The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

The last thing I have to say about Tiger Mothers I hope
Tom Smith

I was going to make this point in another context, but as it is bugging me, I will just make it now.  It connects with my political views, why I am a libertarioid-whig-little R republican (as in Republican Form of Government) classical liberal, whatever you want to call it.  And it is this:

On the one hand, if some parents want to push their children, even to an extent that seems crazy to me, so that they will end up wonderful musicians or inventive scientists, this is much to my advantage.  Who knows, little tiger girl may end up playing Mahler in a new way, and add some new meaning to my life.  I may download that mp3, listen to it on my iPod or whatever we have 25 years from now, and the world will be a little better place. Or some Tiger dad will make his kitten memorize the periodical table at age three and when he grows up he will invent donuts that make one lose weight.  You never know.  It could happen.  These would be good things for the world, maybe not so much for the kid, or maybe it would.  I am happy leaving that one for the psychologists.

But here's the thing.  And here the point has been made easier to make by the curious fact that Tiger Mom is a Yale Law School professor and as Professor Bainbridge has pointed out, it seems almost an epidemic among faculty parents in New Haven.  My fear is that little tiger kittens are not being groomed to make things that you and I can buy if we feel like it.  I'm afraid, call me paranoid if you like, that those little achievers will want to grow up to, well, rule.  Not in the imperial Chinese way, though I take it that is the ultimate inspiration for this model of child rearing.  If my high school understanding of Chinese history is correct, that Empire used to be ruled by a giant bureaucracy into which one got by passing extraordinarily difficult exams, competing against other fanatically hopeful parents who saw it as one of the few ways to get the young persons out of a life of horrible drudgery.  But rather in something more like the imperial Chinese way than my ideal, which is more like Thomas Jefferson's, without the antique and misguided dislike of commerce.  So, if I'm sitting in the middle of my Jeffersonian space, able to order whatever I want, within my budget of course, from Amazon, working at something I like, not taxed to death or harassed by officious officials;  if I can provide for my family and hope to provide a similarly independent life for my offspring, then what's it to me if some mom somewhere wants to drive her children so that someday they will produce a recording or a pill I might want to buy?  Only good.  But if we are sliding toward a world like the one that is, to exaggerate only a little, like that I was taught we should be sliding toward when I restlessly roamed the hallowed halls the The Yale Law School many years ago, then I am not so sanguine.  Then I worry that all this fierce intelligence, all this ambition, all this work are going toward the building of world in which my children will be mere, well, what do you call the people who support those who so intelligently manage things from on top.  Not to mention the unbelievably well educated 35 year old who will tell me someday I didn't score well enough in some algorithm I can't even understand to get my arteries bypassed or my prostate cancer treated.  I want to live in a world, and I want my children to as well, where we are free individuals, and geniuses can sell us stuff if we want to buy it.  When I suspect the little elites of tomorrow are just being made more formidable still, it excites not my admiration as much as my anxiety.

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Comments

They're being taught to be infallible.

Posted by: dearieme | Jan 30, 2011 4:02:05 PM

Educated, or Credentialed? Or perhaps educated, but unable to find their backside with both hands.

Posted by: firecapt | Jan 30, 2011 4:19:34 PM

I think you've gotten cause and effect reversed. These consummate middle-class strivers embody, advocate powerfully for, and--at first, at least--cannot but embrace the ethos of a free, democratic and individualistic society, where they can make the most of themselves through their own hard work. The catch is that too often these days, "the most of themselves" means "Ivy Leaguer", which is equivalent to "neo-feudalist aristocrat".

As long as American society foolishly worships and obeys a smug, self-important elite, one can hardly blame individualistic strivers for trying to join it. And learning to mouth its requisite shibboleths is by far the easiest part of the challenge.

Posted by: Dan Simon | Jan 30, 2011 9:52:15 PM

It does not matter how educated 50 or 100 million Chinese become. The astonishing fact about economics is that order generated without design though the compact of liberty--bound only to an abstract system of law--is so powerful that it cannot even be foreseen. The Chinese have a horror of involving themselves with something so unpredictable and uncontrollable as liberty, economic and otherwise--if there is an otherwise. Obama and friends can relate.

Their cards are made in the West, but the deck is Mandarin solitaire, and it can lead no where beyond the cards that are dealt.

Posted by: james wilson | Jan 30, 2011 10:11:54 PM

"They're being taught to be infallible."

Like those geniuses in Goldman Sachs. When they fall, they will be bailed out. Their genius is in making us pay for their mistakes, and they profit from their mistakes.

Posted by: ic | Jan 31, 2011 12:31:57 AM

Yeah, well. As long as my grandkids know how to shoot I'm not overly worried about the Tigers Mom crowd. We outnumber them and our kids will be the ones with the guns. It's our kids who join the Service, after all. Even if the Obama crowd, or the Tiger mommy crowd decide to take over the country, it's our kids in the military. Our kids that actually paid attention to that oath to defend the constitution, against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

So, relax. Worry when you see the Obama kids, Malaria and Sushi enter into West Point.

Posted by: Peter | Jan 31, 2011 1:09:52 AM

I don't know what you call this who support "those who so intelligently manage things from on top," but the Chinese have a great word for the managers. Mandarins. And we have plenty of those on the way.

Posted by: Condign | Jan 31, 2011 3:22:07 AM

We've always had elites. Most of the framers were well educated and wealthy. Where they drew the line was in what we call crony capitalism: the same people going from government to business to government to the academy and helping advance each other and their interests along the way. In a nation of 300+ million people, there are lots of talented folks who never get a call because of a relatively closed loop encircling Boston, New York and Washington and their ilk on the west coast.

Those who call attention to the fact that people like Sarah Palin - what school? Idaho State? - really scare the in-crowd are onto something, I think. The idea that the Ivies have an exclusive on accomplishment, understanding and clear thought works only as long as the rest of the nation goes along with it.

Posted by: Perry Fisher | Jan 31, 2011 4:08:51 AM

"all this work are going toward the building of world in which my children will be mere, well, what do you call the people who support those who so intelligently manage things from on top"

I believe that the word you are searching for is "serfs".

Posted by: Joel King | Jan 31, 2011 4:20:15 AM

What you're anxious about Mr. Smith, is that Tiger Moms will be successful.

Posted by: Tom | Jan 31, 2011 4:43:15 AM