I know, right? Kind of a weird Controversy Wednesday topic. But oh, just wait till you see what I’m gonna share.
Jake recently told me about a piece he’d heard on NPR about a woman who decided to try parenting her children like Chinese parents do. I won’t go into detail – you’ll have to hear it for yourself – but it involves punishing a three-year-old child for not practicing piano by telling her to stand outside in the cold.
Her name is Amy Chua, and she has written a book about being a Chinese parent entitled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. If, by chance, you haven’t caught wind of this crazy book or its crazy author, you might consider crawling out from under that rock because it is H-U-G-E right now. In essence, Chua purports that by prohibiting her children from enjoying their childhood, she has been able to mold them into genius, virtuoso zombies with a bright future and no soul. Yeah, that’s my interpretation.
Interestingly, there is one point on which I agree with Ms. Chua. In her book she discusses the importance of forcing a child to push through their desire to quit playing a musical instrument.
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences. This often requires fortitude on the part of the parents because the child will resist; things are always hardest at the beginning, which is where Western parents tend to give up. But if done properly, the Chinese strategy produces a virtuous circle. Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America. Once a child starts to excel at something—whether it’s math, piano, pitching or ballet—he or she gets praise, admiration and satisfaction. This builds confidence and makes the once not-fun activity fun. This in turn makes it easier for the parent to get the child to work even more.
Like it or not, this woman has nailed it on the head. In teaching piano for more than half of my life and working as the education director for a symphony orchestra, I’ve seen so many parents who just want their children to “try” an instrument to see if they’ll like it. But it is a law of the universe that people – whether children or adults – don’t enjoy doing things at which they’re not yet very good. The kid picks up a violin the first time and gets excited because it’s shiny and red and new and expects it to sound as good as it looks. But then it doesn’t. BECAUSE THE KID DOESN’T KNOW HOW TO PLAY. And then they don’t want to do it anymore because practice is hard and the teacher is creepy and old and has bad breath. The parent battles with the child for a few months – maybe even a few years – until they finally give up, assuming that little Joey or Jenny just wasn’t cut out for the violin.
On this, I agree with Ms. Chua, though perhaps not for the same reasons. I have no expectation that Seabass will play an instrument in Carnegie Hall (Ms. Chua’s daughter ended up playing that prestigious house, by the by), but I do expect him to have a lifelong love of music. And I know that the best way to get him to enjoy playing music is to get him good enough to like what he hears. And that, my friends, requires practice.
Wait, don’t shoot! Other than that, me and the Tiger Mother have very little – scratch that, NOTHING – in common.
Enough outta me. What do you think? Do you agree with any part of Amy Chua’s “Chinese” approach to parenting?