Monday, January 10, 2011

Recipe For Producing Anti-Social Jerks

Both Miss Self-Important and Phoebe analyzed this article in the Wall Street Journal; yet, neither of them commented on what FLG takes away from this article -- Chinese parenting produces a lot of socially awkward, insufferable fuckwads. Sure, maybe they get into Yale Law at a higher rate, but they're also obnoxious at a higher rate.

And it's right there in the article. No playdates. No sleepovers. Less likely to be on sports teams. Instead, academic drills and violin.

Look, FLG will be the first to admit that the US approach places too much emphasis on fun approach. These newfangled math curricula that make math all mushy are bullshit. The way to learn math is simple -- you keep doing problems until you get it. Some people are good at math and can get it in less problems; others will take longer. It's not fun, but that's how it is done. So, FLG isn't dismissing the so-called Chinese way entirely.

It's just that he's met a lot of people who've been brought up in the Chinese way, and he hated almost every one of them on a personal level. Yes, they're good at performing in academic context, but when it comes to the workplace or group activities they're the worst sort. Maybe that's anecdotal and part of FLG's personal biases, but FLG thinks a B+ kid who isn't a A-level asshole is a far better goal for parenting. This zealous focus on tangible metrics of child performance, grades, then colleges, then certain prestigious professions produces fucked up adults.

Phoebe draws parallels between the Jewish approach to academics, but FLG doesn't know one Jew whose parents didn't allow sleepovers or playdates. Not allowing those is a seriously demented approach to parenting.

PS. Please note that FLG thinks this self-esteem focus by "Western" parents produces a lot of insufferable whiners, but he doesn't find that as grating. Maybe it's just cultural or racial bias working however.


Withywindle said...

But which is the long-term horizon approach?

FLG said...


You probably meant that rhetorically. But...

In the long run, I think not being an asshat is more important than the difference between B+ and A.

Anonymous said...

FLG, Little Bertie was home sick from school last week so over this past weekend he had a lot of homework. He was complaining bitterly about me making him do it plus study for a test later this week. (he's in third grade) I responded - "You're just lucky I"m not Chinese."

To which he replied, "huh?"

"Chinese mothers don't allow their children to get anything less than an A. *I* allow you to get C's."

I must admit the effect was better than when my mom used to tell me to clean my plate because the starving children in China had no dinner - Little Bertie was silenced and did his work.

Mrs. P

Phoebe said...

I'm comparing "Chinese" parenting with Jewish parenting of a few generations back, not with the upbringings of today's 20-40-year-old Jewish adults, certainly not with those of today's Jewish children. Many stereotypes about Jewish teens - they don't drink, they don't play team sports, they study oh so hard - were partly true at another time, but not so much these days.

As for the reason MSI and I didn't mention how delightful or otherwise the children of such parenting are socially... I won't speak for MSI, but as for myself, I don't see how it matters for what Chua is arguing. Chua would say that it's a waste of time to be charming. So what if a different approach would allow children to make more friends? Not the issue.

The only way your critique addresses hers would be to say that coming across as an obedient robot is actually detrimental to succeeding in life beyond the 5th grade.

FLG said...


"The only way your critique addresses hers would be to say that coming across as an obedient robot is actually detrimental to succeeding in life beyond the 5th grade."

That is precisely what I am saying.

Miss Self-Important said...

I met plenty of socially normal Asian kids in school (even among those not permitted to sleep over), so as far as this resembles actual Asian parenting--and I'm not sure how far that is--I'm not too worried about dire anti-social outcomes. I don't know about Chua's personal goals, but it was not generally the goal of any parents I met to destroy their children's social lives. Some ethnic parents were concerned about the types of people their kids might choose to spend time with and so restricted their access to what the rest of us thought were normal social activities, but those kids still spent a lot of time with their extended families and with parent-sanctioned peers, like church youth groups. On the flip side of your complaint, some smart people are also socially awkward, but that seems to be a constitutional problem independent of the way they were raised.

Also, what do you think of homeschooling? Wouldn't that be even more likely to produce anti-social jerks?

And, in my incurable e-stalkerness, I looked up Chua's kids, and one of them is a pretty competitive tennis player, so it does seem that sports are permitted. But I don't know the story behind that.

Phoebe said...


In that case, fair enough. I thought your point was that you personally find such individuals annoying. Which is neither here nor there as far as Chua would be concerned.


FLG's experience strikes me as plausible, but my own experience with the children of "Chinese" parents is similar to yours. If their parents were more uptight about grades, they weren't so concerned about alcohol, tobacco, premarital sex, etc., and so ended up seeming lenient. (My prom limo, filled with the children of "Chinese" parents Chinese and Russian-Jewish alike, was not a dry environment, thanks to a parentally-hosted pre-party.) This was also the attitude taken by my high school itself - as long as a certain percentage got into HYP (well, P was optional), and as long as most everyone went to some four-year college, it didn't matter if the kids were substance users/abusers with pink hair and bad attitudes.

But this is the difference between actual immigrant parents and Chua's "Chinese parents," who are more likely to be, if not born in the US, at least assimilated into the educational culture. These are the kids who were not allowed TV, candy, etc. If they turned out insufferable, it was mainly because they rebelled and took things too far in the other direction.

Anonymous said...

"Chua should be applauded for breaking the contemporary taboo against admitting that cultures differ and that those differences mean that some cultures produce individuals better at some task than other cultures. She should also be applauded for taking a stick to the ridiculous runaway self-esteem movement. However, she errs when she says that Chinese mothers are “superior.”

"She forgets that tradeoffs dominate everything in life. When a culture specializes for proficiency in one area of endeavor, it must sacrifice proficiency in another area. Cultures noted for their food, music and sociability often fall short in economic endeavors. Cultures noted for economic endeavors usually don’t have very interesting cuisines, food or music. Southern Italy is a great place to vacation but its hell trying to get anything built or maintained. Germans get things done by few go to Germany for the food. (There aren’t a lot of German cookbooks on bookshelves outside of Germany but almost everyone has an Italian cookbook.) Examples abound in comparisons of any two cultures. All cultures represent some type of tradeoff and therefore all cultures relatively excel in some areas but fall relatively short in others.

"Chinese culture excels in instilling individual proficiency but at the tradeoff of not teaching small or large scale teamwork.

"(They might also fall short in teaching experimental problem solving an overall adaptability but that’s another post.)

"Although she seems utterly unaware of it, by depriving her children of sports and other team activities, Chua guarantees they will grow up to be highly educated and skilled but they won’t have any experience forming teams or working within them. They will always have to depend on non-Chinese to provide organization. Worse, since a good leader is also always a good team player, her children will never have what it takes rise to the top of any large organization. They will never lead.

"No doubt Chua’s children will be highly successful compared to the general population but they won’t be as successful as they might have been had she not raised them up ignorant of teamwork. They will always be dependent on others who spent their childhoods learning teamwork. Merely substituting a team activity for the time spent training for pointlessly high musical proficiency would greatly enhance her children’s ability to reach their full potential.

"Chua should have adopted the American practice of taking the best of each culture and combining them together to make a superior whole. Fusing the Chinese work ethic and mania for self-improvement with the American talent for teamwork would create incredible people."

Mrs. P

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.