Saturday, January 22, 2011

of tiger mothers and not-so-tiger law schools

I'm probably the only blogger who hasn't commented on Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Since the book appears to be aimed at a pop rather than academic audience, perhaps it's better that way. But as a lawprof I can't resist a couple of observations. Here goes:

1. What exactly is Amy Chua doing on the Yale faculty? Her online CV shows three books, all with nonacademic publishers, and a handful of articles. One book before Tiger Mother, Worlds on Fire, argued that market capitalism was responsible for spreading racial tension in the world, an argument I would have thought was dead and buried in the 1940s. Could it be that a bit of jealousy for her, well, more substantial colleagues is part of the motive for this latest project?

2. Why would a mixed Chinese-Jewish family want their kids to be raised, culturally speaking, as Chinese? Jews have a fraction of one percent of the world's population and have produced a vastly disproportionate percentage of the world's leading intellectuals. China has one quarter and has produced a dictatorship that fires on its own people. They've also produced an exquisite 3,000-year old culture, of course; but Chua's dictatorial approach represents precisely the worst of their national traditions.

3. Back to Yale--every month seems to bring a new departing faculty member, and the school is slowly but surely squandering its number one rating. Maybe the fact that a substantial portion of its faculty is writing novels, parenting books, etc. instead of serious scholarship has something to do with that?

I don't doubt that many American parents are overly permissive, and Chua's book may prove a needed antidote. And, like other ethnic groups before them, Asian parents have a right to produce neurotic kids who will then overcompensate by spoiling their grandchildren. But they shouldn't mistake immigrant insecurity for national culture, nor claim academic standing for what is essentially popular nonsense.


At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Maybe the fact that a substantial portion of its faculty is writing novels, parenting books, etc. instead of serious scholarship has something to do with that?"

Bingo. Exactly right. Where are they on the leading issues of the day? It really reminds me of Paul Campos's essay "Shame," about law profs who no longer believe in law, just navel-gazing.

At 2:48 PM, Anonymous Peter Reich said...

The tragic thing about Amy Chua and her promotion of parental pressure is that it is aimed at individual success rather than service to the broader community. For someone whose most important goal in life is that her children earn medals I have neither respect nor contempt, but pity that she can't come up with something more meaningful to leave to posterity.

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous PC said...

I thought sort of the same thing when I saw her book! They all want to be public intellectuals. I like your playing with cultural stereotypes. I must say that as a person of Irish/English heritage I always found it remarkable that ALL the best writers are part of my tribe. I mean, the real heavy hitters, anyway.


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