January 27, 2011: Tiger Mother, Tiger Balm*

Like every other writer in America this week, I have something to say about Amy Chua, author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Well, to be precise, I have something to say about Chua and about Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece re “America’s Top Parent” in this week’s New Yorker. It’s not Chua’s stringent, some say abusive parenting  Kolbert first discusses. No. The New Yorker writer is worried that “Western mothers” just might be aiding and abetting our nation’s decline, pointing to international test scores as an alarming indicator that our self-esteem-focused child-rearing means our kids are being “out-educated.” (That’s Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education’s, characterization.)

No matter what their ethnicity, parents’ responsibility, I think, is to imagine the sort of world their children will be living in and to prepare their children, as best they can, to survive in that future. A wise parent these days, then, needs to spend some time wondering: what traits, what skills will my children need to thrive in the post-cheap-energy world they’re inheriting—poor darlings.

So I would advise Ms. Chua, who insisted her daughters receive only As in everything except gym and drama, to rethink that position. For the brave, new world her children will inhabit will rely heavily on collaboration and community-building and, no doubt, physical strength—skills taught in gym and drama. After a strenuous day of lifting and carrying and shlepping, of working in a garden, perhaps, or working with neighbors on some project, maybe knowing how to work as a team and Tiger Balm will be more to the point than test scores?

[*The heat of today’s post]

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