In Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, Amy Chua presents her case for strict, goal-oriented parenting and claims it produces superior children: ones who are successful, self-disciplined and accomplished.
Furthermore, she argues that left to their own devices, children would never do anything hard because things only become fun once you are good at them. Before you get to some level of competence, it just feels like hard work, which children don't like, so they give up.
Throughout the admissions process, we see many students who are talented academically. Straight A's, excellent test scores, rank first or second at their schools, lush extracurricular resumes. That's what's known as a "qualified applicant" - someone who can handle the workload and rigor. Of course, not all qualified applicants get in, because there just isn't enough space.
The applicants that do get in stand out. They stand out as risk-takers, humanitarians, musicians, artists, entrepreneurs. They have something beyond impeccable academics - they are able to show initiative, create opportunities, and think outside the box. Ideally.
A college would love nothing more than to be affiliated with alumni who change the world in some way. Or with students who, while in school, organize Amnesty International campaigns, start businesses, produce films, identify new species. A student who simply performs academically is fine, but by the time students are in college academics have become broader and wider. Many disciplines require not just the ability to fulfill a requirement, but creativity and free-thinking and self-motivation.
I worry that Chua's system of child-rearing would fail at this. It could produce children who have grown so used to being measured and graded and fulfilling explicit expectatations that they don't know how to operate without metrics... or without a parent hovering and directing them. That's a risk. However, there is something she writes that resonates with me as well:
"But as a parent, one of the worst things you can do for your child's self-esteem is to let them give up. On the flip side, there's nothing better for building confidence than learning you can do something you thought you couldn't."
Tenacity is a wonderful tool. It's something colleges respect. It's something that matters in life too. I'm often asked questions about how to best talk about "failures" -- the isolated bad grades, poor test scores, failed attempts at one thing or another. My answer is usually the same - it's not a failure if you can create a narrative of growth and perseverance around it.
Chua gives the example of the Chinese parent reacting to a B. A Chinese mother, she explains, would assembles dozens of practice tests and make the child plod through them until an A was secured. If you can create this narrative around all your failures, you've won. That's more impressive than never having stumbled, because you demonstrate being able to overcome obstacles. And no one is able to go through life without any obstacles, so the sooner you learn to deal with them well, the further ahead you will be.
So, Chinese parenting. Honestly, we could all use some. Every adult wishes there was someone in their corner, forcing them through the tough spots, believing in them and pushing them at the same time.
But does Chinese parenting create kids who can be their own Chinese parents? Or does it instead encourage them to be constantly on the lookout for metrics that validate their performance, because they can't do it themselves?