Amy Chua at the 2007 Texas Book Festival, Aust...

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In order to understand my post please read Amy Chua’s arguing why Chinese mothers are superior. Only after you are done please read my reply.

Chinese mothers are not superior Amy and here’s why.

Jewish Americans are more successful than Chinese Americans and therefore are “superior” in Amy Chua’s terminology (an absurdity of course). Here’s a link to an example of pure Jewish chauvinism that gives you a sense of how Jewish Americans who are only 2% of the population and Jewish people who are only 1 in 500 in the planet fare. Please only read this if you are not Jewish.

But never mind the debate. Amy Chua’s kids get superiority from both parents because Amy Chua is married to a Jewish American. For some reason however, he gets no credit as a father in the story of the two daughters education. This is wrong both from a moral point of view but also from a sociological point of view: Amy Chua’s conclusions are based on a sample of only two, and this sample is biased by the presence of a Jewish father. This father has contributed Jewish parenting which is very different from Chinese mothering and probably a good balancing act to what I see as an unnecessary brutal style that could very well backfire. Indeed China is the country in the world with the highest female suicide rate and the only country in which women commit suicide at a higher rate than men. That in itself would make Chinese mothers sadly not superior at one thing, facing adversity.

Now my credentials. I am a Jewish father of 4 kids ages 20 to 4 with the two eldest at Columbia University and NYU. As a Jewish father I can say that we are very different from Chinese mothers. Here are some highlights of what I would call Jewish parenting.

-we work jointly with mothers, both parents are very involved with the kids education, even in case of divorced and remarried parents such as mine.

-we never call our kids “garbage”, on the contrary, as the term JAP implies, for us they are….royalty. We spoil them, but it works. Our kids are the best simply because they are.

-we are our kids number one fans. We bore others with stories of how bright our kids are.

-if they get a bad grade we go and fight it out with the teacher. Jewish kids may get better grades because teachers are tired of dealing with their parents. We don’t do this to break the rules, we do it because we are truly convinced our kids are the next Einsteins and the teachers are just blind. Once my daughter Isabella got a D and I went to tell her Math teacher that no Varsavsky had ever gotten a D in Math, that my father was a PhD in astrophysics from Harvard, and whatever it took to make a point. While the British lady did not change her mind that time I think she got the message as that was the one and only D that we got as a family.

-we look for originality in our kid’s thinking, we want our kids to be funny, to come up with unexpected solutions to problems, to be almost irreverent. When they talk back we are secretly happy that they have a personality of their own. We rarely punish them. Instead we are quiet when we disapprove and celebrate their merits.

-we want them to be liked and appreciated by their friends, their peers, we want them to have a social life, to fall in love. When they are unhappy we suffer.

I could go on but I think you see where I am headed. And by the way, being a Jewish parent is also an attitude or culture and has little to do with religion. While I celebrate the Jewish holidays I believe that the world as described by the Bible is most likely imaginary. But it is a good Jewish story.

And in any case there is no such thing as being a Chinese parent or a Jewish parent or any parent as such.  I am arguing in favor of being a nice, empathic, supportive parent, anyone can be that and I am sure many Chinese parents would be opposed, as I was, at Amy’s style of raising her daughters, no need to be Jewish!

My answer is also on Quora.

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Dolores Turró on January 17, 2011  · 

I’m totally with you, Martín, even though I’m not a Jewish mum. My daughter hasn’t become a Math genius, but she’s an efficient manager and a totally empathetic personal trainer. I’m still very ashamed of the times in which I was under tremendous pressure (divorce, etc., etc., plus bipolar disorder) and wasn’t the kind of mum that my daughter deserved, but I came good all the same, and her dad and extended family also did their bit. I’m extremely proud of my daughter, now almost 31 years of age.
On a different note, as a teacher at the University of Sydney, I have seen -again and again- the fear in which Asian international students live in case their marks are less than a distinction… Many times I ‘held their hand’ and explained to them that sometimes learning is made harder by cultural differences, and I tell them how much I admire their good predisposition to make it in a western university. Some of them develop major depression and find it extremely hard to go back home and give their parents the ‘bad’ news that they ‘only’ got credit or pass.
This lady is totally bananas, besides she won’t recognise her husband’s input… not one bit!

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Philippe Calvó on January 17, 2011  · 

I don’t like extreme or radical positions. Never. But I like to see the positive side of every opinion. I never defend so hard my daughters, neither I act as a fan of them or think they are the best. But after reading Martin’s opinions, I’m starting to think that I should a little bit more. On the other hand, I also think that sometimes I should act more as the Chinese mother. I sure will not call “garbage” to my daughter but being more demanding can be positive sometimes.
In any case, as 45% Spanish – 45% French – 10% Catalan father I’m convinced that the most important component in success for your kids is “time”. The time you spend with them when they need you.

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Alvaro on January 17, 2011  · 

I’ve read Amy’s article and I must say it made me feel horrible. I guess is that education philosophy which allows a dictatorship like that there is in China right now and has been for years. I understand her position in respect to child’s self-esteem in America, as it is being the same kind of thinking which is striking Spain.

