It was the “Little White Donkey” incident that pushed many readers over the edge. That’s the name of the piano tune that Amy Chua, Yale law professor and self-described “tiger mother,” forced her 7-year-old daughter Lulu to practice for hours on end — “right through dinner into the night,” with no breaks for water or even the bathroom, until at last Lulu learned to play the piece.
For other readers, it was Chua calling her older daughter Sophia “garbage” after the girl behaved disrespectfully — the same thing Chua had been called as a child by her strict Chinese father.
And, oh, yes, for some readers it was the card that young Lulu made for her mother’s birthday. “I don’t want this,” Chua announced, adding that she expected to receive a drawing that Lulu had “put some thought and effort into.” Throwing the card back at her daughter, she told her, “I deserve better than this. So I reject this.”
Even before Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Chua’s proudly politically incorrect account of raising her children “the Chinese way,” arrived in bookstores Jan. 11, her parenting methods were the incredulous, indignant talk of every playground, supermarket and coffee shop. A prepublication excerpt in the Wall Street Journal (titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”) started the ferocious buzz; the online version has been read more than 1 million times and attracted more than 7,000 comments so far. When Chua appeared Jan. 11 on the Today show, the usually sunny host Meredith Vieira could hardly contain her contempt as she read aloud a sample of viewer comments: “She’s a monster”; “The way she raised her kids is outrageous”; “Where is the love, the acceptance?”
Chua, a petite 48-year-old who carries off a short-skirted wardrobe that could easily be worn by her daughters (now 15 and 18), gave as good as she got. “To be perfectly honest, I know that a lot of Asian parents are secretly shocked and horrified by many aspects of Western parenting,” including “how much time Westerners allow their kids to waste — hours on Facebook and computer games — and in some ways, how poorly they prepare them for the future,” she told Vieira with a toss of her long hair. “It’s a tough world out there.”
Chua’s reports from the trenches of authoritarian parenthood are indeed disconcerting, even shocking, in their candid admission of maternal ruthlessness. Her book is a Mommie Dearest for the age of the memoir, when we tell tales on ourselves instead of our relatives. But there’s something else behind the intense reaction to Tiger Mother, which has shot to the top of best-seller lists even as it’s been denounced on the airwaves and the Internet. Though Chua was born and raised in the U.S., her invocation of what she describes as traditional “Chinese parenting” has hit hard at a national sore spot: our fears about losing ground to China and other rising powers and about adequately preparing our children to survive in the global economy. Her stories of never accepting a grade lower than an A, of insisting on hours of math and spelling drills and piano and violin practice each day (weekends and vacations included), of not allowing playdates or sleepovers or television or computer games or even school plays, for goodness’ sake, have left many readers outraged but also defensive. The tiger mother’s cubs are being raised to rule the world, the book clearly implies, while the offspring of “weak-willed,” “indulgent” Westerners are growing up ill equipped to compete in a fierce global marketplace.
One of those permissive American parents is Chua’s husband, Jed Rubenfeld (also a professor at Yale Law School). He makes the occasional cameo appearance in Tiger Mother, cast as the tenderhearted foil to Chua’s merciless taskmaster. When Rubenfeld protested Chua’s harangues over “The Little White Donkey,” for instance, Chua informed him that his older daughter Sophia could play the piece when she was Lulu’s age. Sophia and Lulu are different people, Rubenfeld remonstrated reasonably. “Oh, no, not this,” Chua shot back, adopting a mocking tone: “Everyone is special in their special own way. Even losers are special in their own special way.”
With a stroke of her razor-sharp pen, Chua has set a whole nation of parents to wondering: Are we the losers she’s talking about?
Americans have ample reason to wonder these days, starting with our distinctly loserish economy. Though experts have declared that the recent recession is now over, economic growth in the third quarter of 2010 was an anemic 2.6%, and many economists say unemployment will continue to hover above 9%. Part of the reason? Jobs outsourced to countries like Brazil, India and China. Our housing values have declined, our retirement and college funds have taken a beating, and we’re too concerned with paying our monthly bills to save much, even if we had the will to change our ingrained consumerist ways. Meanwhile, in China, the economy is steaming along at more than 10% annual growth, and the country is running a $252.4 billion trade surplus with the U.S. China’s government is pumping its new wealth right back into the country, building high-speed rail lines and opening new factories.
