The Real Wimps are revealed in the Amy Chua, Tiger Mother Debate

David Brooks, an Op-Ed Columnist for the New York Times, wrote an interesting opinion piece titled Amy Chua is a Wimp.

Brooks was wrong of course, and one of the comments to his opinion left by Leon Breaux shows why

Brooks was wrong just as most American parents are also wrong in the way they raise children to have an inflated and false sense of self-esteem.

Amy Chua as a Tiger Mother may be an example of the other extreme but her children will be much better prepared to survive in the world than children that grew up learning social survival skills in lieu of a real education.

I taught in the US public schools for thirty years, so I agree with Leon Breaux and have copied his comment below with the above link to the New York Times so readers may read what Brooks has to say as flawed as his self-centered, biased opinion is. 

I suspect Brooks is just defending his own parenting methods. It’s difficult for most people to admit they are wrong.

In fact, Leon Breaux suggests, “It’s the middle way between the two that’s going to do the trick,” which is the method my wife and I used to raise our daughter who has great social skills but also earned straight A’s in public school to graduate last year with a 4.65 GPA, and she was accepted to Stanford.

My wife and I are proud to say we are Middle Way Tiger Parents who did not support the soft self-esteem inflated method of parenting that has been so popular in the US for far too long.


Leon Breaux’s comment to the New York Times Op-Ed piece
January 18th, 2011
11:14 a

 I’ve taught for quite a few years at the high school and junior high level in three states in the US and in three Asian countries, including China.

This piece frankly strikes me as an insight into what is wrong with education today in the US. Here’s an intelligent, accomplished man comparing structured intellectual activity and training to socializing and proclaiming socializing the winner.

My question is this: If you don’t know anything, what good is your socializing?

Most Asian parents push their children hard. They want them to succeed and they do it the best way they know how. I haven’t read Professor Chua’s book, but from what I’ve read of it, she takes an ironic tone concerning her own harsh methods. At any rate, just because she pushed her extreme of discipline too far, does not mean her point concerning American parenting’s lack of discipline is any less valid.

There is a middle way between these two extremes.

American students and parents are self-absorbed. Americans in general are so self-absorbed they find it difficult to understand anything outside their own immediate interests. No, this is not normal. Ironic, isn’t it that the type of thinking Mr. Brooks advises is supposed to increase social ability but in fact seems to only create that ability among those narrowly defined as your status peers.

Not that Mr. Brook’s fundamental point isn’t correct. The best predictor for primate brain size is the size of the species’ social group. The larger the group, the larger the brain. Obviously, the demands of knowing the thoughts and actions of other similarly equipped creatures as yourself in competitive situations are staggering. But that’s not the point. Close as we may be, we are not, actually, primates in social groups. We have fallen from that state of grace, so to speak. We are now compelled to make our own choices, and the wrong choices may mean our demise. We must master objective knowledge because that is the world in which we have put ourselves.

The true nature of objective education, where facts are facts and knowledge actually has some meaning and use in its own right, that destroyer of prejudice and racism and class and many other potentially harmful divisions between us, has largely been left behind. No one’s looking much outside themselves in the US. So while these socially adroit students may be quite good at doing whatever they do with each other in terms of their interactions, which probably isn’t anything too impressive in a larger sense, my original point remains: they don’t know anything.

Knowing something takes learning. Learning is generally hard work. Children often don’t want to do it. Trying to brush this away as something inconsequential and not as important as socialization or achievement of status is a great recipe for stagnation or worse.

You know, Americans admire Asian educational systems, but Asians admire American. And Western women want to look tanned, and do all sorts of things including cancerous tanning beds and lying in the sun to achieve it, while Asian women see extreme whiteness as the best shade and use all sorts of treatments, including cancerous creams, to achieve whiteness and wouldn’t be caught dead lying in the sun.

Point is, forget about Asian and Western. They’re different, hot dog. Question is, what’s best for educating our young people, worldwide. Clearly, a steady diet of day care without the pursuit of actual, objective knowledge isn’t the best route. Clearly, isolation into enforced study isn’t the best either. It’s the middle way between the two that’s going to do the trick.

I haven’t read Professor Chua’s book, but I’ll hazard a guess that’s where she comes out in the end.

A note from this Blog’s host: If you believe that Chinese Tiger Mothers are churning out robotic drones that have no social skills, you are wrong.

Unlike many idealistic Americans today with the fixation that everyone has to be equal even if we have to create government entitlement programs while working overtime to boost self-esteem in children raising generations of selfish narcissists, in China people have no choice but to compete to get into colleges and/or start private businesses.

