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Strict Asian-American parents have become known as 'Tiger' parents since the publication of Amy Chua's memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. She argued that her no-nonsense parenting style brought out the best in her children. But studies suggest otherwise.

I’m what one would call a tiger baby: a product of traditional immigrant parents from South Korea. As typical of child rearing for immigrant parents – their currency was guilt and shame. I knew deep down that they wanted the best for me as every other parent does. Of course this is all too common among immigrant families. I know so many South Korean families where parents made a lot of sacrifices knowing that the payoff was the success of their child.

In an interview on NPR last week, several guests were challenging this notion of the “tiger” babies fighting back. Like several of the guests, I am far from being a “tiger” mom to my two children. My husband and I often tease each other that we aren’t “tiger” enough. But what does all this mean?

As I was listening to the piece on NPR, I couldn’t help but think of the current education reform happening in our own DCPS neighborhood schools and across the nation. DCPS is striving for a “tiger” style of education focused heavily (maybe even obsessed) with academic achievement. We are cutting arts and physical education programs and so much of the instructional time is carved out in preparation for tests. This is only part of the damage.

The other part is that this obsession of test scores have encouraged cheating among school leaders (not the model behavior I’d like to encourage my children) and in fact the bottom line is we aren’t improving scores or eliminating the achievement gap.

It hit me – even though I’m not raising my children in the traditional “tiger” style – rather in our family situation our kids were getting the “tiger” education within our school district.

Huh?

As I reflect more on this, as a parent I am realizing unlike other ‘tiger’ parents we don’t send them to math tutors or math camps. Instead I have pushed them in the creative arts -- knitting, painting, etc. I think my parents would have a stroke if they knew my obsession wasn’t to get them into an Ivy League school. Is it bad for me (a product of tiger parents) to want my children to be engaged, enlightened, empathetic citizens of the world?

During the closing of the interview of the panelist, one speaker noted that she struggled as a tiger baby because she was “not seen for who she was” – in fact the panelist claimed many tiger babies have identity crises as a result of being raised by tiger parents. These tiger babies were fighting back.

Do we want academically smart kids vs. empathetic citizens? How can we balance this dichotomy? I am trying to find a balance, but don’t think I’ve figured it out.


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