Ever since the publication of “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” by Amy Chua in 2011, Asian parenting methods for their children’s academic success in school has been a popular topic in the United States. Many questions have arisen about their academic success, and what they seem to be doing right when some non-Asian American methods of parenting are not working in favor of their child’s academic achievements. Helicopter parenting, among other methods, has not been producing stellar academic students from kindergarten through high school. In the broad sense of public school academic success, Quanyu Huang, author of “The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids”, investigates why parents of Asian descent, specifically, Chinese and Chinese-American parents, seem to succeed in an area where many American parents fail their children in grade, junior high, and high school. Yet he points out that while Chinese children may outperform their American peers in public grammar schools, it is the American students who end up advancing once they enter a college or university. Huang attempts to explain why this happens, and how the situation can be rectified so that neither culture is left holding the bag nor at the “finish line”, as he describes in his book. He states that even though Chinese students at Chinese universities do well in their chosen fields, none of them has ever received the Nobel Prize in the field of science. Neither have they ever received the Fields Medal, the math equivalent of the Nobel Prize. Most importantly, Huang dispels the fallacy that all Chinese parents operate on the same principles as Chua does, which means being a strict disciplinarian who does not allow their children and play time of their own. Instead, the author believes in seeking a balance between a child’s academic success while also taking part in sports as well as other social activities.
Compared to the relative economic comfort most Americans enjoy, Huang explains why he believes that education can “change God’s will”, how education is the only means of gaining access to social mobility. Social mobility brings economic mobility, climbing up the rungs of success in a nation which is socially stratified, in this case, China. As in China, so too in the United States can one cross the socio-economic classes through being academically successful. The only problem with that, as Huang points out, is that most Americans of working- and middle-class feel comfortable with their lot in life and do not feel the need to aspire “getting ahead.” The exception would be the poorer classes who do not believe they can improve their lot in life, or according to August Hollingshead’s “Study of Elmtown Youth” (1949), believe that they would have to sacrifice their values in order to get ahead. In reality, a supportive family, regardless of social class, would help their children get ahead, and be actively involved with their education, instead of attempt to “hold them down”, as it were, to try and keep their children from doing better than them.
For a child’s academic success in school, Huang recommends something he created called the Chinese-American Co-Core Synergy Education, which integrates elements from both American and Chinese styles of parenting for a child’s educational success. There is no “Tiger Mom” in the style of Amy Chua parenting in this case, as children do not have to sacrifice independent thinking nor time alone play which helps build creativity in a child – creativity which is essential for the higher years of education, often required in graduate schools. Huang does stress one important issue of Chinese and Chinese-American parenting: instilling the love of self-teaching in their children. Huang uses the example of how he taught his son Yan to teach himself math on his own, doing math at far advanced levels compared to his classmates at school.
Huang intersperses bits of imaginary dialogue between himself and Chinese parents, then American parents in his book. I did not find them particularly helpful, but instead redundant to what he writes in each chapter’s subsection. His description of Chinese teamwork in the making is at times intriguing, and even controversial, to non-Asian American eyes. For example, he cites the case of Lin Miaoke, the little girl who sang the patriotic song at the opening of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Unfortunately, little Lin did not really sing the song; instead, she lip-synched to the voice of another little girl who could sing, Yang Peiyi. This is the Chinese collective at work. Surprisingly, little Peiyi was also credited as being part of the success at work. Peiyi had the talent but not the looks – that is where Lin came in. It’s not as if a Milli Vanilli or Robson and Jerome was being pulled at the Olympics – where other talent was used but never properly credited, but it may come across as being dishonest in accordance with orthodox western values.
Not surprisingly, Huang does cover a few topics in the final chapter of his book which correlates to Chinese student success in school. Dating and sex education are absent from Chinese school curriculums, even though both genders are educated side by side. Such knowledge is not accesible to Chinese youth, maybe because they are not saturated with such concepts through their media the way American children and teens are. Dating is considered an adult activity, something engaged in by mature individuals who are ready to take on the responsibility of having children and raising a family.
While Huang’s book is admirable on several levels, he falters in explaining why the American public school system is obsolete – a system that has its roots in the Industrial Revolution, designed to educate children to work in factories, not as future white-collar professionals. Horace Mann’s dream model of a perfect educational system was conceived from the Prussian model dating back to 1843. It sounds inane that in 2014, American public schools are still operating on nineteenth century educational methods. Unfortunately, even with the expansion of computer technology installed in many public schools for students, even that has not helped in addition to various programs such as “No child left behind” which are designed to help students get ahead academically. The National Education Association may not be able to save American public education, but it is possible that Chinese-American Co-Core Synergy Education is a viable alternative for American parents who want to see their children excel in school at all educational levels, from kindergarten through graduate school.
The Hybrid Tiger: Secrets of the Extraordinary Success of Asian-American Kids, by Quanyu Huang, New York: Prometheus Books, 2014. 264 pages.