Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Is Amy Chua, Tiger Mother perfectly right or horribly wrong?

Yale Law School's John M Duff Professor of Law, Amy Chua has caused quite a stir on the parenting front with her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother (Penguin) and whatever else it achieves, it's destined to sell books, so her parents will be delighted she's succeeded at that.

Not read the book but...

I haven't read the book, nor do I intend to unless sent a review copy (large hint) but I've read the articles and seen the interviews, particularly this morning's with Vanessa on Channel 5 (whatever is that chap doing there?). I get the gist of it though and decided to throw in my two penn'orth because a third of my piano students are Chinese and boy have I noticed the difference in cultures between east and west? And that's just it. Why should we be so outraged by attitudes of other cultures because they aren't like ours? How arrogant are we to say another approach is 'wrong' and ours is 'right'? There is no right or wrong, just differences and some may work and some may not in both cultures.

UK piano students

Now for the empirical take. To generalise (which I know I shouldn't) some of my British parents are great lead swingers; they cancel lessons at the drop of a hat - amazing how many cars break down so often and how grandpas have a habit of re-dying (Tip 1: if you're going to tell a little white one, make sure you remember what it was.) Kids tend to be hawked round from football to dancing, from Brownies to swimming and on to guitar and/or piano lessons, not to ensure they excel at all these activities, because they don't, but (just my opinion this) it enables the parent(s) to drop into Tescos and leave them with the musical childminder for half an hour while they do the shopping. This seems to have come to an abrupt halt since I made it clear they were to be picked up at the end of the lesson and not 15 minutes later while I'm teaching someone else. 'She'll be here soon, she's just gone shopping', has lain dormant for a while.

What happens with these kids is that they are doing so much stuff that they have no time to practise any of it, so they are mediocre at all of them. I could weep over those who begin with a genuine talent, only to fade into oblivion on the keys as they spread their time between multifarious activities. Then there's the X boxes and social networking which ensure they don't go to bed (or to sleep) until the small hours and take up far too much of their childhood. And nobody seems to care; except me perhaps. I sit by them as they yawn and stretch, sneeze and cough ('oh, has he got a cold?'-surprised parent) after a late night sleepover and a heavy day at school. What chance does a struggling piano teacher have trying to motivate them? How can that be 'right' eh?

Chinese piano students

The Chinese parents, on the other hand, have strict ideas about what they expect from their children, discipline for a start (remember that if you were born before 1960?). 'How is that 'wrong'? In the last lot of exams, the two distinctions went to two Chinese girls and the rest got high merits (including a Chinese boy whose standard slipped because his parents were being too Western to notice).

I once had a pupil whose Chinese mother berated her at every slip of a key leaving the child a quivering wreck in floods of tears. Once I'd convinced the child that it was OK to make mistakes and told the mother that she was the cause of the child's problems and it couldn't continue, it stopped, we became great friends and the pupil achieved what her mother had wanted in the first place. I think it's about compromise. Practising is a problem for all children and most of my Chinese parents are willing to compromise, especially those born here or who are in mixed marriages, which provides a better balance. And they do seem to have an innate talent for playing the piano. I have an adult Chinese student who applies herself to practising diligently and is happily playing Clementi and Beethoven after only 12 months.

What now?

Amy Chua
My greatest test is about to come. During a recent trial lesson, I asked a young Chinese boy why he wanted to learn the piano? 'I don't,' he said. 'My father wants me to.' Pretty honest considering dad was sitting by his side at the time, looking thunderous. It isn't unknown for them to have had three or four piano tutors before they get here, probably nothing much wrong with any of them, but if a pupil doesn't want to learn, they're unlikely to pull it off with any of us. Maybe I'll turn out to be Little Miss Perfect.

PS: Harry the Cat

And now, I must go and kill that cat for he's been whining all day, despite four different bowls of food, none of which meet his expectations and he's standing on the stairs above my office, deaf as a post and shouting his head off.

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