I saw a reference on this windy March day to the “blustery day” from A.A. Milne’s Pooh books and it had an illustration of Winnie-the-Pooh, and Tigger getting blown into the air in a clearly delightful way.
That got me thinking back to a book I “reviewed” back in 2011 called Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother back in 2011 when it was getting a lot of attention lately. I picked up the book at the library because I had seen it on the cover of Time magazine. I never did finish reading it.
The author, Amy Chua, is a professor at Yale Law School. Her two earlier books wouldn’t lead you to think she might write about parenting. Look at two of her book titles: World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability and Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance–and Why They Fall.
But perhaps the titles do tell us something of the way she raised her children and the way she was raised. The book and author are rather proudly “politically incorrect” (by American standards) about the “Chinese way” of raising children.
It had gotten a lot of criticism, especially from the Western parents that it criticizes. A Wall Street Journal piece titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior” got more than a million reads and thousands of comments and when the author was on the usually lightweight Today show, host Meredith Vieira was clearly on the critical side.
You can find excerpts from the book online if you’re curious. One example that rubs many parents the wrong way is that she turned a simple piano piece into forced practice for her 7-year-old daughter that ran “right through dinner into the night,” with no bathroom or breaks for food or drinks until she learned it. Does it bother you that she would call her daughter Sophia “garbage” for being disrespectful? (Chua’s father did it to her all the time.) She threw back a handmade birthday card at her daughter saying, “I deserve better than this.”
Chua has said that “To be perfectly honest, I know that a lot of Asian parents are secretly shocked and horrified by many aspects of Western parenting.” She is baffled by our willingness to let our kids waste hours on games, television, Facebook, and other things. And she can point to research that supports some of her ideas, such as that American parents do too much insulating of their children from the discomfort and distress of everyday life.
I taught in the K-12 world for 25 years in a wealthy school district that had a large Asian population. About a third of my students were Chinese and Korean and I certainly came face to face with their parents. Chua writes that these parents “assume strength, not fragility, and as a result, they behave very differently.” That was true of the parents I met in conferences that were always about grades.
One father told me that he believed that all children could be “A” students – it was just a question of how much time and work was needed. “My daughter might only need to study two hours for an A. My son might need 10 hours.”
I believed that not everyone could be a top student or a great musician or athlete. I think realizing that is also a part of growing up. Despite my childhood dreams, I was not to be the shortstop on the NY Yankees no matter how many hours I practiced. I don’t think even a Chinese mother could have made me an NBA forward or a Nobel prize-winning mathematician or even have gotten me to score an “A” in calculus.
If protected kids don’t have to deal with difficult tasks on their own, will they be unable to develop what psychologists call “mastery experiences?”
Does the dreaded “drill and kill” repetition style of learning also kill creativity?
A cognitive psychologist quoted in that Time article says:
“… if you repeat the same task again and again, it will eventually become automatic. Your brain will literally change so that you can complete the task without thinking about it. Once this happens, the brain has made mental space for higher-order operations: for interpreting literary works, say, and not simply decoding their words; for exploring the emotional content of a piece of music, and not just playing the notes. Brain scans of experimental subjects who are asked to execute a sequence of movements, for example, show that as the sequence is repeated, the parts of the brain associated with motor skills become less active, allowing brain activity to shift to the areas associated with higher-level thinking and reflection.”
Sounds like the drill work is a good thing, right?
As a teacher and as a parent, I can see some valid points in her approach. There are definitely some children who need very strict boundaries, rules, and consequences, at least at some times.
Still, I am glad that I didn’t have a Tiger Mom. I’m glad that I was encouraged to explore things and go out and play for hours and hours and try new things and give up on them so that I could try other things. I’m happy with the way I turned out.
In Milne’s Pooh books, you have models of different ways of approaching life. Tigger is on the crazy, anything for fun extreme, but there is also wise Owl
I raised my sons the same basic way, though probably with more psychology and ambition included than my own parents. But I was definitely more of a Tigger Dad. I wanted to bounce around, watch movies, try, fail and then try again and try new things as much as they did. And I am very happy with the men they became.
It intrigued me in my adult life to discover that A.A. Milne was a pretty lousy father. His son Christopher, who owned Edward Bear and is the model for the fictional Christopher Robin, came to hate his father. He found his father’s fame a kind of torture. There was a bitter rift between the two men that never healed and has been documented in books and films. take a look at Christopher Robin and Goodbye Christopher Robin. Ann Thwaite’s A. A. Milne biography was the inspiration for the 2017 film Goodbye Christopher Robin.
Readers and critics have gone much deeper than just viewing the Pooh books as children’s literature. Too deep, perhaps.
I do like the philosophical takes on the gang from the Hundred-Acree Wood. (see The Tao of Pooh & The Te of Piglet) I’m not a fan of the psychological analysis of them. A tiger mom might agree with the psychology though. I do think that all of us “have some issues” and are at least “a little bit crazy.”
But is Christopher Robin a schizophrenic, and his “friends” are simply manifestations of his moods?
Tigger does seem to suffer from ADHD and a case of “risk-taking behaviors” causing him to be very impulsive and willing to try just about anything.
Piglet has an acute case of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and self-esteem issues.
Kanga is British but like many American moms is perpetually over-protective of her little Roo.
The voice of reason and intelligence, Owl, seems unable to spell out words, and his misspelled words hint of dyslexia.
I always liked Eeyore but he is the most obviously in need of therapy for his depressive disorder and “chronic dysthymia.”
Poor Rabbit has some OCD and an odd sense of his importance that doesn’t often match that of his friends.
Just before he died, the real Christopher reported that he had at least come to terms with his love-hate relationship with Winnie-the-Pooh, if not his father. He said that “Believe it or not, I can look at those four books without flinching. I’m quite fond of them really.”