If our economy suffers by comparison with China’s, so does our system of primary and secondary education. That became clear in December, when the latest test results from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. American students were mired in the middle: 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math — 17th overall. For the first time since PISA began its rankings in 2000, students in Shanghai took the test — and they blew everyone else away, achieving a decisive first place in all three categories. When asked to account for the results, education experts produced a starkly simple explanation: Chinese students work harder, with more focus, for longer hours than American students do. It’s true that students in boomtown Shanghai aren’t representative of those in all of China, but when it comes to metrics like test scores, symbolism matters. Speaking on education in December, a sober President Obama noted that the U.S. has arrived at a “Sputnik moment”: the humbling realization that another country is pulling ahead in a contest we’d become used to winning.
Such anxious ruminations seem to haunt much of our national commentary these days, even in the unlikeliest of contexts. When the National Football League postponed a Philadelphia Eagles game in advance of the late-December blizzard on the East Coast, outgoing Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell was left fuming: “We’ve become a nation of wusses,” he declared on a radio program. “The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything. If this was in China, do you think the Chinese would have called off the game? People would have been marching down to the stadium. They would have walked, and they would have been doing calculus on the way down.”
These national identity crises are nothing new. During the mid–20th century, we kept a jealous eye on the Soviets, obsessively monitoring their stores of missiles, their ranks of cosmonauts and even their teams of gymnasts, using these as an index of our own success (not to mention the prospects for our survival). In the 1980s, we fretted that Japan was besting us with its technological wizardry and clever product design — the iPod of the ’80s was the Sony Walkman — and its investors’ acquisitions of American name-brand companies and prime parcels of real estate.
Now the Soviet Union has dissolved into problem-plagued Russia, and our rivalry with the Japanese has faded as another one has taken its place: last year, China surpassed Japan as the world’s second largest economy. The U.S. is still No. 1 — but for how long? We’re rapidly reaching the limit on how much money the federal government can borrow — and our single biggest creditor is China. How long, for that matter, can the beleaguered U.S. education system keep pace with a rapidly evolving and increasingly demanding global marketplace? Chinese students already have a longer school year than American pupils — and U.S. kids spend more time sitting in front of the TV than in the classroom.
The document that finally focused the nation’s attention on these crucial questions was not a blue-ribbon study or a hefty government report, but a slender book that sprang from one mother’s despair over her daughter’s teenage rebellion.
Amy Chua lives in New Haven, Conn., in an imposing mock-Tudor mansion — complete with gargoyles — that was built in the 1920s for a vaudeville impresario. The woman who descends the winding stone stairway and opens the studded wooden door, however, is wearing a sweatshirt, jeans and a friendly smile. As we take a seat in Chua’s living room, the laughter of her older daughter Sophia and her boyfriend (yes, she’s allowed to have a boyfriend) floats down from the second floor, and the fluffy white dog that Chua tried, and failed, to discipline stretches comfortably on the rug. (Disclosure: This reporter also lives in New Haven and has heard Chua regale friends with parenting stories.)
The first thing Chua wants you to know is that she is not a monster. “Everything I do as a mother builds on a foundation of love and compassion,” she says. Love and compassion, plus punishingly high expectations: this is how Chua herself was raised. Though her parents are ethnically Chinese, they lived for many years in the Philippines and immigrated to America two years before Chua was born. Chua and her three younger sisters were required to speak Chinese at home; for each word of English they uttered, they received a whack with a pair of chopsticks. On the girls’ report cards, only A’s were acceptable. When Chua took her father to an awards assembly at which she received second prize, he was furious. “Never, ever disgrace me like that again,” he told her.
Some react to an exceedingly strict household by becoming permissive parents, but not Chua. When she had children of her own, she resolved to raise them the same way. “I see my upbringing as a great success story,” she says. “By disciplining me, my parents inculcated self-discipline. And by restricting my choices as a child, they gave me so many choices in my life as an adult. Because of what they did then, I get to do the work I love now.” Chua’s path to her profession was not a straight one — she tried out the premed track and a major in economics before settling on law school — but it was made possible, she says, by the work ethic her parents instilled.
All the same, Chua recognizes that her parents’ attitudes were shaped by experiences very different from her own. Her mother and father endured severe hardship under the Japanese occupation of the Philippines; later they had to make their way in a new country and a new language. For them, security and stability were paramount. “They didn’t think about children’s happiness,” Chua says. “They thought about preparing us for the future.” But Chua says her children’s happiness is her primary goal; her intense focus on achievement is simply, she says, “the vehicle” to help them find, as she has, genuine fulfillment in a life’s work.
