Phi Beta Cons

Tiger Moms Versus Lady Gaga

Given the hysteria surrounding Amy Chua’s now-legendary op-ed and book, I’m starting to wonder if the former search-engine champion Lady Gaga is about to be dethroned. (We have a running joke at ADF that all our blog headlines should include a reference to the new queen of pop. For example, “University Censors Christian Student Group: Lady Gaga Remains Silent.”) But it’s all Tiger Moms . . . for now.  

In her interviews, Chua makes a point of discussing how Western parents presume their kids’ weakness — offering copious praise and forever lowering standards — while the Tiger Mom presumes their kids’ strength and pushes them to excel, even to the emotional breaking point. But I wonder if the distinction goes a bit deeper, with the secular and soft-religious Western mindset falsely presuming their child’s virtue — believing that their “good” kids will excel only if their goodness is recognized and exalted. The Tiger Mom, by contrast, seems to have a more realistic mindset, understanding (to use a Calvinist concept) their child’s inherent depravity, including a tendency towards sloth. That’s not to say that relentless hectoring and verbal abuse are the proper responses to laziness and aimlessness, but there is at least more of a proper recognition of reality, of our inherent human nature.

This distinction — between our system, which indulges, and the alternative, which demands — can help explain the continued popularity of American higher ed even as standards plummet and the Four Loko-fueled Five Year Party rolls on. Our system panders to our baser instincts while the Tiger Mom (sometimes brutally and often clumsily) confronts those instincts. Simply put, there’s a temptation toward — and a market for — utterly self-regarding personal indulgence. There always has been, and there always will be. And with universities, this very expensive party is capped with a nice little reward: a degree (often with honors) that grants you access to most levels of the American workplace. 

Is there a better marketing pitch than partying your way into prosperity? Doesn’t this exert a powerful pull even on those schooled from birth by Tiger Moms? I know more than one student who worked like a mule through grade school, then landed in college and unleashed 18 years of pent-up demand for self-indulgence — without seeing their grades suffer in the slightest.  

In other words, the Tiger Mom can’t beat Lady Gaga. 


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