There are some people that think that a simple yell once in your kid’s life will ruin them for ever. That way of thinking is of course a terrible mistake, so I understand she may think in totally the opposite way. However, what she describes is totally the furthest opposite extreme: your purpose as a father should be to make your children happy people, now and in the future. Of course this means you sometimes have to sacrifice inmediate happiness for future happiness, and I guess the hardest job for a parent is to find the equilibrium in which happiness has to prevail in every moment of your child’s life.

Really, is that important that your child plays two, and only two, instruments, piano and violin? Not to play, indeed, but to master. Will that make them happy now? Will that make them happy in five years from now? I believe not, and I don’t believe in forcing in your child to do every activity you want, prohibiting them from doing something they may like and in which the may excel.

On the other hand, Martin, I think you’re too horribly mistaken. How can you not see that your children are just that, children, and they may not be the best in everything you can think of? You know, both my parents are teachers, and have been for more than 30 years. They both concur in that your type of parenting is one of the worst.

You are the kind of parent which, as you have just described, will fight for your child’s degrees, not even questioning yourself if your child –or you– have something to do with a low grade. Teachers cannot work with your child and teach them at all if they are coerced by you to give them the best degrees. I’m sorry to tell you this, but your child is no Einstein and he may fail. And be sure that he will do, from time to time, and some of that times, it will be entirely his fault.

Your job is not to tell your child that he is the best and that if he doesn’t get the results he expected it’s always some other’s fault. Sometimes life is like that, we may not be responsible of what happens to us. But bear no doubt that most of the time it’s you the one who made things happen some way, and not other.

You cannot praise your children for their achivements and make them think their failures are someone else’s fault.

On the other hand, most of the other remarks you’ve made strike me as truth, and I so concur with you in them, so please don’t believe I’m calling you a bad parent; just I think you’re making some incorrect assumption on your child’s ability and capacity, stealing the power and respect from the teacher.

How is your child going to respect his teacher if you tell him he/she is absolutely wrong? How is his teacher going to work if he doesn’t get your child respect? How is he going to learn anything from him if he thinks he is always wrong? How much interest is the teacher going to put in your child if she knows you will not support her, always defending your child, even if he has just being lazy?

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Jim Nubiola on January 17, 2011  · 

Absolutely agree with Alvaro.

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Changyu Ye on January 17, 2011  · 

As a Chinese father of two young kids, I felt sorry for not being devoted enough time to my kids’ education after I read Amy’s article. Although I like Martin’s approach better, I think we can learn something from both sides.
What I can see from Amy’s article is her involvement, dedication, and the importance of helping kids to overcome difficulties.
I remember I was scolded by my mom for my poor handwriting when I was at age 8. I had to practice my handwriting for 30 min everyday for a while. Although I don’t handwrite Chinese these days, I do enjoy writing holiday cards once a while, not to mention my wife was impressed by that when we first met. 🙂
Only one point I don’t necessary agree with Martin is fighting the grade. There could be other reasons besides the kid and teacher. That is also from my personal experience.

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Pablo on January 17, 2011  · 

Martin, I normally agree with you in most topics, but in this one I’m appalled to see that you choose the manipulative path to make sure the system helps your kids, instead of making sure they can beat the system fairly. Asking a teacher for a better for a kid grade because their grandfather had a PhD in physics is no different from asking for a government contract because your cousin is a council member. Having read your complaints about Argentinian politicians, I’m shocked to learn this.

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Martin Varsavsky on January 17, 2011  · 

Really? No different? First the teacher did not change the grade but secondly why should she change the grade just because my father had a PhD in astrophysics? I think you fail to see the humor in my article.

Pablo on January 17, 2011  · 

Martin, perhaps I missed your humor, that happens to me a lot. But what seems clear is that you admit to confront the teacher about your kid’s grade when there is no evidence that he or she should have received a higher one. Precisely because you come from a family of high academic achievers, I think the right approach would be to help your kids perform as they probably can (I’m sure you do this as well) instead of gaming the system (fruitfully or otherwise).

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Sergio on January 18, 2011  · 

Me imagino a la profesora del cole recibiendo a padres… ” el abuelo de este niño obtuvo la mejor nota de la historia de la oposicion a abogado del estado, revisele la nota, es imposible !!! ” ” si sr. Conde “… pobrecita!!!

Voy a ser padre en breve, supongo que hay un componente que aun no entiendo, pero a dia de hoy diria que si mi hija es la que mejor toca el violoncelo o la que mejor media tiene en yale no me hace ser el mejor padre sin otra serie de valores.


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Emily Becker on January 18, 2011  · 

What I took from Amy Chu’s article (being a Jewish mother of four kids myself) was more that she was able to turn off the television and electronics whenever she saw fit, and she had no guilt about interrupting a child’s ever-so-important t.v. time! This was interesting to me. Because, right now, it seems like good parenting has become who can monitor the electronics the most! By the way, I don’t believe in heavy verbal criticism either, but I liked the article by Mrs. Chu.

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Dani on January 25, 2011  · 


You’re seriously mistaken in your understanding of the term “JAP” (Jewish-American princess). This is far from a complimenting name, but rather it is derogatory and, some would say anti-semitic. It is not the parents that call their daughters JAPs, but rather the term is used by non-Jewish kids as a way of critizicing Jewish girls that are spoiled and get it all easy and free from their rich parents. So hardly a way to define hard-working, well-educated Jewish childre, but rather the complete opposite.


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