This story, it could be argued, is outside the realm of cognitive science, but given the attention it has received in the media, I’ve chosen to post it anyway. At a minimum, I suspect a number of my readers will consider it through the lens of cognitive science – from a social psychology perspective alone there’s a lot to think about vis-a-vis the meta narrative here…
On January 8, the Wall Street Journal published this article by attorney and law professor Amy Chua, in which Chua wrote:
Despite our squeamishness about cultural stereotypes, there are tons of studies out there showing marked and quantifiable differences between Chinese and Westerners when it comes to parenting…
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.
Needless to say, the argument that Chinese approaches to parenting are superior to the stereotypical Western (or American) approach has created a lot of buzz in the blogosphere and on many op-ed pages. Sociologist Christine Carter, writing in the Huffington Post, offers her rebuttal to Chua:
Though I’m anything but permissive, even by Chua’s standards, I am one of those “Western” parents who absolutely do prioritize children’s long-term happiness over their achievements and performances. Ironically, I adapted these values from a confluence of Eastern philosophy — particularly Lao-tzu’s “Tao Te Ching” and Buddhist teachings — and Western science, which provides ample evidence that success follows happiness and not the other way around.
Chua’s argument goes against years of scientific research into what makes kids truly happy — and successful — in life. Moreover, it rests on a faulty premise: Rather than being overly permissive, many American parents — especially the well-educated, affluent Americans reading excerpts in the WSJ or on Slate.com — are overly focused on achievement already. Chua’s guide to raising ever-more high-achieving children could fuel this fire, and that’s scary.