The second thing Chua wants you to know is that the hard-core parenting she set out to do didn’t work — not completely, anyway. “When my children were young, I was very cocky,” Chua acknowledges. “I thought I could maintain total control. And in fact my first child, Sophia, was very compliant.” Then came Lulu.
From the beginning, Chua’s second daughter was nothing like her obedient sister. As a fetus, she kicked — hard. As an infant, she screamed for hours every night. And as a budding teenager she refused to get with her mother’s academic and extracurricular program. In particular, the two fought epic battles over violin practice: ” ‘all-out nuclear warfare’ doesn’t quite capture it,” Chua writes. Finally, after a screaming, glass-smashing, very public showdown, the tiger mother admitted defeat: “Lulu,” she said, “you win. It’s over. We’re giving up the violin.” Not long after, Chua typed the first words of her memoir — not as an exercise in maternal bravado but as an earnest attempt to understand her daughters, her parents and herself.
That was a year and a half ago. Today, Chua has worked out some surprising compromises with her children. Sophia can go out on dates and must practice the piano for an hour and a half each day instead of as many as six hours. Lulu is allowed to pursue her passion for tennis. (Her mother’s daughter, she’s become quite good at the sport, making the high school varsity team — “the only junior high school kid to do so,” as Chua can’t help pointing out.) And Chua says she doesn’t want to script her children’s futures. “I really don’t have any particular career path in mind for Sophia and Lulu, as long as they feel passionate about it and give it their best.” As her girls prepare to launch themselves into their own lives — Sophia goes off to college next fall — Chua says she wouldn’t change much about the way she raised them. Perhaps more surprising, her daughters say they intend to be strict parents one day too — though they plan to permit more time with friends, even the occasional sleepover.
Most surprising of all to Chua’s detractors may be the fact that many elements of her approach are supported by research in psychology and cognitive science. Take, for example, her assertion that American parents go too far in insulating their children from discomfort and distress. Chinese parents, by contrast, she writes, “assume strength, not fragility, and as a result they behave very differently.” In the 2008 book A Nation of Wimps, author Hara Estroff Marano, editor-at-large of Psychology Today magazine, marshals evidence that shows Chua is correct. “Research demonstrates that children who are protected from grappling with difficult tasks don’t develop what psychologists call ‘mastery experiences,’ ” Marano explains. “Kids who have this well-earned sense of mastery are more optimistic and decisive; they’ve learned that they’re capable of overcoming adversity and achieving goals.” Children who have never had to test their abilities, says Marano, grow into “emotionally brittle” young adults who are more vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Another parenting practice with which Chua takes issue is Americans’ habit, as she puts it, of “slathering praise on their kids for the lowest of tasks — drawing a squiggle or waving a stick.” Westerners often laud their children as “talented” or “gifted,” she says, while Asian parents highlight the importance of hard work. And in fact, research performed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has found that the way parents offer approval affects the way children perform, even the way they feel about themselves.
Dweck has conducted studies with hundreds of students, mostly early adolescents, in which experimenters gave the subjects a set of difficult problems from an IQ test. Afterward, some of the young people were praised for their ability: “You must be smart at this.” Others were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.” The kids who were complimented on their intelligence were much more likely to turn down the opportunity to do a challenging new task that they could learn from. “They didn’t want to do anything that could expose their deficiencies and call into question their talent,” Dweck says. Ninety percent of the kids who were praised for their hard work, however, were eager to take on the demanding new exercise.
One more way in which the tiger mother’s approach differs from that of her Western counterparts: her willingness to drill, baby, drill. When Sophia came in second on a multiplication speed test at school, Chua made her do 20 practice tests every night for a week, clocking her with a stopwatch. “Tenacious practice, practice, practice is crucial for excellence; rote repetition is underrated in America,” she writes. In this, Chua is right, says Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. “It’s virtually impossible to become proficient at a mental task without extensive practice,” he notes.
What’s more, Willingham says, “if you repeat the same task again and again, it will eventually become automatic. Your brain will literally change so that you can complete the task without thinking about it.” Once this happens, the brain has made mental space for higher-order operations: for interpreting literary works, say, and not simply decoding their words; for exploring the emotional content of a piece of music, and not just playing the notes. Brain scans of experimental subjects who are asked to execute a sequence of movements, for example, show that as the sequence is repeated, the parts of the brain associated with motor skills become less active, allowing brain activity to shift to the areas associated with higher-level thinking and reflection.
