The phrase “tiger mom” returns approximately 36,200,000 hits on Google. As the parent of five black children Amy Chua’s tale all too easily resonates with me. I remember with crystal clarity the moment we took our oldest son out of daycare several years ago because he was acting more like his friends in daycare than he was our child. There’s something to be said for taking a disciplined approach to child raising, one not necessarily based on mainstream modes of childrearing.
But before we tout the superiority of immigrant mothers in general or even Chinese-American mothers specifically let’s recall two things. Every immigrant population that comes to America brings their class with them. And even though their class may not mean exactly the same thing here that it does in their home country, it still means something. When I read Prof. Chua’s tale I don’t read the tale of an immigrant-daughter that came from literally nothing to become one of the foremost legal minds in the profession. I read the tale of someone who came with relative privilege and then was stridently pushed by those parents to reproduce that privilege. To the extent then we talk about a “chinese culture of excellence” we are really talking about a chinese UPPER CLASS culture of excellence, one that isn’t reproduced by all chinese.
The second is Chua’s narrative is based on a certain political framework that we take for granted. A framework that posits success to be intensely individual, one that posits cultural dysfunction as the primary reason for failure, one that largely ignores the role that politics and economics can play in shaping educational outcomes. Particularly given the period we live in now, with parents experiencing increased social and economic anxiety, her story comes at the most opportune time. As President Obama chides black children for playing xbox too long, as public and private institutions alike are forced to compete with one another over scarce resources, as long as students are forced to fight against other students, the narrative that “all we have to do is be more like [INSERT MORE COMPETITIVE ETHNIC GROUP HERE]” will resonate.