In a recent weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, (January 8-9, 2011) I read an article that soon started a nationwide controversy. The headline read "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." It was the story of Yale Law Professor Amy Chua, with essays excerpted from her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. My interest soon turned into disbelief, as I read her own words "...that nothing is fun until you are good at it." Nothing? What about the fun of learning through "discovery?" I kept reading.
As an educator of young children, I understood when she wrote, "To get good at anything you have to work...", However, I did not agree with the second part of her comment "...and children on their own never want to work." I see the inaccuracy of that statement everyday in my classroom. Children are eager to learn, and do not shy away from whatever work it takes.
She tells the story of making her seven year old practice a piano piece, under extreme pressure. She threatens to take away her dollhouse. She threatens no lunch or dinner, no birthday parties and no holiday presents. She says "I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic."
This is where I fundamentally differ from her approach, as both a parent and a teacher. When has humiliation ever been an effective tool in teaching anyone anything except resentment and hate? In my experience, it is positive encouragement that allows children to take risks, knowing that if they fail they have a soft place to land.
I am left to wonder...is this all just a "reality show" in the form of a book? Is it simply controversy to generate sales? I’m at a loss to say. All I know is that when I returned to my class after reading that article, I was more determined than ever to continue my nurturing, "tiger-less" approach. Although Ms. Chua’s method has apparently worked for her two talented daughters, I am proud to say my methods have successfully worked for more than six hundred students over the years.