What Chinese and American Moms Can Learn From a Dog

It all started with an excerpt of Amy Chua's new book, Tiger Mother, in the WSJ. The excerpt was given of course a controversial title to ensure plenty of pick up - "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior" (BTW, it was confirmed that the title was not hers but that of her editor). The article ignited a heated debate. A quick scroll through of comments on the article at WSJ revealed that most readers hated what she had to say. I, however, applaud Amy Chua's piece. Not because I agree with her parenting style, but because she had the guts to give voice to her story - when so few women do - especially when it might result in all sorts of opposition. I can't help it - I like the bold.

While some of her tactics seemed to me abusive, one thing that was clear is she loves her children. And yes, that love and want to do what's right can manifest itself in all sorts of screwed up ways. Still, I believe she made some good points that are worth discussing - such as, how often treating something with kid gloves assumes fragility.

That being said, the Chinese parenting emphasis on drills and route learning seems to be a pendulum swung perhaps too far in the other direction. She's simply playing on the other extreme.

An excellent essay with another traffic generating title, "Amy Chua is a Wimp" ran in the New York Times and hits a more nuanced center. In it, David Brooks argues, that the most intellectually challenging learning can only be had in complex social situations - situations that Ms. Chua's parenting actually keeps her children from. I thought Mr. Brooks hit a point that probably even many American moms fail to understand - just how important a role EQ plays.

But really, I think the whole matter could be settled by one industrious dog, Chaser. His owner, John W. Pilley, a psychologist, has taught the dog through rigorous daily teaching sessions of 3 to 4 hours over 1,000 nouns. He even went so far as to teach Chaser grammar. Which all goes to prove the point that even a dog can learn through extensive drills or is it that a dog is capable of learning nouns and grammar? One way of looking at it is that extensive practice and effort are easy or extensive practice and effort can produce great results.

Either way, I think the most important point was made at the end of the article on Chaser, when another doctor mentioned it wasn't the dog that was exceptional, but the attention lavished on her.