Cognitive neuroscience, in other words, confirms the wisdom of what the tiger mother knew all along. “What Chinese parents understand,” says Chua, “is that nothing is fun until you’re good at it.” That may be an overstatement — but if being good at reading or math or music permits a greater degree of engagement and expressiveness, that would seem to be a very desirable thing.
All that said, however, psychologists universally decry the use of threats and name calling — verbal weapons frequently deployed by Chua — as harmful to children’s individual development and to the parent-child relationship. So just what does she have to say about the notorious episodes recounted in her book?
About “The Little White Donkey”: she was perhaps too severe in enforcing long hours of practice, Chua says now. Still, she says, it was important for Sophia and Lulu to learn what they were capable of. “It might sound harsh, but kids really shouldn’t be able to take the easy way out,” she explains. “If a child has the experience, even once, of successfully doing something she didn’t think she could do, that lesson will stick with her for the rest of her life.” Recently, Chua says, Lulu told her that during a math test at school that day she had looked at a question and drawn a blank. “Lulu said, ‘Then I heard your annoying voice in my head, saying, “Keep thinking! I know you can do this” — and the answer just came to me!’ ”
On calling Sophia “garbage”: “There are some things I did that I regret and wish I could change, and that’s one of them,” Chua says. But, she notes, her father used similar language with her, “and I knew it was because he thought well of me and was sure I could do better.” Chua’s parents are now in their 70s, and she says she feels nothing but love and respect for them: “We’re a very tight family, all three generations of us, and I think that’s because I was shown a firm hand and my kids were shown a firm hand.”
And Lulu’s birthday card? Chua stands by that one. “My girls know the difference between working hard on something and dashing something off,” she says firmly. “They know that I treasure the drawings and poems they put effort into.”
More than anything, it’s Chua’s maternal confidence — her striking lack of ambivalence about her choices as a parent — that has inspired both ire and awe among the many who have read her words. Since her book’s publication, she says, e-mail messages have poured in from around the globe, some of them angry and even threatening but many of them wistful or grateful. “A lot of people have written to say that they wished their parents had pushed them when they were younger, that they think they could have done more with their lives,” Chua recounts. “Other people have said that after reading my book they finally understand their parents and why they did what they did. One man wrote that he sent his mother flowers and a note of thanks, and she called him up, weeping.”
So should we all be following Chua’s example? She wrote a memoir, not a manual. She does make it clear, however, that Chinese mothers don’t have to be Chinese: “I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too,” she writes. The tiger-mother approach isn’t an ethnicity but a philosophy: expect the best from your children, and don’t settle for anything less.
Among those who are decidedly not following Chua’s lead are many parents and educators in China. For educated urban Chinese parents, the trend is away from the strict traditional model and toward a more relaxed American style. Chinese authorities, meanwhile, are increasingly dissatisfied with the country’s public education system, which has long been based on rote learning and memorization. They are looking to the West for inspiration — not least because they know they must produce more creative and innovative graduates to power the high-end economy they want to develop. The lesson here: depending on where you stand, there may always be an approach to child rearing that looks more appealing than the one you’ve got.
Marano doesn’t see us whistling Chua’s battle hymn just yet. “Kids can grow and thrive under a wide variety of parenting styles,” she says. “But American parenting, at its best, combines ambitious expectations and a loving environment with a respect for each child’s individual differences and a flexibility in parental roles and behavior. You can set high standards in your household and help your children meet them without resorting to the extreme measures Chua writes about.” Western parents have their own highly effective strategies for promoting learning, such as free play — something Chua never mentions. On a national scale, the U.S. economy may be taking a hit, but it has far from collapsed. American secondary education may be in crisis, but its higher education is the envy of the world — especially China. We have not stopped inventing and innovating, in Silicon Valley or in Detroit.
There’s no doubt that Chua’s methods are extreme (though her stories, she hints, may have been slightly exaggerated for effect). But her account, arriving just after those unnervingly high test scores from Shanghai, has created a rare opportunity. Sometimes it takes a dramatic intervention to get our attention. After the 1957 launch of Sputnik, America did rise to the Soviets’ challenge: less than a year later, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which invested billions of dollars in the U.S. education system. Within five years, John Glenn was orbiting Earth, and less than a decade after that, we put a man on the moon.
Clare Boothe Luce, the American playwright, Congresswoman and ambassador, called the beeps emitted by Sputnik as it sailed through space “an intercontinental outer-space raspberry,” a jeer at the notion that America had some “gilt-edged guarantee of national superiority.” Think of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as a well-timed taunt aimed at our own complacent sense of superiority, our belief that America will always come out on top. That won’t be the case unless we make it so. We can get caught up in the provocative details of Chua’s book (did she really threaten to burn her daughter’s stuffed animals?), or we can use her larger point as an impetus to push ourselves forward, the way our countrymen often have in the past.
