Yale Law professor Amy Chua has recently been making headlines with her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a misleading excerpt of which was published in the Wall Street Journal, about the "superiority" of Asian mothers, who do not let their children attend sleepovers, insult their children for failing to achieve academic excellence and make them practice music for hours on end. I found the whole thing amusing as this was not the first time Amy Chua has crossed my radar. Several years ago I had a lot of fun posting on her book Day of Empire and her utter incompetency as a historian. I think it is worthwhile to note that, from what I can tell, Chua does not appear to force her daughters to spend hours on end attempting to critically analyze primary and secondary sources, something that Chua is clearly unable to do and has written a book proving it.
Unlike her many critics, I will not question Chua's abilities as a mother and keep my knocking of her to the realm of history. Actually I think there is a lot to be said for Chua's style of parenting. While not nearly as intense as what Chua describes, my parents were much stricter with me than most of my peer's parents were with them and I benefited from that. The point that Chua makes that struck the strongest chord with me was:
This is a key argument used by educational theorist Daniel Willingham in his book Why Don't Students Like School. Willingham argues for the value of homework and repetitive drilling particularly in the early grades. The idea is that learning in any given field requires a certain baseline of knowledge and set skills. You either have it or you do not and there is no fun easy way to get it. The only option is to just drill it in. Once a child has gained the necessary skills then the real education can begin and yes it can be fun.
I am good with history and enjoy it because I made myself memorize loads of historical facts as a kid and therefore have a baseline knowledge and skills now to read even really difficult works of history. In contrast I never really developed the necessary skills in reading Talmud. My high school yeshiva education was therefore hell as I floated along accomplishing nothing. Today I have a mental block when it comes to the topic and avoid it. Perhaps I needed a Tiger Mother to drill me into a Talmudic scholar.