Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why Tiger Moms are Great, but Not Great for Democracy

"Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?"

-William Blake

I suppose this post seems a bit dated, as the “Tiger Mom” meme has already put its girdle around the earth, planting itself safely and securely into the subconsciousness of suburban moms throughout the developed world. And what a meme it was, a strand of RNA perfectly fashioned to colonize the increasingly timorous Western DNA in a way that China's economic and military miracles could never achieve. It spoke directly to our most important demographic—our exhausted soccer moms: “While Chinese and American moms are both breaking their backs raising their kids, the Chinese are raising their children better than you are, and that is why we're seeing this tectonic shift of wealth, power, and influence to the East.”

I suppose I didn't write anything about the Tiger Meme when it first hit the news in part because I thought it would do some good. I haven't yet figured out what type of Shaolin Animal School parenting tactics my mother used on me, but it certainly wasn't not of the tiger-variety, and so I may suffer from a mild case of Stockholm Syndrome. More than that, after spending two years teaching English to American kids whose mothers were decidedly not Tiger Moms, I've welcomed a bit of fear if it meant a few more of my students would take Shakespeare to heart, or Blake, as this post hopes you have.

But my biggest “I suppose I didn't write” was probably the way we defended our mothers: “Sure Chinese kids beat the pants off our kids in math and science (while their moms are beating the pants off of them), but our kids are more creative, free-thinking, and [hopefully] happy.” Most spent their time trying to convince themselves that our system will win this battle just like we won the Cold War.  The responses were defensive and cliché (often displaying a woefully inadequate understanding of Chinese culture), belying the argument that “we” are better, more cosmopolitan, freer thinkers. Worst of all, they seemed to set up a dangerous proposition: we will know which child-rearing style is right by watching whose economic and political power proves ascendant.

And yet, they served their purpose: the fear was met and neutralized, if not eliminated. And so the latest case of our Orientangst came and went, or rather, eased uneasily back below the surface of our subconsciousness like the specter of the U-Boat after the Great War – we don't how to deal with them, but at least we won't have to worry about them for another twenty years.

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