Center for Educational Progress Newsletter – April 28, 2011

1. The War On Tiger Moms

By Daniel E. Witte

In a Wall Street Journal article titled “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior,” Yale law professor Amy Chua ignited a national uproar earlier this year by summarizing ideas from her recent memoir, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.1

Chua generated the controversy by jabbing at numerous sacred cows of the modern American educational order. She said, in essence, that objective excellence actually matters. Academic achievement is more important than sports. Many social activities are detrimental distractions. Rote repetition and basic drills are essential to learning. Discipline and punishment are healthy, normal aspects of family culture. Over-indulgence and emphasis on children’s self-esteem and supposed fragility is misguided. Filial piety is a cornerstone of success. Cultural success and the well-being of children depend upon intense involvement and direction from parents, especially mothers.

Of course, successful child-raising principles are not unique to the traditional Chinese culture. Similar “heresies” are embraced by other Asian societies, including (but not limited to) traditional Japanese, Koreans, Vietnamese and Indians.

Traditional Protestant and Catholic educational institutions have historically presented a similar affront to government educators. Many in the educational choice movement are aware of efforts to eliminate Catholic, religious, private and home schools, as thwarted by the U.S. Supreme Court.2 Less well-known, however, is the long-running suppression effort waged against “tiger mothers” and Asian-style private schools in the United States.

During the early 20th century, the Territory of Hawaii enacted a law designed to outlaw Asian-language private schools. Relying on a previous decision, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Hawaiian law in Farrington v. Tokushige.3

Fear and suspicion of Japanese-Americans engendered by World War II presented government educators with an opportunity to undercut Farrington. If Japanese-Americans could be interned, their property could be appropriated and their private schools closed. Asian parents would be sent a message to toe the line and enroll in government schools.

The effort to lobby federal officials for internment was spearheaded by California Attorney General Earl Warren.4 Warren campaigned for the internment because “[the Californians] brought the Japanese in . . . for farm labor” but the immigrants “were too smart, and they started owning the farms.” 5

On January 22, 1942, federal officials closed the Japanese language school on Market Street in San Diego.6 Local media linked the action to the fact that the school had a picture of a Japanese aircraft carrier on the wall.7 Warren called together the sheriffs and district attorneys of California to begin an investigation of Japanese land holdings and social organizations.8 His effort coincided with Governor Culbert L. Olson’s effort to revoke all professional and business licenses of Japanese-Americans holding dual citizenship.9 The FBI apprehended 12 foreign language teachers in San Diego on the theory the suspects might be loyal to the emperor of Japan.10 The internment initiative was off and running.

Over the objections of J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Robert Taft, who debunked any notion of a legitimate national security need, Attorney General Earl Warren and President Franklin D. Roosevelt utilized wartime hysteria to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court that the internment scheme was needed to dismantle the Japanese-Americans’ private “Japanese language schools,” one of numerous considerations the Court characterized as “a source of irritation and . . . isolation” that prevented the “social intercourse” of Japanese-Americans and “prevented their assimilation as an integral part of the white population.”11

The Japanese-Americans were interned in militarized camps placed on or near existing Indian reservations, then subjected to a coercive program of compulsory schooling and forced labor administered jointly by the War Relocation Authority and the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This included a Japanese-American internment camp at Topaz, Utah. While in captivity, the Japanese-American community noticed increased rates of unwed pregnancy, alcohol abuse and family disintegration.13

In a reprise of General Richard Henry Pratt’s bureaucratic disputes with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Dillon Myer of the War Relocation Authority lobbied for forced dispersal of the Japanese-Americans across the entire United States, while John Collier of the Indian Bureau advocated continued concentration of the population in isolated communities resembling Indian reservations.14

The message to non-Japanese Asian communities was unmistakable in light of what was being done to Japanese-Americans, Native Americans, Mennonites and numerous other minorities who had sought educational choice. Although Asian alternative education never fully recovered from the historic pressure to disband, Japanese-Americans were fortunate to avoid the permanent reservations, permanent relocations, and permanent federal government education forced upon Native Americans.

In the late 1980s, friction between the American education establishment and Asian tiger mothers flared once again. Ivy League schools and various other universities, including the University of California at Berkeley and University of California at Los Angeles, acknowledged use of racial quotas to deny Asian applicants admission in favor of less-qualified applicants from other races.15

In light of this past history, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has many Asian-Americans fearing a new backlash from defenders of the status quo. How unfortunate. Where might our American education system be today if it had made a serious effort to learn from tiger mothers over the last century, rather than trying to suppress them?

The author is director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Educational Progress.


1. Annie Murphy Paul, “Tiger Moms: Is Tough Parenting Really the Answer?,” Time, January 20, 2011, at,8599,2043313-1,00.html.

2. Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972).

3. 273 U.S. 284 (1927).

4. Gerald Schlenker, “The Internment of Japanese of San Diego County During the Second World War,” (1972) 18 J. of San Diego History No. 1, available at

5. Daniel E. Witte and Paul T. Mero, “Removing Classrooms from the Battlefield: Liberty, Paternalism, and the Redemptive Promise of Educational Choice,” 2008 BYU Law Review 377, 405-06 n.121 (quoting from G. Edward White, Earl Warren: A Public Life, 68 (1982)).

6. Schlenker, supra note 4.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. Hiribayashi v. United States, 320 U.S. 81, 96–98 (1943); Witte and Mero, supra note 5; Daniel E. Witte, Comment, “Getting a Grip on National Service: Key Organizational Features and Strategic Characteristics of the National Service Corps (AmeriCorps),” 1998 BYU Law Review,741, 784–91 n. 215 (1998).

12. Witte and Mero, supra note 5 (citing Paul Bailey, City in the Sun, 62, 79–80, 104, 107, 123 (1971); Allan R. Bosworth, America’s Concentration Camps, 137, 145, 178–79 (1967)).

13. Witte and Mero, supra note 5 (citing Bailey supra note 12, at 172, 197).

14. Witte and Mero, supra note 5 (citing Bailey supra note 12, at 122–23; Bosworth, supra note 13, at 163, 207, 211).

15. Dana Y. Takagi, “From Discrimination to Affirmative Action: Facts in the Asian American Admissions Controversy,” 37 Social Problems 578, 578 (1990) (admissions by University of California Berkeley and Brown University to discrimination against Asian-Americans in admissions); Representative Dana Rohrabacher, “College Admission Quotas Against Asian-Americans: Why Is the Civil Rights Community Silent?” Oct. 3, 1989, available at (discussing discrimination at UC Berkeley and UCLA against Asian students).


2. Citizen Lobbying Class on May 5

Join Sutherland for our next Responsible Citizen class and learn how to influence your legislators. In this class we will discuss the legislative process and the important role you as a citizen can, and should, play in influencing that process.

“Making Sense of Capitol Hill Chaos: Citizen Lobbying” will be held at Sutherland headquarters in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 5.

The fee for the class is $10 for the public, but it is waived for those who join the Responsible Citizen Exchange.

For more information, email Keven Stratton at