Sunday, January 23, 2011

War Cry of the Judgmental Friend

It's OK. You can relax. No "So You Want To...." movie this time. I promise. Words again. Real written words! 

I'm sure many of you have heard or read about the brouhaha surrounding Yale Law Professor Amy Chua's memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. It recounts Chua's experience raising her two daughters under very strict conditions, the way They did it in the old country, up until the time it nearly destroyed her relationship with her younger daughter. By the way, I've seen a number of articles about Chua and the book, but I think this interview with her is the best one I've read.  


Now, I grew up in a pretty strict household, but compared to Professor Chua's approach, I might as well have slept with a loaded gun and a shoebox full of heroin. So I thought it would be interesting to take a look at a list of things that Professor Chua's daughters were never allowed to do growing up and examine each one's impact on their potential to become the first humans to walk on Mars or whatever it is the Professor has planned for them.  I'm going to use a scale of zero to four Tiger Poops, with four having the highest potential negative impact on the Chua girls' flying the Excelsior probe to Mars. 


As a depressing side note, I couldn't remember whether Excelsior was the name of a real space shuttle, so I went to look it up. The five shuttles that make up the NASA fleet are set forth on two lists -- the "Operational Shuttle Fleet" (Endeavour, Discovery and Atlantis) and the "No Longer in Service" list, which is about sixteen levels of creepy.


Anyway, let's move on to Professor Chua's List of Things Her Daughters Were Never Allowed to Do (Full disclosure -- I haven't read the book, and so this is not a review of the book itself, just poking a little fun at her now-famous list of prohibited activities):




• ATTEND A SLEEPOVER

Hell, I can't wait until my kids are old enough to attend sleepovers. I've heard parents with older kids talk about them in reverent tones like they were a secret cache of weapons in Modern Warfare 3.  

Growing up, I went to a dozen or so sleepovers. I think 10 of them were at my buddy Scott's house, where we played video games in his parents' study and lamented our inability to convince pretty girls to date us. During these sleepovers, we often devised fantastical schemes to achieve fame and fortune, which really ought to be right in Professor Chua's wheelhouse. It was like Weekend Summer Camp for Dorks. 


POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON TRIP TO MARS: 0.5 Tiger Poops

• HAVE A PLAYDATE 

It wasn't called a playdate in that long-ago magical time I tell my kids about -- the When-I-Was-A-Kid-zoic Era. My son recently told me he wanted to have a "playdate" with the kid that lives around the corner. After my eyes rolled back down into the front of my head, I explained patiently that it was called "playing."

Thus, I find it interesting that Professor Chua didn't say that they weren't allowed to play at all -- only that they weren't allowed to have playdates. Maybe she just shares my disdain for the phrase "playdate." Hey, Professor Chua, I am totally with you on this one.  

POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON TRIP TO MARS: 
Playdate: 3.5 Tiger Poops (Because I hate the word playdate)
Playing: Zero Tiger Poops (Look, something goes wrong on Mars, you better be able to get along with your fellow colonists)


• BE IN A SCHOOL PLAY

When I was in the fourth grade, we did a musical about the Revolutionary War (because if there's anything you want set to music, it's treason, sedition and guerilla warfare), and I was assigned to play Patrick Henry, a role that included a solo performance. I should note that my singing voice is so horrific that U.N. inspectors conduct unannounced visits to my house and verify that I'm not using it as a weapon of mass destruction. Anyway, I had such terrible stage fright that all the other kids had to back me up because I refused to sing my part out loud. It was the last play I ever participated in. 


Besides, why is she hating on school plays, anyway? You've got sh*t to memorize, like scripts, songs and dance moves. Stuff like that makes you smart. Exhibit A: I want my surgeon to be like the best memorizer ever. 


POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON TRIP TO MARS: Two Tiger Poops

• COMPLAIN ABOUT NOT BEING IN A SCHOOL PLAY


Amy Chua obviously never saw Dead Poets Society. Every parent should be terrified of becoming the dad from that movie.


Moreover, if you're a kid, you're probably not going to complain about not being in a school play unless you're REALLY interested in drama and theater and school plays, and if that's the case, well, let's just say things are probably not going to end well for anyone who wants you to become a physicist. 


POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON TRIP TO MARS
Four Tiger Poops (mainly because theater majors probably aren't signing up for the astronaut program)


• WATCH TV OR PLAY COMPUTER GAMES

Yeah, I didn't watch TV or play computer games as kid either. Woopity doo. Then again, this probably wasn't that hard in the 1980s. Three network channels and a retail price on the Atari 2600 of $169. So presumably, this was a harder task for Professor Chua. So hard, in fact, that I call total bullsh*t on this one. Here's my case. According to the book, Professor Chua's daughters are 18 and 15, meaning they came of age in the high-speed Internet era. And if they're as smart as we're led to believe, and let's hope they are, because otherwise the book (and Professor Chua's supposedly very awesome advance for the memoir) is kind of pointless, don't you think they probably figured out how to watch some bootleg content online?

POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON GOING TO MARS: 
Four Tiger Poops. (Yeah, you watch too much TV, you're probably not going to be making the trip to the red planet). 

• CHOOSE THEIR OWN EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES



What I find interesting about this one is that this prohibition covers the entire universe of extracurriculars, including school plays. So why is Professor Chua targeting school plays specifically? Wouldn't it have been better to proscribe some other fun childhood activity? Like eating ice cream or something?  


POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON GOING TO MARS: Unknown


• GET ANY GRADE LESS THAN AN A
• NOT BE THE #1 STUDENT IN EVERY SUBJECT EXCEPT GYM AND DRAMA 


Sue Sylvester from Glee is reading this book and planning her revenge.  

My parents never spelled it out like this, but I was pretty much expected to get really, really good grades, and in high school, I didn't let them down. I was actually the co-valedictorian, which, I can assure you, was the high-water mark for my academic career. A few months later, I shuffled off to college where, for the better part of four years, I failed to grasp the fact that I was surrounded by 2,400 classmates, most of whom had ALSO been valedictorians, salutatorians and in the top 5 or 10 in their high school classes. I paid a steep price for this ignorance and finished somewhere in the bottom quarter of the class. I'm an idiot. 

Anyway, the interesting thing about these Tiger Mother parameters is that it's possible that the Chua girls could have fulfilled their mother's expectations but not finished first in their class.


I wonder how the Professor reacted the first time one of the Chua girls came home and reported they weren't #1 in a particular class. THAT must have been a long night with the AP Chemistry flash cards. 


POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON GOING TO MARS: Four Tiger Poops (Straight As are probably a prerequisite to setting foot on Mars). 


• PLAY ANY INSTRUMENT OTHER THAN THE VIOLIN
• NOT PLAY THE PIANO OR VIOLIN


According to the interview in the Guardian, some of the most spectacular battles between Chua and her daughter were fought over the piano and violin. She allegedly threatened to burn her daughter's favorite stuffed animals if she didn't nail a particular piece on the piano. That is pretty f*cked up right there. 


I'd looked at this list about a dozen times before it occurred to me that Professor Chua might have some unresolved internal conflict with the arts. Mean music teacher growing up? 

Whatever. I didn't play an instrument. I have a vague recollection of wanting to join a school band of some kind in the fifth grade, but I abandoned it when I realized none of my friends wanted to do it. 


POTENTIAL NEGATIVE IMPACT ON GOING TO MARS: Zero Tiger Poops. Don't you always see these super smart scientists in the movies playing an instrument or something to give the character depth and substance? 


So that's it. Except for one thing.  I do have a warning for Professor Chua. 


College. 

3 comments:

  1. I love the part about heading off to college without realizing that all the other people at UVA were likely to be hot sh*t academically. That was exactly my experience!

    I'm gonna add this to the "Tiger Mother" thread on my Fb page. Keep it up, Kazzie!

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  2. That part about "playdates" was hilarious. It's a really creepy term to use in reference to anyone over 18 months. A playdate sounds like something that happens in the back of van after being lured there with candy.

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  3. HaHaHa...lol...this historian loves the part 'if there's anything you want set to music it's treason, sedition, and guerrilla warfare..." Hope your week is going well, very funny stuff - all of it.

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