The losers get little or no help from the government.

Even government owned industries in China were required in the 1980s to become profitable or go out of business and many did.

The losers just work harder for less to survive or don’t work at all and become homeless or turn to the family for a place to live and food to eat.

However, do not expect that nonworker to stay out of work for long. The rest of the family will put immense pressure on him or her to get out there and do anything to earn money even if it is pennies a day.  Doing nothing is unacceptable.

If China’s government does provide financial support, it is usually barely enough to eat a simple diet.  Since most Chinese work very hard for what little they earn, most wouldn’t condone the type of entitlement programs that exist in America that allows millions to not work or improve him or herself.

In China, meritocracy is the rule and has been for more than two thousand years.  If you cannot measure up, you are a failure. It’s that simple.

However, the Chinese also have a system that requires social skills to build networks of trust between individuals, businessmen and families and it is called Guanxi.  To be included in one of those social groups is not easy. To achieve Guanxi means earning the trust of others and not just being cute in a social setting.

What most Americans are missing in this debate is the fact that the Confucian, Taoist culture that developed and survived in China created a regional super power that lasted for more than two thousand years while the social self-esteem soft parenting approach popular in America to raise children was launched in the 1960s about six decades ago and has resulted in more than 14 trillion dollars in debt, a very divisive militant political atmosphere and economic crimes that have created global suffering for tens of millions of hard working people with 64 trillion dollars lost.

In fact, Chinese students in Shanghai ranked number one of 65 nations in the 2009 international PISA test, which doesn’t test the ability to memorize facts but tests the ability to work cooperatively with others to solve problems.

US students placed 23rd in that test. So much for learning social skills the soft American way. Self-esteemism, which pressured teachers to inflate grades while dumbing down the textbooks to make learning less of a challenge for children, has been a dismal failure.


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.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.

4 Responses to The Real Wimps are revealed in the Amy Chua, Tiger Mother Debate

  1. Jo Ellen says:

    Perhaps I should follow up with a few other counterarguments to the common reasons people are against government assistance:

    1. No one in my family believes we are entitled to anything, except perhaps basic respect from others. However, if we see that we have the option to sit in poverty and raise our children in poverty simply because we were not born into a family with the capital needed to enter positions where we could more effectively help others, or to borrow that capital, educate ourselves, and spend the rest of our lives helping others and paying taxes that more than make up for what we borrowed, then we obviously would choose the latter.

    2. For some people, it’s not the choice between steak and hot dogs. It’s the choice between having a roof over your babies’ head to protect her from lightning, or sleeping with four kids on the streets (or even losing them to foster parents). And even when I was on assistance, I went through periods of homelessness in order to pay for college (while working full-time!). As a student, I went from living in my car to sleeping in an abandoned warehouse and washing in McDonald’s restrooms to sleeping in a tent. This is after graduating with three honors diplomas and a desire to do great things.

    3. We do not waste our money on frivolous items or actions.

    Those who complain about welfare should perhaps put more attention on the medical state of our country — not meaning medical plans, but rather the poor state of the food being sold in grocery stores and restaurants, and the general populace’s ignorance about how to really take care of themselves. The root of our issues are health and education, more so than welfare.

    • Good conclusion. I cannot argue with your statement about the average diet in the US, which leads to (according to several studies I’ve read) 84% of the disease in America today. The question is: How do we get people to change the way they eat? According to studies, the average child in the US today doesn’t like water and often refuses to drink it if he or she has a steady supply of sugar-loaded sodas. The increase of diabetes and a host of other disease parallel the increase in sugar consumption in America. When I was a child, the average was about 30 pounds of sugar a year. Today, children consume more than their body weight a year. The last figure I saw was the average child drinks about a 125 pounds of sugar a year from drinks such as Coke and Pepsi.

      For myself, when I was thirty-five, I gave up sugary sodas and converted my lifestyle to a vegan one. For the last 30 y7ears, I have eaten real food and avoid 99.9% of the processed food sold in grocery stores and restaurants. My main source of food comes from Farmers Markets.

  2. Jo Ellen says:

    Hello! First I’d like to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog, since I always enjoy learning about other world paradigms. And I’m about to purchase the Tiger Mom’s book. I have a 2-year old son, and I like to think my approach is a good blend of the styles discussed here, but perhaps I’ll change my mind after reading the book.

