Wednesday, February 9, 2011

tiger librarians

Like everyone else, I heard about this Amy Chua "Tiger Mother" thing and formed an opinion before I actually read the WSJ op-ed she wrote. I'm not going to get into the "is it wrong to call your kid 'garbage'" debate (just kidding, of course I am! calling your kids names seems pretty sad and wrong and not good to me, and I don't really see a lot of ambiguity there. being mean and bullying your kids to be successful isn't really teaching them anything except that being mean and bullying will get you what you want. and also that their parents are jerks. no.)

Anyway, here's the part that made me think of libraries:
What Chinese parents understand is that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.
That struck me as a totally anti-library sentiment -- in addition to not being true, like, at all. I can think of dozens of things I find fun that I'm not good at, including dancing and riding a bike. (Off the top of his head, J has just come up with cooking, playing music, and playing any kind of sports for himself.)

And libraries are all about trying new things... doing research on an unfamiliar topic, learning new languages, figuring out that you want to knit or cook or raise chickens or grow a garden. Idealistically speaking, libraries are all about fun things you aren't good at. Also, I think libraries should be places where children do get to think about their preferences, and read or study what they want to some extent, and that is a good and freeing thing for young people.

So, in conclusion, Amy Chua, I think maybe you are not right about fun and being good at things and overriding preferences, and you probably believe libraries are unnecessary and promote mediocrity or something, and you probably would feel my parents did not raise me successfully because I am not a concert oboist math genius brain surgeon whatever. But I wouldn't go so far as to call you garbage.


  1. I can think of one way "nothing is fun until you're good at it" applies to libraries--reading. Reading is really not much fun until you're good at it and lots of kids don't practice because it feels like a chore. I was a slow reader as a child and it was an incredibly frustrating experience. Unfortunately, the only solution was to keep reading until I got good at it, at which point I realized that I actually really, really liked reading. Which is why it's so important for libraries to provide early literacy programs and fun events like storytime that help kids get over those first hurdles and on to the fun part.

  2. I am in the middle of reading "The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother" and will write a booktalk when I am done.

    I think Gwen's post is really interesting, as is Laura's comment.

    Ultimately it comes down to who you are and what made you who you are. I tend to live life in an "it's not fun until you're good (best) at it" way, but sometimes wish I were more of a "things can be fun even if you aren't good at them."

    I guess what I take away from this post and the response to it is that we as librarians (and friends and parents and citizens) have to be aware of the different types of patrons we serve and that one way of handling a person may not work for another. Reference interviews with a Tiger cub will be much different that one with a more casual customer.

    (I am absolutely loving the book and think it is much lighter than all the hype makes it seem. But I'm also an Asian child raised by a white family who not-so-secretly wishes my mother had forced me into violin when I told her I didn't want to take lessons...)