For though Chua hails the virtues of “the Chinese way,” the story she tells is quintessentially American. It’s the tale of an immigrant striver, determined to make a better life for himself and his family in a nation where such dreams are still possible. “I remember my father working every night until 3 in the morning; I remember him wearing the same pair of shoes for eight years,” Chua says. “Knowing the sacrifices he and my mother made for us made me want to uphold the family name, to make my parents proud.”
Hard work, persistence, no patience for excuses: whether Chinese or American, that sounds like a prescription for success with which it’s very difficult to argue.
48岁小巧玲珑的蔡美儿穿着她两个女儿（一个15一个18）也能穿的短裙装，不卑不亢地答道：“老实说，我认识的很多亚洲父母私底下都对西方家长的教育方式赶到震惊和恐惧，”比如，“西方人让孩子浪费的时间太多了 — 几个小时沉迷于《非死不可》（facebook，也译作《脸书》）和电脑游戏 — 从另一个角度来说，他们为孩子的未来准备得太差了。”她甩着自己的长发对薇拉说：“外面世界很艰难。”
我们的经济跟中国没法比，我们的中小学教育也一样。这一点在12月最新的一次《国际学生能力测评》（PISA）中表露无遗。美国学生成绩中等：阅读排17、科学23、数学31 — 整体第17。上海的学生是PISA项目2000年开办以来第一次参加，一下子就力拔头筹，在所有三项中都是第一名。教育专家在应邀对结果进行解读时给出的答案直截了当：中国学生比美国学生更努力，更专注，花时间也更多。的确，上海这种发达都市不能代表全中国的普遍水平，但测验分数还是有指标意义。奥巴马总统12月谈到教育时忧心忡忡地说道，美国已经处于“东方号时刻”：应该清醒地认识到在我们习惯于领先的领域，另一个国家已经开始超越我们了。
国家认同危机不新鲜。20世纪中叶，我们满怀嫉妒地看着苏联，偏执地追踪他们的导弹库存，宇航员的官阶，以及他们的体操队伍，拿它们做指标比较我们自己的成绩（其实还有我们自己生存的问题）。1980年代，我们又担忧日本会在技术革新和产品设计上超越我们 — 当时的随身听就像今天的iPod — 他们投资家不断收购美国的名牌公司和高端房地产。
如今苏联解体成百病缠身的俄罗斯，而竞争对手日本的位子也让给了新人：去年，中国超过日本成为全球第二大经济体。美国还是第一大 — 但能保持多久呢？我们很快就会达到联邦政府借贷的极限 — 而最大的债主就是中国。从这一点上说，摇摆不定的美国教育制度还能跟上迅速演变和要求越来越高的全球市场吗？中国学生的学制已经比美国孩子长了 — 美国孩子坐在电视前面地时间还比在教室里的多！
蔡美儿住在康涅狄格州的纽海文，一幢宏伟的仿都铎式宅邸 — 还有滴水兽 — 是1920年代为一个轻歌剧经理盖的。顺着蜿蜒的石阶下来打开装有门钉木门的女子穿着运动套头衫和牛仔裤，脸上带着微笑。我们在蔡的客厅坐下之后，听到她的大女儿思慧和男朋友（是的，她可以有男朋友）的笑声从从二楼传下来。还有一只毛绒绒的白狗不顾蔡的训斥，在地毯上舒服地伸着懒腰。（揭秘：记者也住在纽海文，曾经听过蔡在餐桌上分享育儿故事。）
