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January 7, 2014

I was the product of strict parenting. My parents insisted on discipline, good grades in school, and a generally no-nonsense approach to childhood. They disapproved of anything that seemed to be a waste of time, including baseball cards, comic books, and rock music.

Compared to Amy Chua, author of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, they were rank amateurs. 

When my generation of parents needed guidance, we turned to T. Berry Brazelton. I don’t know how the good doctor could have missed Amy Chua’s techniques: calling your children “garbage;” rejecting a homemade birthday card as being inadequate; threatening to give away toys if a child did not master a classical composition; or establishing bans on television, sleepovers, and school plays. Coming soon: “Parenting Tips of the Taliban.”

Give me a break. Or, rather, give your kids a break. Let them be kids, fer cryin’ out loud.

And now, Ms. Chua and her Jewish husband Jed Rubenfeld have written a new book — The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America. They look at Jews, Indians, Chinese, Iranians, Lebanese-Americans, Nigerians, Cuban exiles, and Mormons. They ask: why have these groups done better than others — in terms of income, occupational status, test scores and so on? 

Here’s the key to success, according to Ms. Chua and Mr. Rubenfeld. They have to think that they are better than other groups. They need to feel insecure. They have to teach and embody impulse control.

As troubled as I am by Ms. Chua’s ideas, I don’t believe that those ideas are “racist,” or opening shots in a full-blown eugenics program. Strictly speaking, very few of those groups are actually races. Amy Chua and her husband are simply arguing that there are cultural and historical factors at play in the achievements of those groups. They are hardly the first to wonder aloud, and in print, why certain groups have been successful.

(By the way, here's one for Jewish continuity. The Chua-Rubenfeld children are being raised as Jews. That's the good news. The potential bad news: “You call that a haftarah chanting????!?!?!?!?!”)

My biggest problem is that I am not so sure that she got the Jews right.

At least, she doesn’t lift up that old theory – that Jews are inherently, genetically superior in intelligence. (My dear friend, Sander Gilman, has written a great book dealing with the history of that perception — Smart Jews: The Construction of the Image of Jewish Superior Intelligence,

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