One of the things Saturday afternoon’s grim news did was shove out of the way Saturday morning’s grim news, i.e., this trollbait in the Wall Street Journal, which I dearly hope you can read, as, well, hoo-boy. Modestly titled, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior,” it kicks off:
A lot of people wonder how Chinese parents raise such stereotypically successful kids. They wonder what these parents do to produce so many math whizzes and music prodigies, what it’s like inside the family, and whether they could do it too. Well, I can tell them, because I’ve done it. Here are some things my daughters, Sophia and Louisa, were never allowed to do:
• attend a sleepover
• have a playdate
• be in a school play
• complain about not being in a school play
• watch TV or play computer games
• choose their own extracurricular activities
• get any grade less than an A
• not be the No. 1 student in every subject except gym and drama
• play any instrument other than the piano or violin
• not play the piano or violin.
It goes on from there at great length, detailing how the author, Amy Chua, put her children on the road to success by laying a whip on their backs, hard and often. Never mind the Meanie Mom ooga-booga lead — the real fun comes later on, which Chua casually describes her beliefs about parent-child relations, i.e. that children “owe everything” to their parents, and hence must do precisely as they’re told, all the time, and tolerate casual insults (“fatty,” “garbage”), which Chua sees as evidence of bracing honesty and tough love. Actually not even tough love, as the word “love” doesn’t appear anywhere in the story. We wouldn’t want to get the idea she’s a softie, after all, not that we would after we hear the account of how she got her 7-year-old to learn “The Little White Donkey,” a piano piece:
Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.
A Western parent would have given up long ago, but not this superior mother:
…I rolled up my sleeves and went back to Lulu. I used every weapon and tactic I could think of. We worked right through dinner into the night, and I wouldn’t let Lulu get up, not for water, not even to go to the bathroom. The house became a war zone, and I lost my voice yelling, but still there seemed to be only negative progress, and even I began to have doubts.
You know this story has a happy ending, right? Yes, Lulu learned to play “The Little White Donkey,” and her mother glows with self-approval.
Well, like I said: I know when I’m being trolled. At over 2,000 comments, it’s all building to the crescendo of an online chat with the superior mother on Thursday. But that’s not what I want to discuss, but rather something Mother Superior drops casually:
I’ve noticed that Western parents are extremely anxious about their children’s self-esteem. They worry about how their children will feel if they fail at something, and they constantly try to reassure their children about how good they are notwithstanding a mediocre performance on a test or at a recital. In other words, Western parents are concerned about their children’s psyches. Chinese parents aren’t. They assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.
I’ve noticed that I read this truism frequently. I’ve also noticed that it isn’t borne out in my experience. To read some commentators, “self-esteem” is a subject you can major in in American public schools. Children are constantly being petted and affirmed and bolstered with praise, I’m told. And yet, I look around, and I don’t see much attention being paid to it, if any. Oh, you hear a reference here and there to something building self-esteem, but it’s not something that gets special emphasis. In fact, now that I think about it, the parents I know also assume “strength, not fragility” in their kids. They’re just not quite so…what’s the word…psychotic about it, as Chua.
Of those hundreds of commentators, most say Chua is a lunatic, but a fair number fall into the “well, I wouldn’t go that far, but she’s on the right track with rejecting all that self-esteem nonsense.”
You’ll never smear honey on your toast again. At least not supermarket honey. I didn’t even know you could give antibiotics to bees.
One minute they’re bumping chests, the next minute, tumbling down the shoulder of I-75 — yet another death worth of a “Six Feet Under” open.
Po’ Sawah Pawin. That is all.