It’s been a long time since the hoopla and media frenzy about this book. Do you remember it? I swore I would not read Amy Chua’s memoir about raising her kids in a traditionally Chinese way (no playdates, no grades acceptable less than A, hours of music lessons, pressure cooker life) because it felt like one of those stunt kind of memoirs (I’m looking at you, The Year of Living Biblically.) It just felt all too headline-hungry.
But then, a few months ago it was the pick for my book club, and I had to read it. Book club is just more fun when you have read the book.
What stays with me is an observation one of the other women in our group made: Amy Chua did not get a job at Princeton on the first try because she could not pass the conversation-at-dinner test. Part of every tenure-track academic job interview is eating several meals with various members of the faculty. You have to be able to converse with them. She could not. She admits herself that her style of hyper-perfectionism left her with no charm and no imagination, no ability to converse because it wasn’t about just giving the right answer.
Again and again, I come back to this thought as I parent my three boys. It’s been on my mind a lot in the last week, as the boys head back to school. Yes, I want them to do well in school, make great grades and know things. But I also want to make sure that knowledge has a purpose more than for its own sake. Knowing things should take you places beyond a row of As.
As they say, don’t let school get in the way of a good education.
So so true. I knew several people in university who were brilliant but couldn’t carry on a simple conversation. Social skills will take you far in life. I’m still working on my boys!
There are many kinds of intelligence, and having a conversation requires social, interpersonal and emotional intelligence. I remember working with some very academically accomplished, very privileged university students who had won internships to work overseas, but many of them could not identify what they wanted to work on; they expected someone to define their work so they could perform as instructed. They were actually unable to create their own experiences. It was a real contrast of ability and disability.
Then why did she parent her children so strictly that they would not have the chance to make friends and therefore learn to be decent conversationalist?