Book Review #1: Beyond The Tiger Mom by Maya Thiagarajan Blending the Best of the East and the West!

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Have You Ever Wondered….

Thiagarajan’s book

If there is any truth behind the stereotype “Asians are good at math”?

Why Asian children consistently outperform their American counterparts in the West in STEM fields?

What the secret is to the drive that leads to success seen so often in young Asian scholars? Where does this work ethic originate?

How Eastern parents get their kids to behave and, like, do all this work without ending up with angry children who rebel and end up hating them for life?

If a child’s academic success can be mostly attributed to nature, to nurture, or to a combination of both?

Why American parents are so afraid of pushing their children to succeed?

Why American child-centric parenting is so damn exhausting?

If Asian educators could benefit from incorporating any current Western best practices in teaching within any of the core academic subjects?
(Spoiler alert: the answer is YES)

How a region’s current educational philosophies and best teaching practices affect the success of today’s children-at either end of the globe?

About culture and family values? Do they play a part in a child’s path to academic success, regardless of where he or she lives?

How “academic success” can be defined? Also, is that the only possible path in life? Can happiness, in fact be attained though other routes?

If “successful” people are all truly “happy”?

What a “global citizen” is, and why parents should help their children become one?

If Eastern parenting is too harsh? If Western parenting is not harsh enough?

I pondered many questions as I read this book.

Does my kid have too much free time? Not enough free time? Am I scarring my kid for life with too much screen time? Does every kid need to learn an instrument? Is there a such thing as “too many extra-curricular activities?” What do I do for math with my kids? <<– the best, most jaw-dropping realization of the book for me. And I teach AIS math for a living!
And finally…..

The Answer Is…..

S2 and me

Hahaha. If only it were that easy. But this book definitely helped solidify my confidence in that, at least for S10, I’m doing OK. I am tremendously glad that I read this before S2 gets any older, though. S2…. may need a bit more “Tiger Mom” philosophy parenting than S10 did/does. Especially if she keeps taking after my wildly brilliant-yet-average-student-in-school-because-it-was-easier-to-be-lazy husband, Mike. Jill, or “Progressive Tiger Mom” (can that be a thing?) will be changing that genetic card deal QUICKLY in that case. Cause ain’t nobody in this here house not working up to their best potential in school.

Forget Just One Piece of PIE: The Author’s Purpose Here is To Do All Three: Persuade, Inform, and Entertain

I was thrilled to receive the brilliant, ultra-informative book Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age by Maya Thiagarajan last month to review on Brain Scribbles! As a parent and an educator, I couldn’t wait to dive in and read this book, which claimed to “shows [sic] how to raise successful children by blending the best of the East and West.”

Indeed, it does. This book is chock-full of information. So much so, in fact, I’d characterize this book as a “concentrated tome.” I actually couldn’t read the book with other people making noise around me. There was such a sheer amount of information

The only living thing allowed to sit near me as I read Thiagarajan’s book.

to take in! This is not mindless reading; I learned a lot reading this book. Full of facts, figures, cultural history, and research, a book like this could read flat, like a textbook, even. However, Maya does a great job of weaving parent interviews, her own personal stories, and even parenting tips at the end of each section into the related facts and research. This way, she was able to relate the covered content to the reader in such a way that the book ended up being not only educational, but compelling, interesting, and most definitely, enjoyable!

Maya? You Rock. Here’s One Big Reason Why.

Yeah, sure, whatever.                                   “L*K Seeds of Knowledge” flickr photo by jgreenberg shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

Maya Thiagarajan has done something that seems so simple, yet is probably one of the most difficult challenges as a parenting and education book writer in the modern era. What could that be, you ask? Well folks, after a solid decade as a parent, I have noticed that when it comes to the topics of parenting and educating children, there are many folks out there with VERY strong opinions about the “right” and “wrong” way to do both of those things. Often, these opinions can be both rigid and uncompromising. Of course, usually the more rigid and uncompromising one is toward a subject, the more apt one’s desire typically is to spread their seeds of “knowledge” onto the planter-heads of other, more open-minded folks.

Most of those “all-knowing” peeps end up…. writing parenting books, of course. Because having an ISBN means that an author is a true expert on their topic and their words are gospel, right?

Maya Thiagarajan, a Singaporean parent who was raised in India and lived in the USA for a time, does not come off that way. She doesn’t judge, or guilt, or point fingers at parenting philosophies that differ from hers. I did not feel like a failure or a horribly lazy Western mother after finishing her book. Instead, I felt empowered.

Maya Thiagarajan: No judgements needed when you know what the hell you are talking about.

The book’s back cover.

With usable, sensible tips for parents embedded throughout this book, narratives from her life, and interviews with other parents (that at times, contradict each other showing a range of parenting philosophies present in Eastern cultures), Maya helps parents (and teachers) figure out how best to blend the information she puts forth regarding East-West parenting practices for each unique reader. There is no “one-size-fits-all” prescription for attaining “parental perfection.” There is also no “do this or your kid will be messed up for life” vibe.

