Category Archives: Parenting

Last Persons and the Tiger Mother

Are competence and integrity really under attack? Are they really being sacrificed for individual happiness? Are people really raising Last Persons? The controversy that surrounds Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother demonstrates the battle. Parenting and education offer major avenues to instill values and capabilities in the next generation and are good barometers for what is valued.

Chua’s approach, like all competent action, executes a strategy towards goals. This strategy is informed by models of reality and perception of constraints.

She sees parents making excuses instead of developing their kids potential. She experiences kids spending time on trivialities, draining resources, and playing victim. She notices decline in values and meta-capabilities necessary for achievement in progeny of successful immigrants and vows to not allow it.1In The Triple Package, Chua models psychology of success with a proud combination of superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control and elaborates on the antithesis between these and contemporary Western culture.

Chua’s strategy glorifies hard work and achievement, denigrates excuses, and prizes excellence. She executes it vigilantly because she knows failures that others later try to excuse as inevitable come from little slips. She shows the effort, pain, and planning involved in achievement. And it basically works: her kids achieve excellence in music, get into Harvard, and appear to be reasonable, hard-working people who love and understand their mother.

Most reactions focus on Chua’s cruelty, but she explains how her actions connect to successful execution, how her approach ultimately benefits children, and why good parents are responsible for such efforts. Most objectors offer no plan of how to achieve results Chua seeks with alternate methods and no explanation of how standard parental behavior does not contribute to problems Chua sees. The two sides basically agree: Chua says others create Last Persons by not doing the necessary things; they reply that things Chua considers necessary are mean.

More insightful evaluations come from people who grew up with parenting techniques Chua advocates. Unlike most righteous objectors they often acknowledge that there are trade-offs being made: that in some sense alternatives sacrifice excellence for happiness, that in some sense they embrace Last Personhood. Ryan Park begins an insightful exploration of his conventional success with a question whether

“the trade-off between happiness and success [is] worth it?”

In agreement with Chua, he ties his parents’ ability to educate him to

“two cultural values that would carry their children far: a near-religious devotion to education as the key to social mobility and a belief that academic achievement depends mostly on effort rather than inborn ability”

But ultimately decides:

“I aim to raise children who are happy, confident and kind — and not necessarily as driven, dutiful and successful as the model Asian child. If that means the next generation will have fewer virtuoso violinists and neurosurgeons, well, I still embrace the decline.”

Many justify such choices by denigrating the shallowness of success: gaudy consumerism, obsession with status, sacrifice of individuality and integrity. Chua seems preoccupied with competitions without much caring about their purpose: she seems to care more about winning than music, about grades than learning, about perfection of execution than creativity of innovation. Why work and suffer to become an uninspired, expendable cog while increasing your risk of depression? So you can buy trinkets?

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1 In The Triple Package, Chua models psychology of success with a proud combination of superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control and elaborates on the antithesis between these and contemporary Western culture.

Teaching and Learning

When it comes to parenting, coaching, teaching, learning, and education there is a great diversity of approaches – and no shortage of strong opinions, judgments, and excuses. On a level applicable to all projects, this is explainable by difficulties of execution and communication, by differing missions and selfish choices, by resource constraints and conquering battles. But there are sources of disagreement and ineffectiveness that transcend ineptitude, selfishness, and malice and apply more specifically to mentorship. They are most apparent in parenting of small children so I’ll focus there.

Learning Areas

A major culprit is insufficient appreciation that learning experiences influence all of the following domains:

  • Skills specific to the subject being engaged
  • Meta-capabilities like perseverance, concentration, logic, introspection, empathy
  • Values and Habits like honesty, compassion, independence, fairness
  • Facts that define truths of the subject and/or the world
  • Models that explain functioning of the subject and/or the world
  • Resources like status, connections, credentials, memories
  • Relationships with individuals, groups, subject, society, self

Mentoring approaches are optimizations that rank not only specific attainments, but these general areas. When this happens without sufficient awareness, interdependencies threaten unpleasant side-effects. When it isn’t made explicit enough, outsiders are tempted to presume ignorance and defend worthiness of sacrificed components. And even when deliberate and explicit, chosen trade-offs are naturally challenged by proponents of alternate rankings.

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