Tiger Mother at the Gym

Ashley Thorne

While tying my shoes last night in the gym locker room, I overheard a snippet of two women's conversation. An Asian woman in a green t-shirt was saying to the tattooed (non-Asian) Zumba instructor, "Well, you know, their school is so easy, and then summer is all play..." She was concerned about academic rigor, especially for her son in first grade. Zumba woman asked if the teacher could give the boy extra work, and she recommended a summer math program she'd heard good things about.

Green t-shirt made an effort to appreciate the suggestion, but it was clear from her voice she felt she needed a more profound solution. I mentally recommended, "You could home-school him," but as if she read my mind she dismissed the idea aloud: "He wouldn't listen to me if I tried to teach him."

"Maybe it's better than you think," offered the other woman. "It's only first grade. You never know what's easy and what's hard at that level."

"Yeah, maybe I just don't know the difference," said Green Shirt, trying to be agreeable. But she did. "I mean, it seems like he's moved ahead in language arts since last year, but I compared his math homework to a Chinese math assignment, and his is much easier."

How different she sounded from the typical American mother, worried that school is stressing out her child, defiant toward any teacher who might dare to give a low grade, quick to make excuses for poor performance. This mom blamed the school, but only because it didn't push her child harder.

I may be stereotyping to assume that her Asian-ness lent itself to this mindset, but the words of Amy Chua in the Wall Street Journal are still ringing in my ears and I can't help but wonder if her cultural heritage, with its focus on academic excellence, had something to do with it. The woman at the gym was American and spoke without an accent, and clearly she was trying to accept the  "normal" level of U.S. education, but the comparison to China made her doubtful.

I realized I had just been given a glimpse of the troubled mind of the Americanized Tiger Mother.

I don't know which school her son attends (probably one in Hoboken, where the gym is), but I hope it gets the chance to hear her concerns before she conforms to the lenient parents around her and resigns her children's education to schools that are "so easy."

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