And that is so, so, so appreciated by me.
Yet, Maya Thiagarajan, in my opinion, has more of a right to tell folks the best ways to educate and parent their children than any parent-manual author I’ve read to date. Ironic, huh?

With Your Credentials, Maya, I’m Listening

Singapore, where Thiagarajan lives, is apparently, beautiful!                       “Singapore” flickr photo by Jerry Van Krasten shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

Thiagarajan has parenting and education credentials that make me look like a rookie, even with 13 years of suburban grades 3-6 public school teaching, and two daughters that my husband and I are raising in the same suburban area we both grew up in as kids. Damn, we are more sheltered than I thought, after reading that last sentence.

Thiagarajan was born and raised in India, moving to the USA for college, graduate school, and work. She was a Teach for America recruit who survived to tell the tale, and successfully to boot (TFA is not the easiest path to begin a teaching career with, so I’ve heard). Besides educating American kids in some of the neediest schools in the country, conversely, Thiagarajan has also taught in the best private schools within the United States as well. She has certainly had quite the tour of the American education system, teaching in the public and private sectors, as well as in both the poorest and the wealthiest communities.

After 15 years in the USA, however, Maya and her family decided to move back East after Thiagarajan began to yearn for what she decreed simply as “home.” This really resonated with me, since I ended up settling a mere 30 minutes from the town I grew up in. However instead of India, the family moved to Singapore, a country I’ll admit I wasn’t too familiar with, though after reading this book I now find it to be a fascinating place.

Moving to Singapore meant moving to a culture vastly different from America. On the first page, Thiagarajan describes Singapore’s most important cultural tenets as:

“Family…. are (sic) of supreme importance;
kids are expected to obey and respect their elders….
[and] exams dominate the lives of…. families.”

Just a little different from here in America, amirite?

I’m Always Learning, Always Striving To Be A Better Mom. My Two Ladies Deserve Nothing Less.

S10 and me

After reading Beyond the Tiger Mom: East-West Parenting for the Global Age by Maya Thiagarajan, I had some new insights into my parenting. As a predominantly “Western” parent, I have decided to incorporate some new “Eastern” ideas into my parenting, albeit the more “gentle” ideas gleaned from the book, as I am still, at the core, a “progressive Western parent” rather than an “Eastern tiger mom.” Some of my new ideas include (here are 4 as to not spoil too much of the book’s content):

  1. Americans, myself included, are obsessed with immersing kids in language. It’s all about “What do you do for reading?” with kids my S2’s age. In Singapore, they ask, “But what do you do for math?”
    Mind. Blown.
    I now will be able to answer that question, as I plan to build, as Thiagarajan calls it, a “mathematically-rich home.” I LOVE that. I am currently doing it in my AIS math classroom, too!
  2. As S10 has had a predominantly whole-language reading education throughout grade school, I want to add the grammar and phonics piece to both girls’ reading education. While S10 doesn’t necessarily need the phonics, I think studying linguistics and rules is more important than the American education philosophers apparently do, and thus I need to take the initiative and teach her myself. Phonics, rules, and drill-and-grill practice are all more Eastern-type reading approaches, and I plan on incorporating them into my home education. Bonus: I don’t need to hire a tutor like the families in the book, since I have me!
  3. In that same vain, while S10 is a pretty amazing writer content-wise, she lacks some basic grammar knowledge. This summer we will be mastering commas, a weakness of hers. This is because language arts are, unfortunately, barely taught at her school. We will also be mastering diagramming sentences, other advanced punctuation marks such as semicolons, and mastering cursive writing. Again, these are all those “drill-and-grill” type lessons that are more focused on in Eastern schools. Here in the West, the focus is more on writing content, voice, and craft, in intermediate-level writing instruction. So, as Thiagarajan suggests, where I see there is an educational deficit, I now plan to be more proactive in filling in those gaps. For the betterment of my girls.
  4. Finally, I refuse to feel guilty when I tell my girls they must do something, whether it be academic work, chores, etc. While I am not a dictator, at times, when I give orders and the girls are upset that they are being forced to do something they dislike, I find myself feeling badly. Then I read this quote:

But I feel I am doing my duty when I make my daughter [insert unpleasant activity here] because then I know that I am helping her…. It’s when I don’t make my child [insert unpleasant activity here] that I feel terribly guilty.”

Besides, who wants to add to this disturbing trend? NOT ME.

Final Thoughts

Why I read parenting books

Thank you, Maya. I learned a lot from your book.

Beyond the Tiger Mom is the most balanced view of best practices in modern parenting and education that I’ve read to date. I would give this book 5/5 stars, no question. I recommend it highly!

Thank you so much for reading. Until next time!

Disclosure: The book was provided to the reviewer. All thoughts belong to the reviewer and have not been influenced.

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  1. Great review. I want to Read this book now!


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