Tiger Moms vs. Lion Dads

I’ve mentioned IC contributor Tony Esolen’s new book, Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, here on the blog before, but with all the flap over Tiger Mothers in the past couple of weeks — as well as Elizabeth Scalia’s recent article on encouraging wonder, not just rote learning — I couldn’t pass up this timely review of Esolen’s book that appeared in the Washington Times earlier this week:

While professor Chua conscripts her daughters with compulsory three-hour violin and piano lessons (leaving open the obvious question, “What is so special about the violin or piano as opposed to the cello, trumpet or, for that matter, fly-fishing or baseball?”) Mr. Esolen says we should encourage children to pursue their passions and develop a love of those activities for their own sake, regardless of their utility. Whereas Ms. Chua insists on world-class proficiency in the hobbies her daughters pursue under the belief that such things are fun only after one becomes expert, Mr. Esolen instinctively sides with G.K. Chesterton’s tribute to amateurism that anything “worth doing is worth doing badly.”

If Ms. Chua sees American children as needing more structure and control, Mr. Esolen urges the opposite – fewer play dates and music lessons and more free time for play, reading and tree climbing. If we want to destroy children’s imagination, we should fill up their time with scheduled activities, tell them what books to read and what instruments to play and, above all, stress that none of this is to be enjoyed for its own sake but merely as steppingstones to eventual admission to Harvard or Brown.

As Zoe rightly pointed out at the time, it all comes down to one’s definition of “success.” I get the feeling that Chua and Esolen would have very different answers to that question.


Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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