Mean Chinese Supermoms are Right while Positive Self-Esteemism is Wrong

Thanks to an old friend, I recently read Amy Chua’s excellent January 8, Saturday Essay in The Wall Street Journal of Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.

That essay activated the dendrites in my dyslexic, PTSD challenged brain, which started to buzz with ideas for this post.

Then I thought of my mother, who defied the early tide of Positive Self-Esteemism that started to wash America clean of common sense as early as the 1950s. I shudder to think of what might have happened to me if she hadn’t done that.

Most “isms” have something to offer. Capitalism offers that a few get filthy rich. Socialism offers protection for the working class from greedy capitalists so the workers at least have food and shelter.

However, Positive Self-Esteemism has nothing to offer. It is a cancer eating the young minds of the most powerful nation on the planet.

Amy Chua, a professor at the Yale Law School and author of the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, may be on a crusade to save American education by pointing out why Chinese mothers do a better job raising children that go on to do better in school.

Don’t you find it interesting that bad American teachers are blamed for the academic failure of many American students, while most Chinese-American students learned from those same teachers and go on to academic success anyway? Our daughter, who is Chinese-American, had bad teachers too but she also had mean parents, and she was accepted to Stanford University after graduating from high school with a 4.65 GPA.

Horror of horrors, as a child, our daughter had no telephone or TV in her room and no video games. Instead of watching TV nightly as most American kids do, she had to read. The TV was on only two hours a week to watch 20/20 and 60 Minutes.

In her Wall Street Journal essay, Chua says, “What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up.”

Amy Chu talks of her book, Day of Empire.

I despise Positive Self-Esteemism as much as or more than America’s Founding Fathers despised democracy.

I learned the hard way years ago how wrong Positive Self-Esteemism was. I taught for thirty years as a classroom teacher in the public schools and was in the trenches being shot at on an annual basis by the politically correct troops spreading this cancer.

In fact, we teachers were told to stop using the word “work” to describe the assignments we had our students doing because studies pointed out that American kids don’t like work. It was also suggested that we correct student work with green ink instead of red because red makes kids feel bad.

However, back in 1952, I was fortunate. For a brief time my mother defied Positive Self-Esteemism and taught me to read when educational experts decided I would never learn to read or write. A decade earlier, the same verdict had been made of my brother and he died illiterate at 64.

At 17, my brother Richard had already been in jail and was drinking booze and doing drugs. He was cutting school too. Why go when you cannot read?

Without knowing it, due to my older brother’s behavior, our mother learned the hard way that Positive Self-Esteemism was wrong. She didn’t blame bad teachers or the schools as many American parents are doing today.

After mother heard the verdict that her youngest son would also be illiterate, she drove home in tears. Both my mother and dad [due to the Great Depression they both dropped out of school at fourteen to work and never graduated from high school] loved to read. The thought of me not sharing a passion for the written word was too much to bear.

By the time we reached home, mother decided to teach me behind closed doors where none of the early shock troops of Positive Self-Esteemism could accuse her of being an abusive parent.

To motivate me, mother used a wire coat hanger and mean language. If I complained, mother hit me with the coat hanger and accused me of being stupid.

I learned to read and write.

When mother was 89 and near death, she asked my forgiveness for being mean to motivate me to read.  Mother said she had lived with guilt for what she had done for more than five decades.

I replied, “Mom, I wished you had told me this before. There is no reason to feel guilty or ask me for forgiveness for teaching me to read by being mean. If you hadn’t done that, I would have followed in Richard’s footsteps. Without being able to read, I may have gone to jail as he did. Thank you for using that coat hanger. Thank you for being mean and forcing me to learn.”

A few weeks later my mother died.

My brother spent fifteen years in jail, was an alcoholic and dabbled seriously in drugs. All those flaws didn’t matter to me. I still loved my brother.

He died having never read a book. In fact, if he were alive today, he wouldn’t be able to read Amy Chua’s work.

Learn more of how the Self-Esteem Movement Helps Cripple US Education System


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

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2 Responses to Mean Chinese Supermoms are Right while Positive Self-Esteemism is Wrong

  1. Janet Xu says:

    Perhaps you are so strongly attached to what has made you great that you dislike to criticize it.

