The Whelps of Tiger Moms and Irish Setter Dads

Amy Chua, the Tiger Mom phenom, has finally received an apt check and mate from P.J. O’Rourke, in The Weekly Standard. Proclaiming himself an “Irish Setter Dad,” he finds the perfect use for the new Chua tome:

I gather Ms. Chua is a total bitch with her children, making them finish homework before it’s assigned, practice violin and piano 25 hours a day, maintain a grade point average higher than Obama budget numbers, and forbidding them from doing anything they might enjoy, such as exhale.

But being a male parent with a typical dad-like involvement in my children’s lives?—?I know all of their names?—?I thought Battle Hymn was great. That is, I thought it made me look great. Not that I read the dreadful book, but I did buy each of my children a copy and inscribed it, “So you think you’ve got it bad?”

The driving, manic Tiger Mom ethic — Always Excel in Academics and Music — is not only an anti-hedonic prescription for misery and resentment, as O’Rourke relates, it is also, he says, quite self-defeating:

Amy Chua, I’ve got bad news. “A” students work for “B” students. Or not even. A businessman friend of mine corrected me. “No, P.?J.,” he said, “?‘B’ students work for ‘C’ students. ‘A’ students teach.” Teaching in the Ivy League gives you a lot of time off, Amy?—?enough to write a crap book, worse than Yale prof Erich Segal’s Love Story.

This is hyperbole, of course, but there’s a germ of truth here.

Alas, O’Rourke takes his argument one step too far: He makes fun of Chua’s list of things Tiger Moms demand, and included on that list is “your children must be two years ahead of their classmates in math.”

Well, yes. Considering that American educational standards have lapsed so far that now we worry that high school grads cannot reach the level of what elementary students used to know at the end of Grade 6, any kid who rings on the right side of the Bell Curve and not ahead of his class in math or English is likely way behind his potential. If you want your kids to actually learn something in school, insist on higher standards than do your kids’ teachers. Good rule of thumb.

And it is not that difficult. It doesn’t require a ruler to the knuckles or Chua’s amazingly cold, criticaster spirit. After all, most of today’s kids’ time spent in public schools is spent spinning gears: wasted energy, motion, and emotion, with little engagement of the mind.

How do I know? I went through America’s socialized K-12 schooling in my younger days. It was obviously lacking then. (I became an education critic while in school. I’m surprised more such critics aren’t born in our nation of regimented “classrooms.”) I gather that things have gotten worse in the last 30 years, not better.

Besides, I’ve talked with kids who have actually learned things. From private schools. Or, especially, those schooled at home.

P.J. O’Rourke describes his kids, “Muffin,” “Poppet,” and “Buster,” as practicing “to be jerks.” He doesn’t say what kind of schooling he provides them, but it’s pretty plain they aren’t home-schooled. They sound like typical inmates of a typical public school (though you’d expect a prominent Republican Reptile’s kids to be in private institutions, and that certainly isn’t impossible. “Schools,” public or private, tend to be dreadful places for learning much but insolence.) So, I wonder: Whose kids would I want to work with, or even talk to? It might be fun to chat up Chua’s rebellious kids, rather than O’Rourke’s jerks. At least I’m pretty certain that Chua’s kids would have interesting things to say . . . if only in rebellion against their maddening mother.