Caplan vs. Chua Debate in the Guardian
Tiger Mother Amy Chua and I have this week’s Saturday Conversation in The Guardian. Highlights:
BC: Most of my book is based on a summary of 40
years of adoption and twin studies – the usual result is parents just
don’t have much effect on their kids. In your book you have lots of
great stories about how you influenced your kids, and I believe you did
for a while, but what the adoption and twin evidence says is that the
feeling that parents are changing their kids is based on an illusion.
There is a big short-run effect, but the long-run effect is very
AC: My daughter Sophia would
half-agree with you: somebody asked her if she would still be the same
student had I not had high expectations, and she said yes. But she also
said she would never have developed her love of music if it wasn’t for
me. My husband was given a choice by his mother when he was about six –
do you want to start playing the violin or do you want to play with
your friends? He chose his friends, of course. He still came out great,
but he regrets that he doesn’t read music. I feel a responsibility that
doesn’t seem to operate with you – I need to prepare my daughters for
the world so they can have the opportunities.
very involved with my kids and we enjoy doing things together. We have
a lot of common interests so I don’t have to drag them to do things –
we play games, we read comics. If you and your daughters enjoy music
together, that is fantastic, but there is a lot in your book that makes
it sound like there was a lot of suffering and anger that outweighed
BC: It seems your daughter beat you at your own game. It wasn’t like you changed your mind about it.
is the hardest thing I have ever done. I tried to find the balance
between the strict, traditional Chinese way I was raised, which I think
can be too harsh, and what I see as a tendency in the west to be too
permissive and indulgent. If I could do it all again, I would, with
BC: Assuming that Lulu doesn’t go back to the violin, why would you put her through all those years of arguing?
actually did come back to the violin, on her own terms. She did not
want me involved, she wanted to choose her own music, not play for two
hours but play for 20 minutes every few days. Now she does it out of
fun and love.
The most surprising thing to come out of our dialog is Amy’s repeated claim that her critics are taking her way too seriously:
AC: My book is a bit of a spoof. I don’t write
about all the fun we had. I would be confident that we have just as
much fun in my family as yours. In fact, because I’m strict and my kids
don’t spend as much time at other people’s houses we have more family
time to do things.
BC: You had a schedule in the book – one that I remember had “one hour of fun family time”, and that was optional.
AC: That was a joke…
I can believe that there’s a slight element of hyperbole in Amy’s memoir. But having read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother twice, this seems like mild comic relief in an otherwise relentless narrative. To be honest, I was tempted to channel Joe Pesci: “How is your book funny? Funny how? Funny like you didn’t make your daughters practice three hours a day, and scream at them when they resisted? Funny like threatening to burn all your little girl’s stuffed animals is funny? What kind of funny? Tell me how it’s funny.”
P.S. I’m trying to be funny.