有些人在极为严格的家庭教育之后变成了宽容的家长，但蔡没有。有了自己的孩子之后，她决定用同样的方式培养她们。“我觉得自己的成长经历是成功的典范，”她说。“通过严格约束，父母教会我自律。通过限制我童年的选择，他们让我成年后可以有广泛的发展空间。正是因为他们当年的教育，我现在可以做自己喜爱的工作。”蔡本人的职业道路并不一帆风顺 — 她最初学医，后来又学经济，然后才在法学院安定下来 — 但由于父母赋予的工作态度，她做到了。
其次蔡想说的是她追求的严厉家教未必奏效 — 起码不是完全奏效。“孩子还小的时候，我非常自信，”她承认。“我当时觉得自己能完全控制局面。说实话我老大思慧很听话。”后来思珊来了。
从一开始她的二女儿就跟温顺的姐姐不一样。在肚子里她就拳打脚踢，而且力道不小。生出来之后她每天晚上都得放声大哭几个小时。到了十几岁，她又抗拒妈妈安排的学业和课外功课。特别是在学小提琴上母女两个屡次针锋相对。“说是‘毁灭性的核战争’也不为过，”蔡美儿在书中写道。最后，在经历了尖叫、砸玻璃、公开叫骂之后，虎妈承认了失败。“思珊，你赢了。算了，我们不学提琴了。”此后不久，蔡美儿开始着手撰写回忆录 — 目的不是为了满足当妈的虚荣心，而是想要积极思考女儿、父母和自己。
这是在一年半之前。现在，蔡美儿和孩子们达成了一些让人惊叹的妥协。思慧可以出去约会，但每天还是必须弹一个半小时钢琴，而不是以前的六个小时。思珊可以发展自己爱好的网球。（不愧是虎妈的女儿，思珊运动发展得很好，已经是中学代表队的一员了 — “她是唯一的初中孩子，”蔡忍不住提醒道。）蔡美儿说自己并不想刻画孩子的未来。“我对思慧思珊的职业道路没有任何具体的想法，只要她们喜爱并尽力而为就行了。”女儿们即将开始自己的生活 — 思慧明年秋天上大学 — 蔡美儿说自己无意改变抚育她们的方式。也许出人意料，女儿们也说自己以后会成为严厉的家长 — 不过她们会让孩子有更多的时间交友，甚至偶尔在外过夜。
另一个蔡美儿诟病的父母做法，用她自己的话讲，是美国人习惯“孩子完成了最低级的任务就滥加表扬 — 比如画条歪歪扭扭的线或者挥挥木棒。”她说，西方人总是夸孩子“天才”或者“有天赋”，而亚洲父母强调努力工作的重要性。事实上，斯坦福大学的心理学家卡罗?德维克进行的研究发现父母表达嘉许的方式会影响孩子的表现，乃至他们对自己的感觉。
认知神经学从另一个角度也证实了虎妈一直掌握的智慧。蔡美儿指出：“中国父母明白任何事情，如果做不好，就不会有意思。”这也许看起来言过其实 — 但如果阅读、数学和音乐好而让人更加投入或者能更好地表现自己，恐怕也是十分令人向往的。
但话又说回来，心理学家一致谴责威吓或责骂 — 这是蔡美儿经常使用的语言武器 — 因为这会危害孩子的个性发展，也会影响亲子关系。那她对自己书中那段臭名昭著的段落怎么说呢？
最重要的是，是蔡美儿作为母亲的自信 — 她毫不犹豫选择的父母之道 — 激起了读者们的敬畏以及愤怒。自从该书出版之后，全世界各地的电邮如雪片般飞来。有些愤怒不堪，甚至语带威胁，但很多充满智慧，或者表示感激。她讲到：“很多人写信来说希望他们小时候父母也曾如此督促过他们，那样他们的生活可能更有成就。还有一些人说读了我的书之后，总算明白了父母的用意。有个人说他给母亲送花表示谢意，母亲后来给他来电话，泣不成声。”
即使是在中国，也有许多家长和教育工作者决定不遵循蔡美儿的方法。对受过教育的城市中国父母来说，目前的潮流是逐步远离传统的严厉模式而更趋向于宽松的美国模式。与此同时，中国当局也越来越不满目前的公共教育系统，其基础是死记硬背。他们把目光投向西方，寻找灵感 — 重要的一个原因是他们意识到必须培养更有创造力和创新精神的毕业生，以帮助经济向更高阶段发展。这里面的教训是：无论你身处何处，总有看上去更好的教子之道。
马兰诺也不赞成我们立即跟着蔡高唱战歌。她指出：“孩子在各种教育模式下都能成长，最后成功。美国式的父母之道，如果做得好，可以把雄心壮志与慈爱的环境以及对孩子个性差异的尊重结合起来，父母的角色和行为也更加灵活。不用蔡美儿所说的极端方法，你也完全可以在家里给孩子设定高标准，然后帮她们实现目标。”西方父母也有自己行之有效的方法激励孩子学习，比如随意活动，这蔡美儿根本没提过。从全国范围来说，美国经济也许不景气，但离崩溃还很远。美国的中等教育也许有危机，但高等教育依然受到全世界的仰慕 — 特别是中国。我们从来没有停止发明创新，不管是硅谷，还是底特律。