she must be a monster!

Hmm, which of your straw mom arguments and ad hominems to take up first?

No one said "quality's out, as long as you tried to be creative, honey," did they? Even the excerpts of Larry Summers' comments don't say anything remotely like that. The caricature of "grandmotherly praise" and the whole "whatever crap you did, great job!" didn't come up here, either, but who is defending them?

I am not your kid's parent, so do and think what you want, but I will not unilaterally march my kid off in the pursuit of "truly amazing talent" by filling her childhood with 10,000 hours or practice. Have you read Andre Agassi's book? His childhood was a living hell, where his dad made him hit like 3,000 balls a day, every day, and then sent him away to live at Bolletieri's tennis prison camp. He sure provided the world with some exciting entertainment for several years, but if Agassi is a good and happy human being now, it's certainly despite his parents, not because of them. Don't even get me started on Tiger Woods.

So no, I don't think "truly amazing talent" is my goal as a parent, and even if a teen concert pianist or a prima ballerina were embodiments of some kind of ideal of human life I hoped my kid would aspire to, Amy Chua would still be a hyperbolic narcissist who cranked out an unreflective, unhelpful firebomb of a book.

Truly amazing talent isn't my goal as a parent.

And no, not everything I talked about came up here in this blog post - I'm responding more to the overall tenor of your and many other bloggers' complaints about Chua's book. I have to go with Steven Colbert for calling it out best: she wrote a book that's scaring all us parents, and rather than look at and critique our own parenting styles, which probably have both strengths and weaknesses, we're burning her at the stake because it's a lot easier.

As dangerous as it is, I have to disagree with Colbert. Chua and her publisher are orchestrating an aggressive marketing campaign to foment parental anxiety and to propagate her noxious racially oriented stereotypes and pathological parenting style.

She hamhandedly conflates the very notion of parental success and even love with facile, narrow nationalistic and ethnic identity politics. And she does it all with an astounding sense of self-regard and without the slightest hint of self-awareness or irony. And then when people call bullshit on her or express any disagreement or outrage, she retreats with a completely unbelievable claim that no, it's not a parenting book, it's a provocative exaggeration and self-parody. Don't you get it?

I'm sorry, it's not me, and it's not my parenting style. It's Chua and her book. She is a farce. And I don't know what's more farcical: that someone thought this inane book deserved to be discussed at Davos--with Larry Summers! who, controversial and polarizing as he is, has at least some credentials and import on the world stage--or that she'd actually try to pretend that she didn't expect to be discussing her parenting style at Davos. As if she had anything else to say, and as if she and her book flacks didn't spend months wrestling that gig to the ground.

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