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The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America - Amy Chua, Jed Rubenfeld “Certain groups do much better in America than others – as measured by income, occupational status, test scores, and so on,” Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld state bluntly in the introduction to The Triple Package. Why is that? And can we even discuss why without being a bunch of racist, anti-Semitic, eugenics-loving jerks?

I hope so. I think Chua and Rubenfeld do. I don’t know if their conclusions are scientifically sound – this isn’t my field – but I don’t think their book is offensive. It’s a fast, engaging read that raises some interesting ideas and leaves the reader with a lot to think about.

I think it’s safe to say that some reviewers of Triple Package were pre-affronted. “Amy Chua has come out with another book whose basic message is the same: you suck and I am better,” says Khanh Ho at HuffPost. I read Tiger Mom, and I don’t think that’s what it said. Chua obviously isn’t suffering from any lack of self-esteem, but she pokes fun at herself frequently, and quotes her daughters making hilarious remarks at her own expense.

(How sad is it to be Jed Rubenfeld, by the way? Okay, not terribly. He’s married to a beautiful, intelligent, wealthy woman, and isn’t doing too badly himself in the looks, brains, and cash department. But let’s face it: The Triple Package is being read and reviewed as an Amy Chua title. If she’d written it alone, it would still be a bestseller. If he’d written it alone – who knows.)

Anyway. Speaking of being predisposed to despise: In her review of Triple Package, Daria Roithmayr at Slate describes Tiger Mom as “a memoir in which [Chua] extolled the virtues of harsh disciplinary ‘Chinese’ parenting.” Again, not exactly. Chua probably wouldn’t have felt the urge to write about her parenting experiences if her younger daughter hadn’t fought “Chinese parenting” to the point of making Chua question her own ideas. And “harsh” is a harsh word to use about someone who in her own book makes it clear she’s all bark.

Nevertheless, when these reviewers are done rhymes-with-itching about Amy Chua, they do point out something I noticed in her first book, which is a certain obliviousness to money. Triple Package definitely discusses how well groups like Mormons, Chinese-Americans, Cuban immigrants, Nigerian immigrants, and others are doing in America; but Chua and Rubenfeld don’t point out how much cash in hand a lot of members of the groups in question arrived with in the first place. If the reviewers I mention have their facts straight, this is a critical omission.

I happen to think that Triple Package is an interesting work regardless. The anecdotes from people who’ve been loaded down with a simultaneous superiority/inferiority complex are fascinating.

My main issue with the book is this: The authors rarely question the idea that the sort of educational and material success they’re describing is worth what it takes to get. Chapter 6, “The Underside of the Triple Package,” is the shortest in the book. In spite of its title, it’s still a pretty loud cheerleader for the concept of working your butt off to get the highest test scores so you can go to the best college and get the highest-paying job – and your reward is to push your child to do exactly the same thing all over again.

Can we really look at the current state of the economy in America, and then look at how it got to be this bad, and then accept that premise without question?

Chua and Rubenfeld discuss at the end of their book how everyone can make a triple package out of whatever they happen to have lying around the house. (I may be paraphrasing slightly.) They never ask if we should want to. If part of the price of success is agreeing with the idea that you and your group are superior to all others, is it right to encourage a cultivation of that sense of superiority? Given how much racism and sexism we’re still fighting, shouldn’t we be trying to make a new path to success – and maybe redefining success?