Amy Chua and her daughters

Amy Chua’s “Tiger Mom” method of child-rearing and education raises an intriguing possibility. Tiger Moms don’t just require hard work and excellent performance from their kids. They require that their kids be number one at all the things that the Tiger Moms regard as important (which, for Ms. Chua, left out sports and drama). Ms. Chua, for instance, recalls her father, when he attended an assembly at school for her during her childhood, becoming incensed that she had only achieved the second spot in some area of achievement, telling her that she should never again disgrace him and the family in this way (suggesting also that the reason Ms. Chua is a Tiger Mom is that her father was a “Tiger Dad”).

It is, however, a sad fact of mathematics that the number one spot in any endeavor can only be held by a single individual. So the intriguing possibility here is what if two or more Tiger Moms have children in the same school, in the same grade, competing for the same distinction. A teacher with a fiendish streak might have some fun here, pitting the moms against each other, to the entertainment and good times of all, save the Tiger Moms and their offspring. All this, of course, is said tongue in cheek. Forcing kids to be number one seems an ill-conceived way to achieve excellence. Such an approach neglects the fact that children have diverse talents. Moreover, it inculcates a fear of failure that can only be painful when the competition finally gets stiff enough so that the number one spot is no longer attainable.

But perhaps most worrisome is all the outstanding people that would be left in the dust if Ms. Chua’s approach were commonly employed. Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Winston Churchill would hardly have fared well under Ms. Chua’s tutelage. Each of them were in some ways quite average in their early life, and thus would have been completely unacceptable to Ms. Chua. It remains to be seen whether her two daughters will achieve anything like the distinction of these three.