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David Brooks Dismantles Amy Chua- Politely

Last week I shared my thoughts on the Amy Chua firestorm. Bluntly, I smelled free publicity and the chance to sell books behind Chua’s posturing. I don’t begrudge Chua’s desire to profit as one reader accused me.

I simply wanted to make clear whole thing- book release, lots of buzz, lots of press, and lots of media appearances looks like a PR campaign to me.

New York Times columnist David Brooks also had at Chua last week and, rather than through larger perspective questions as I did.

Brooks has at Chua arguing that, in reality, she’s coddling her children keeping them from learning to navigate precisely the kinds of situations that they must successfully master.

Brooks thinks Chua’s kids will miss out on learning the soft knowledge necessary to successful navigation and achievement in modern America:

“…Her [Chua] critics echoed the familiar themes. Her kids can’t possibly be happy or truly creative. They’ll grow up skilled and compliant but without the audacity to be great. She’s destroying their love for music. There’s a reason Asian-American women between the ages of 15 and 24 have such high suicide rates.

I have the opposite problem with Chua. I believe she’s coddling her children. She’s protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

Yet mastering these arduous skills is at the very essence of achievement. Most people work in groups. We do this because groups are much more efficient at solving problems than individuals (swimmers are often motivated to have their best times as part of relay teams, not in individual events). Moreover, the performance of a group does not correlate well with the average I.Q. of the group or even with the I.Q.’s of the smartest members…

Participating in a well-functioning group is really hard. It requires the ability to trust people outside your kinship circle, read intonations and moods, understand how the psychological pieces each person brings to the room can and cannot fit together.

This skill set is not taught formally, but it is imparted through arduous experiences. These are exactly the kinds of difficult experiences Chua shelters her children from by making them rush home to hit the homework table.” (NYT)

Brooks is currently doing the best job (of any broadly read author) of covering our emerging understanding of social intelligence and its importance.

More than just facts and knowledge manipulation individual success and achievement appears to depend as much, or more-so, on one’s abilities to read, understand, and navigate social situations and relationships.

Brooks’ view is informed by his research and writing behind his forthcoming book “The Social Animal” due out in March. I’ll have a post on this in a day or so.

Brian Fisher

A product of both private and public education, Brian Fisher served as a teacher, coach, dorm parent, and administrator at three different boarding schools. Brian also fills the role of Director of Development at Wolfeboro, The Summer Boarding School, in NH along with being a partner at AdmissionsQuest.

More by Brian Fisher

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