So what’s the latest buzz on the street about parenting as related to raising children who are “successful”? Many optometric physicians, particularly those who see significant numbers of children with vision based learning problems, are familiar with parents who request Section 504 Accommodations for their children. To make a long story short, Section 504 is part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits discrimination based upon disability, and extends to accommodations made for students with learning disabilities explained in exquisite detail here.
Enter Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a brilliant new publishing tour de force by Amy Chua. As she describes in her book , when Amy originally began to write this work she fancied herself as the author of an epic novel centered on tough love Chinese child-rearing, but was scooped by Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and Jung Chang by the time she got her act together. So she set out on a different path, one that frankly has positioned her squarely in the center of a maelstrom about child rearing practices. Ms. Chua, a Yale University Law Professor, seems to have taken the role of provocateur, and you can view an enjoyable clip of her back-pedaling a bit on her tough love Eastern vs. Western parenting stance on the Stephen Colbert show last night here.
Optometric recommendations for Section 504 Accommodations revolve around those requests that would relate to visual impairment, but not necessarily the way you’d classically think about visual impairment. In the field, we define this as reduced BVA in the better eye(s) to the level of 20/70 or poorer, and a constriction of peripheral vision to within a 20 degree angle. This imparts a false sense of security that anyone who does not meed these criteria cannot be impaired, or have a disability that would impede learning, or at least performance on standardized testing. This notion was first blown out of the water by my former student, friend and colleague, Dr. David Damari, noting in a seminal book chapter how documentable, abnormal findings in ocular motility and binocular vision, for example, can and should qualify under the ADA act that would extend to Section 504 Accommodations.
Which made me wonder while reading Ms. Chua’s Battle Hymn: What would she think of an optometric examination that resulted in an accommodations request based on optometric guidelines? One of Amy’s father’s bedrock principles was, “Never complain or make excuses. If something seems unfair at school, just prove yourself by working twice as hard and being twice as good.” So are we and their parents being too soft on these kids who present themselves on the surface as underachievers?
Far from being just a blah-blah-blah issue, this concept of Western Society allegedly lowering the bar on expectations for learning and mastery pierces the heart of the accommodations controversy. So what accounts for all the attention to Amy Chua and the Battle Hymn’s contents and discontents? I side with Nancy Gibbs’ conclusion in her back essay of this week’s Time Magazine:
“But maybe the real appeal is her tone of certainty in discussing something so confounding as child rearing – as if it’s a puzzle to be solved rather than a picture to be painted, and there’s no way to know what it will look like until it’s done.”
- Leonard J. Press, O.D., FCOVD, FAAO