A Blessing In Disguise?
As an Asian man I belong to a demographic that is routinely misrepresented in society by gross generalizations and stereotypes. Most of the Asian men I've known come nowhere close to being the type of pathetic individuals that society apparently needs them to be. It's because of this experience that I have adopted a rule of thumb that reminds me that when discussing groups of people, the only generalization that one can accurately make is that it is more misleading than accurate to make generalizations. Apart from the vulgar generalizations such as pointing out that all people eat and defecate (does this need pointing out?) all other generalizations regarding particular groups' motivations and attitudes offer us limited capacity to truly appreciate the humanity of others.
On the subject of over-generalization and defecation, I couldn't help but be moved by a recent Wall Street Journal article written by Amy Chua, a second-generation Chinese-American mother of two - possibly psychologically damaged - teenage girls. According to Chua an extremely tough approach to parenting involving verbal abuse, totalitarian control over her childrens' desires, as well as starvation blackmail, are what is required to produce math whizzes and musical prodigies in one's children. She labels this the "Chinese Mother" approach.
In an apparent effort to avoid the charge of propagating racial and cultural stereotypes, she goes on to insist that this approach is not exclusive to Chinese mothers since she apparently knows mothers from other ethnic and cultural groups who engage in this type of child rearing. Yet, despite the disclaimer, Chua represents her method as an approach practiced by the general Chinese parenting body. To me this is both cowardly and dishonest.
Clearly Chua believes that she is presenting an approach to parenting that might be construed by her target audience (the white mainstream) as controversial. As she readily admits, some of her practices could be considered abusive and unacceptable to the white mainstream audience that she is apparently trying to convince. One might even say that her article is deliberately provocative and has the triumphal tone of someone convinced of their own rightness. Yet despite the self-assured posturing of the article's tone, not once does Chua take personal responsibility for her actions. Having thrown the rocks of controversy, she beats a hasty retreat behind the Great Wall of Chinese Cultural Mystique. She does these things that are arguably abusive yet slyly absolves herself of personal responsibility by "disappearing" behind the veil of cultural relativity.
This to me is intellectual cowardice. If Chua wants to paint herself as some kind of maverick parent promoting a superior alternative parenting method then fine, but don't make unfounded claims that these strategies are typical to Chinese culture - they might very well be, but the article doesn't do a good job of convincing me of it. Certainly, Chua attempts to support her claims by mentioning studies that show that Chinese parents don't think that learning should be fun, and that Asian parents drill their kids more than white parents. Yet, how does this support her claims that verbal abuse, threats, and threats to deny food are a common practice amongst Chinese parents? It doesn't.
As a Professor of Law at Yale and a Harvard graduate, Chua could arguably be said to represent the very best that Asian-American academia has to offer for the intellectual advancement of Asian-American thinking. Yet, the blatantly weak inductive reasoning exhibited in the article points to some very serious issues with the reasoning capacities of even our most academically accomplished individuals. To be fair, the article is only an excerpt from Chua's new book and so may not necessarily reflect the overall gist of the book, yet most writers publish excerpts that are most representative of the themes that they are exploring in the larger publication. It doesn't look good!
If the thinking exhibited in this article reflects the very best that Asian-American minds have to offer, then Chua has destroyed the motivational foundation for her parenting style. What's the point of striving for prodigy and Ivy-League when the result seems to be intellectual mediocrity?