    Surely, “mean” parenting can result in great results; a hard-work ethic, perseverance, and defensiveness. But it also makes one use to verbal criticisms and put downs, which are deconstructive rather than constructive for any future relationship. Mean parenting can create an extreme fear of being wrong, which can make one feel very trapped and isolated.

    Positive Self-Esteemism, on the other hand, widens one’s potential, and a strong hard-working parenting style deepens that potential. I have not researched positive self-esteemism but I think you equate it with “spoiling,” which doesn’t have to be the case. My parents used the rigid-and-insulting, or “mean parenting,” method on me and I can say that there are many things about it that can be improved, right? 😉

    • Janet,

      It is obvious that your comment is based on a personal, isolated, emotional response due to your parents using what we define as “mean parenting” to raise you.

      In fact, our daughter, who is Asian-American (Chinese mother born and raised in China before she came to US and White stepfather, me)—also felt sorry for herself while in high school due to her White friends feeling sorry for her because she didn’t have the same freedoms that they had and she did not have parents that inflated a false sense of self esteem for her. To achieve praise from either of her parents, she had to actually achieve something such as earning a 4.65 PGA (she had straight “A’s” from 3rd grade to graduation from high school) or ranking fifth in the State of California in her sport and age group. In my home office, I hang all of her first, second and third place medals for the sport she participated in through high school. She also broke league records more than once—actually twice in one meet where she broke the standing record and then broke her own record the next jump. Yet, when she started out in this sport in 9th grade, her mother told her she would never be able to jump higher than five feet. Before she graduated from high school, she was jumping more than 13 feet in practice and almost 13 feet in competitions. She also competed in Academic Decathlon and has one gold medal.

      However, today (she will turn 21 this year and is starting her third year at Stanford where she meets many young people who were also raised by so-called “mean” parents when compared to the average White parenting method in America that inflates a false sense of self esteem), she realizes that her so-called “mean parents” that refused to let her watch several hours of TV a day, party every weekend or hang out with her friends after school and on weekends were right.

      However, when we look beyond one individual’s personal experience and emotional reaction—yours— and turn to the facts from VERY reputable sources that deal in facts and not opinions or emotion we find different results.

      For example:

      The CDC reported, “During 2005–2009, the highest suicide rates were among American Indian/Alaskan Native males with 27.61 suicides per 100,000 and Non-Hispanic White males with 25.96 suicides per 100,000. Of all female race/ethnicity groups, the American Indian/Alaskan Natives and Non-Hispanic Whites had the highest rates with 7.87 and 6.71 suicides per 100,000, respectively. The Asian/Pacific Islanders had the lowest suicide rates among males while the Non-Hispanic Blacks had the lowest suicide rate among females.”

      For clarity, here are the breakdowns for female suicide:
      1st place (meaning highest suicide rate) went to North American Native Indians.
      2nd place went to Non-Hispanic Whites
      3rd place went to Asian females but was almost half that of White females.
      4th place went to Hispanic females.
      Last place (the lowest suicide rate among females) went to Non-Hispanic Blacks (African-Americans)

      Then, without citing the sources (I have cited them in other posts and do not want to take the time to look them all up again), Asian Americans (on average) graduate from high school in higher ratios than all other ethnic groups; attend and graduate from college in higher ratios; graduate (on average) with better college degrees leading to higher paying more secure jobs; have the lowest incidence of teenage pregnancy, teen drug use, STDs, higher rates of marriage, lower rates of divorce …

      However, studies also show that Asian-Americans have the lowest sense of self-esteem in the nation when compared to other ethnic groups (on average). Maybe the reason for so much success through life in almost every category is that Asian-Americans feel that they have to work harder to prove themselves and because they succeed as adults, the suicide rate is much lower along with so many other “Factors” that are not opinions and are reported by reputable sources based on fact and not emotion based opinions.

      As for improvement in parenting methods, which was your closing question, of course. There’s always room for improvement but the facts say that improvement should focus on Whites, Blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans parents and maybe the place they should improve in is not focusing on instilling a false sense of self esteem in children while looking to Asian-American parents to discover where so many of them (on average) went wrong.

      After all, if we want to discover which parenting styles work best, we should look at all of the children after they became adults to discover the results and the facts are already there.

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