In 2011, Yale Law School professor Amy Chua ignited a firestorm with Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Excerpted in The Wall Street Journal, it described how Chua demanded that her two daughters get straight As in school (they did-then later got into Harvard and Yale).
In her new The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America, Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, also a Yale Law School professor, describe the three traits they say successful groups in America display:
1) a belief that you belong to a superior group;
2) a sense of insecurity; and
3) strong impulse control.
The premise that Chua and Rubenfeld advance here is that Jews, Chinese, Mormons, Cubans, Iranians, Lebanese, Nigerians and Indians share these qualities.
On the plus side, The Triple Package raises some provocative questions. For example, in ceaselessly boosting their little darlings’ self-esteem, have American parents forgotten core values such as self-discipline, grit and hard work? The authors also argue that our “live -in-the-moment, follow-your-bliss, don’t-be-a-buzzkill” society would benefit from less self-acceptance and more self-control.
The downside? All sizzle, no substance. Chua’s pre-publication buzz is always better than the book. The fact that hard-working, intact, often religious immigrant families who prize education produce successful children isn’t exactly a news flash. (It’s the third generation when Americans go as soft as rum-soaked Twinkies.) Nor is it a surprise that Mormons develop tremendous fortitude during their grueling two-year missions (not to mention skipping drugs, alcohol, premarital sex and even caffeine).
Moreover, Malcolm Gladwell has already written how application trumps aptitude to explain why Asians do so well in math. They aren’t necessarily smarter – they simply work much harder. Unless you belong to one of the eight elite groups, it’s boring to read why the winners think they’re better than you. Their reasons range from the achievements of ancient China and Persia to a belief that God chose them for the Jews and Mormons.
The authors top things off with a litany of the winners’ achievements: In 2009, 20 of Forbes’ top 50 richest Americans were Jewish; Indian Americans have the highest income of any Census-tracked ethnic group; in 2013, 20 to 25 percent of the 120 black students at Harvard Business School were Nigerian.
Bottom line: Playing this “my ethnic/racial/religious group is better/richer/smarter/more creative than yours” game is divisive and simplistic. Plus the way Chua and Rubenfeld define success is pretty crass: Big bucks, Ivy League credentials, public acclaim and kids you can brag about. Qualities such as kindness, community or service – to country, to others, to family – are excluded.
If the topic interests you, read the couple’s op-ed in The New York Times, which summarizes their premise. The book itself is just research cobbled together to support their theory.
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