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Tiger Mom Defends Reality TV SAT Question

By Madeline Holler |

sat test, tiger mom

Quit stalling and write, says Tiger Mom Amy Chua

We parents are lucky. So many people prepared to scold us! There’s the mother-in-law and health-/education/child development-experts. People in the street. Other mothers.

There’s a new nagging voice on the block and she’s got quite a roar: Amy Chua aka: Tiger Mom.

For those living under a rock — or perhaps too busy with micro-management of their growing children, Chua’s the author of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, an entertaining, emotional, and pretty misunderstood memoir about her strict, high-pressure, awards-focused parenting style.

Chua’s book — actually, a chapter that was condensed and turned into an essay in the Washington Post — provoked outrage and soul-searching and, plenty of people to defend kids play and child-led educations and their own supposedly permissive “Western” ways.

Of the many grievances Chua has against “Western” (as opposed to “Chinese,” though Western and Chinese don’t actually mean Western and Chinese … I know, just play along), she includes allowing kids to watch hours of reality TV to be more cruel than forcing her daughter to practice violin for two hours minimum.

So that’s that with reality TV, right? The downfall of American education. Well, not quite.

As Chua’s daughters certainly know, a Tiger Mom is never satisfied and the message is, if not quite mixed, are at least very nuanced.

Chua is a surprising defender of the essay question on a recent SAT test.

The question, which itself provoked outrage and soul-searching and plenty of people to question whether they should have been making their college-bound watch American Idol, asked test-takers to write thoughtfully about reality TV.

Writing for the Daily Beast, Chua criticizes the students who came away from the test whining about the question.

She gives five Tiger Mom reasons (that’s going to be trademarked soon, isn’t it?), mostly saying to buck up and work with what you’ve got, practice (of course!) and if never settle for rote learning anyway.

I tend to agree with Tiger Mom on this, though I hate the assumption that all kids are just dying to watch reality shows. I especially like how she calls out kids so test-prepped that they’ve lost their skills to actually think. You know, with their own brains.

From the Daily Beast:

I’ll bet the kids doing the complaining are not too poor to have a TV but instead relatively privileged. (One of the students who “freaked out” wrote, “My tutor had told me to use Martin Luther King as an example no matter what the question.”) Any SAT essay question—whether about music, sports, or politics—will favor students with certain interests. If anything, a question about reality television is more fair than a question about, say, postmodernism or classical music, which probably would have a class or race bias. The truth is that the whole structure of the SAT wildly favors the demographic from which the complaining students most likely hail: kids, like mine, whose parents want them to read books and drill vocabulary words instead of watching television. Privileged kids claiming disadvantage will not make an inspiring new generation of leaders.

Do you think the question was fair? Do you think Chua’s right or just stirring the self-promotion pot?

Photo: Shane T via flickr

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About Madeline Holler


Madeline Holler

Madeline Holler is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She has written for Babble since the site launched in 2006. Her writing has appeared in various other publications both online and in print, including Salon and True/Slant (now Forbes). A native of the Midwest, Madeline lives, writes, and parents in Southern California, where she's raising two daughters and a son. Read bio and latest posts → Read Madeline's latest posts →

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6 thoughts on “Tiger Mom Defends Reality TV SAT Question

  1. GP says:

    I would defend it, too…although I think it’s stupid, I like a challenge…and, one of the best skills someone can have is to bullshit their way into looking like they know about something when they don’t. Opining with intelligent words on something one may or may not know anything about, that’s just what this sort of question is asking the test-taker to do. It doesn’t really have to do with the subject matter in particular. I *don’t* think it’s about awareness of contemporary culture as much as seeing if someone can just think on the fly.

  2. Dave Schmidt says:

    If the author had bothered to read the essay prompt, she would know that the essay was not about any reality show or any reality show character but the question of whether such programming represents a realistic portrayal of life. With all the dumb yapping over this, I anticipate much wailing and rending of garments over an SAT essay prompt asking students to expound on the significance of the surrender of Gen. Corwallis at Yorktown from students and parents complaining that they weren’t present at the end of the American Revolution. For the record, this was the essay prompt:

    “Reality-television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?”

    “Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?”

  3. BlackOrchid says:

    the entire “writing” section is a giant botch


  4. GP says:

    well, I would say I could agree with Blackorchid in terms of questioning whether or to what degree written answers could be objectively scored…

  5. Grace says:

    It’s not like there is a right or wrong answer to the question. Form an opinion and support it, using proper spelling and grammar. That’s it. I don’t see what the fuss is about. It’s not like the question asked for a list of the past “American Idol” winners.

  6. Exactly! For kids who don’t watch the shows, just based on the question they could have turned their answers into a defense of not watching it because it’s fake, etc.

    Still … Tiger Mom’s totally getting her own reality show someday. Am I right or am I right?

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