While reading about the relationship between Thomas Aquinas and insider trading allegations, it occurred to us that the evolution of thinking about any classic crime has an almost-classic arc: deplore; examine; philosophize. Was what the Tiger Mother wrought a crime? She was richly deplored. And then she was richly examined. Perhaps—these things moving more quickly in our time than ever before—time has come to philosophize her, by which we mean to make our assumptions about her the basis for a broader set of ideals, perhaps even ideals that might move policy choices, or principles. Aside from parenting, what central social pillar does Amy Chua’s book crack? Yes, higher learning. Because she’s placed progressive parenting on the chopping block, why not throw Yale on there as well?
Chua has accepted, in a way that the good mothers will not, that most children today can’t have it both ways: they can’t have a fun, low-stress childhood and also an Ivy League education. She understood early on—as the good mothers are about to learn, when the heartbreaking e-mails and letters from the top colleges go out this month—that life is a series of choices, each with its own rewards and consequences. In a sense, that is the most unpalatable message of her book, the one that has caused all the anguish: it’s an unwelcome reminder (how can we keep forgetting this?) that the world really doesn’t lie before us like a land of dreams. At best—at the very best—it can only offer us choices between two good things, and as we grasp at one, we lose the other forever.
Yes, choices. Choices include whom to date and whom to marry, when to have children, and where to live. Choices include whether to make phone calls after receiving privileged information that moves markets. And for the very few, choices may include Harvard vs. Yale. Do they also include Good Vs. Tiger?
Perhaps the trajectory of a powerful idea is rather this: deplore, examine, philosophize, redeem. No loving mother—what Flanagan calls a “good mother,” would like to admit it, but maybe the next phase of Chua’s fame is redemption. Redemption–for some. Because for some, parenting is a series of plotted plays and strategies, more military campaign than hopscotch. For others, it is a series of emotional instincts. These instincts are often made locally, with immediate, ephemeral information, then combined with something no number of hungry hours at the piano will change or cure: genes. If we believe in genes, will we leave off the Tiger Mother crime at Deplore? (Or, maybe, Deplore, Examine?) And we believe in our ability to plan our children’s lives, will we move on to Philosophize, and Redeem? It is too soon to tell.