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P.J. O'Rourke, A.K.A. Irish Setter Dad, Challenges Tiger Mom

“Try your Chinese Tiger Mom stuff on my kids.”

That’s P.J. O’Rourke’s facetious challenge to Amy Chua, after he read – or at least skimmed – her book. O’Rourke doesn’t think much of Ms. Chua’s approach. Like many of us, he finds her approach to child-rearing mean and unappealing. Worse, he thinks her book is poorly written. He skips right past the proverbial “damning with faint praise” to say, “The prose, like the author, belongs in hell.”

Boyond his searing opinion of her prose, O’Rourke as Irish Setter Dad raises some interesting questions about whether or not the Tiger Mother’s approach works.

Last week we talked about Sophia getting into Harvard. Some saw that as proof of the Tiger Mother’s success, but I wasn’t buying it.

O’Rourke takes a different tactic. It’s great that the kids are headed for the Ivy League, he says. But then what? What is all that precocious excellence really worth beyond the Ivory Tower? Will Chua’s kids succeed, or will their shiny stars pale next to the energy and creativity of kids like Irish Setter Dad’s, who’ve been raised on a steady diet of video games?

He writes:

Amy Chua, I’ve got bad news. “A” students work for “B” students. Or not even. A businessman friend of mine corrected me. “No, P.”‰J.,” he said, “”‰‘B’ students work for ‘C’ students. ‘A’ students teach.”

O’Rourke is being characteristically nasty, but does he have a point? He cherry picks a list of people who did OK in school, went to mediocre state schools, and then went on to excel in their careers. People like Warren Buffet. He picks out a few Harvard drop-outs like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates to further make his case. The point being that straight “A”s won’t necessarily translate into power, success, money and fame. Lots of people achieve those real-world prizes with few academic credentials.

On the other hand, I think getting a great education can’t be overrated. It gives you not only information and skills to prepare you for a career, it also teaches you how to think flexibly and critically. A great education feeds creativity and boosts confidence. These are all things that aren’t easily measured in terms of dollars or positions held, but they matter. For example, I’m confident that I wouldn’t be working writer if I hadn’t gotten a great education in writing at a good school. I might make the same money and live in the same neighborhood, but I wouldn’t be doing what I love for work. My life is happier, if not more “successful” by external metrics, because of the schooling I had.

What about you? Do you think Amy Chua’s kids will excel beyond college, or will they be overtaken by mediocre students better suited to thrive in the real world? Did your own education translate into a better life?

Photo: victorsounds

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