    Second, I’d quickly like to respond to your statements against government assistance programs, from a personal standpoint. While there certainly are many who abuse the system, my family members and I have at times had to take advantage of these programs, and I believe we did so responsibly and for the benefit of society as a whole.

    In my case, my mother died when I was 10 and I later became a ward of the court when my father, after working 3rd shift in a factory for 30 years and paying his own way through college (while working nights full-time and raising a family), was at a point where life beat him down to the point he was losing his sanity. I was a straight A student and in honors classes my entire life, but if I had not appealed for government financial aid (I had to appeal for it since my group home lost my papers), I would not have been able to attend college. I worked full-time throughout my undergrad years and went to an in-state public school, but still had to take a lot of money in grants and loans to pay for living expenses, a car to get to school, etc. I also had to go on government insurance, which paid for some necessary surgeries. I’ve since paid back 36K in school loans, and am now a secondary English teacher, and I believe my students are benefitting from the tax payer’s generosity.

    My cousin had to go on welfare when her husband of ten years went crazy after serving in the army and left her with three children, while pregnant. She moved in with her mom but still needed assistance for having her baby, paying for the kids’ food, etc. Instead of working at Wal-Mart her entire life, she decided to go to school and become a nurse. That meant going on welfare for four years. She quit welfare as soon as she began working in a hospital, and now is supporting her kids as they go to college. Welfare helped her get back on her feet.

    My aunt and uncle are now receiving government assistance, since they both came down with cancer. My aunt is trying to work even while having chemotherapy, but simply cannot find a job. My uncle is at retirement age and is very ill. The assistance doesn’t pay all their bills, so their kids, who are trying to make it on their own, are helping. They are not happy about this situation but have no choice.

    My father wants to help them, but he is taking care of his 92-year old mom and mentally handicapped son on a measly retirement income (he continued working for 10 years after retiring). My brother has worked as a dishwasher for 25 years because it’s the only job he can find. My grandma raised three sons and was a teacher, but her income, with assistance, is now $800/month — for everything, including insurance, etc. They are living in a 800 square foot house and paying their bills each month to the dollar, so they have no money to help family.

    My sister has been hit with serious health issues, which cost her a job. She was fired right when she graduated from college (after ten years of working and attending school). It’s been two years and despite looking every day, she can’t find a job. The stress is worsening her health, so she has not only had to take out extended unemployment, but also assistance for excruciatingly high medical bills.

    I could share many more such stories, but please consider that for some people, the choices are assistance of living on the streets, and many people do use the assistance to better themselves and become better citizens and parents.

    Thank you.

    • I have nothing against government assistance programs that help people get back on their feet (even provide education for another field of work) so they can be productive citizens earning enough to support him or herself. My father worked in construction and was often out of work between jobs and had to rely on unemployment while waiting for the next job. My parents also did not believe in living beyond their means and always had money in savings accounts and never ran a deficit using credit cards. My mother and father never owned a new car. They always paid cash for older, used cars in good shape. My dad did his own oil changes and when the car’s brakes gave out, he changed the pads.

      After my father retired, they lived off his union retirement and social security and Medicare for health. He died at 79 and her at 89. They owned their home and supported themselves most of their lives and were never a long-term burden on the taxpayer when they needed assistance when times were bad.

      In the early 1940s between marriages my mother was a single parent with a toddler at the time she was pregnant with my brother. I arrived fourteen years later. Before she met my father, she received government assistance of some sort that helped her feed her children, and provide shelter for them.

      After she married my father, she went off that assistance and between them they managed to survive.

      What I’m against are entitlement programs that encourage people to never get off government assistance and always depend on the taxpayer to fund their lifestyle whatever that might be. These people become wards of the state and a burden to taxpayers.

      When my father was a teen during the depression, he mucked out horses stalls at Santa Anita and went into the hills to fill fifty-pound bags with oak leaves for a nursery. My brother worked hard, non-skilled, low pay jobs jobs his entire life and was proud up to the day he died at 64 that he never collected welfare of any kind.

      However, his wife, my sister-in-law (they were separated for most of their marriage,) relied on the state for money and food stamps as a single mother with seven children. She cheated the system and had my brother pay her cash when he had it to help feed her kids. She was a burden on the taxpayer for decades and may still be. After he children were too old to collect assistance any longer, she took in her grandchildren (since her oldest daughter turned to drugs and vanished) and used the grandchildren to collect assistance. My sister-in-law hardly worked a day in her life. When my brother died since they had never officially divorced, she then had access to his social security which was about $500 a month in addition to what she collected for raising her grandchildren.

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