I just read, and enjoyed(!) – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

If you haven’t heard of it, it’s one Chinese-American mother’s account of how she raised her two daughters. And the book was, well, controversial to put it mildly.

At this time there are 835 Amazon reviews….yielding 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I would say that it’s at least a 4-star book that has been penalized for the simple reason that readers conflated their person opinion of the author/mother, with the overall quality of the book. Amy is harshly critical of what she characterizes as conventional American/Western parenting and she probably struck many a nerve.  Oh yeah….and she all but tortures her kids!

Let’s cut to the chase. Here’s where Amy is RIGHT:

  • Parents can and should be the primary educators and motivators of their own children
  • Kids need to go VERY DEEP into at least one hobby/subject/skill
  • And yes, most American parents today are far too soft

However, here’s where Amy is/was dead WRONG:

  • She pushed “school”
  • She pushed only the piano and the violin

Haha.  Would you like me to elaborate?


Everyone needs to be reminded that “school” and academics are not goals in and of themselves.  Institutional education is more accurately an intermediate step, at best, toward genuine life goals, success, and happiness.  And moreover it’s a step that’s been proven to be unnecessary if not downright antithetical to those overriding ends.

The piano and violin?

Yes, they are awesome, worthwhile pursuits.  My wife and I have our own two children playing the piano on a daily basis…

BUT there are certainly diminishing returns at some point – a point that Amy Chua far surpassed.

Ultimately she did not produce well-rounded children.  In fact, what she produced were merely stereotypical Asian-American students.  I can’t tell you how many Asian kids are out there that have straight A’s and play a musical instrument adeptly.  And I can’t tell you how stressed their families are about college.  Why?  Their kids are competing primarily…only against all the other highly qualified Asian applicants – and they have a very hard time “standing out”.

But that’s what a singular focus on academics and the violin/piano will get you!

Amy’s own life story proves how ineffectual a school/academic tunnel vision is.

She herself went to Harvard, couldn’t hack the math (at that ultra-high level), and went to Law School for the fabulous reason that she, “didn’t want to go to med school.” Because you know….those are the only possible careers in the universe!

Of course she hated being a lawyer and ultimately went back to “teaching law” at Yale.

But instead of examining her own unproductive and unsatisfactory life path…

She put her daughters on the exact same track!  (Her eldest did go to Harvard a few years ago.)

I do want to say that I don’t hate this woman like most everyone else.  I don’t hate her at all.  Neither she nor any other parent is perfect.  In fact I found her work ethic very, very impressive.  The amount of time she managed to put into hands-on parenting on top of her own career was astounding and enviable.

This particular book hit home for me in a couple ways.  One, I’m considered by many to be a “tiger dad” the way I am alleged to have pushed math and whatnot on my own two children.  (John started algebra at 5 and calculus at 7!)

Furthermore, I have worked with dozens of Asian-American math students over the past 1.5 years.  So I have close contact with dozens of wannabe tiger moms and a few actual tiger moms.

But it quite frankly doesn’t matter how hard any of them push.

Their kids simply don’t have the TIME to beat everyone else, come in first place, or win the grand prize – not without sacrificing every iota of free time – their entire furlough from prison school. (I should say they don’t have the time to “reach their full potential”.)

School just wastes so much time and energy that it not only precludes outside activities and dulls the mind for true learning…

But it also makes it very, very hard for parents to supplement, motivate, and generally raise the type of children they want to.

One final note about – Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

The people that don’t like this book, I submit, are insecure and closed-minded.  So what if Amy is different – if she has different priorities than them?  Amy wrote an honest (except maybe for “Carnegie Hall”) book and readers, educated readers anyway should be able to appreciate her divergent views.  That is indeed the essence of a liberal arts education, right?

ADDENDUM – Take this for what it’s worth, but within the non-traditional educational (“homeschool”) universe, by far, in my personal experience, the LEAST represented ethic group, by far, are Asian-Americans.