Sunday, January 16, 2011

Short take on Amy Chua, the Tiger Mother

Amy Chua has been memetically useful to me in the past, with her work in 'World on Fire' pushing a lot of concepts I use frequently in my writing into the general discourse.

Now she's written her 'Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother', regarding high investment, high expectation parenting.
Several of our friends and fellow travellers have written on this
(also an earlier post)

I've got a few thoughts on this:
1) Clearly the aim here by Chua is to improve the odds that her children will be able to climb the elite social ladder effectively. The particular ladder she's aiming at---let's call it Advanced American Mandarin---usually requires an upper tier Ivy League degree. Look, for instance, at the educational pedigree of pretty much every successful upper level federal or God forbid, Supreme Court justice. On this:
a) The fact that her kids are going to (in my estimation based on my estimates of their parents and grandparents IQ levels) probably average in the 140-150 IQ range does NOT by itself even make it terribly likely to get you into Harvard/Yale/Princeton. A perfect SAT won't get you there, especially after the 1990s recentering which effectively lowered the ceiling of the test and especially not if you're not bringing in any diversity of the sort they're after.
b) Checklisting activities won't normally get you there either (although sometimes it WILL hurt you a lot, if it's say, JROTC, FFA, or similarly red-state organizations). Because it's a game, and people 'game' it, just joining N different organizations won't get you out of the noise. You'll generally need things that are particularly noteworthy. Being a musician won't help much, but having quantifiable awards, virtuoso status, or the like will. Chua's going way over the top here with 3 hours/day, but hey, maybe her kids need the advantage of working 4x as hard as their average competitor to be able to distinguish themselves in their designated secondary activity. In my experience, working 2x as hard (people like this frequently get described as dedicated, avid, ardent, or sometimes just as grinds) will give you the equivalent performance of someone a standard deviation of inherent aptitude higher than you who does the standard due dilligence. Working 4x to 10x as hard will give you 2 standard deviations (this is called, 'being obsessed', driven, or, my favorite...sweating blood). My advice to Chua is this----unless they're terrifically gifted in this secondary area and you're shooting for the equivalent of the Olympics (like, say, 1st violin in a top 10 orchestra), there are a lot of ways to get this gold star on the resume for your kids with vastly lower opportunity costs. Since they're girls, golf comes to mind---fairly easy athletic scholarship for a girl in a lot of cases, good for networking, and it's a high social status sport. By working a mere twice as hard as their average competitor, they can probably get there with no more than average intrinsic aptitude for the sport.
2) Interestingly enough, having done a lot of things and suffered a lot on your behalf tends to make people LIKE YOU MORE. This is counterintuitive but it's the basic perverse nature of Man at work here once again. Neurotypical kids do NOT generally hate you for expecting a lot, even an 'unreasonable' amount. Granted, I think that Chua has gone way beyond unreasonable in this case, but remember that people tend to like you better when they've done you lots of favors---we process what amount to sunk costs horridly. Having high expectations for your kids will frequently cause them to actually like you better, much moreso than taking them every year to Disney Land or buying them Apple's latest toys. If your kids aren't neurotypical, I've got other recommendations. On this, remember that kids, even of the same parents, are different. Some can be, and in fact want to be, pushed pretty hard. Others react better to a more laid-back approach. If a kid has internal motivation, and some, but nowhere near even a majority do, then it may be counterproductive to push at all. Also, it's probably not a good idea to try to force square pegs into round holes. Try to hone their strengths---don't spend endless hours with the end product of a merely passable musician or athlete. Remember that your kids are not means to an end, they are the end.


Hail said...

To expand on your comments:

Forget "parenting strategies". The best thing to do is give the child good genes (i.e., choose your spouse wisely) and set a good example in honorable and non-nihilistic behaviors. All else, pretty much, follows.

[Also, check your first sentence in point-#2, I think some of it got cut off in the editing process.]

Jehu said...

Hail, I agree that choosing your spouse wisely is probably the most important thing you can do for your kids. After all, the first predictor of success is choosing your parents wisely. I do believe, however, that there's a pretty large amount of return on investment for your kids to be had from an appropriate amount of pushing and expectation setting. Appropriate, in this case, refers to an amount commensurate with the child's basic personality and the cards nature has dealt them.