TODAY   |  February 03, 2014

‘Tiger Mom’ is on the prowl again

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, authors of the controversial new book “The Triple Package,” join TODAY to answer their critics and lay out their theories on race, culture and success. “I thought it would be thought-provoking, not so controversial,” Chua says.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> and now we turn to a book that's ignited controversy, how three unlikely traits explain the rise and fall of cultural groups in america . the author amy chua and her husband, we'll talk to them exclusively in a moment, but first, their story.

>> authors amy chua say they know the answer. both are yale law professors. you may remember chua, no stranger to controversy, she created a fire storm three years ago with her book " battle hymn of the tiger mother." in it, she advocates strict rules for raising successful children. turning tiger mom into a cultural catch phrase. now she's back. they say despite americans ' ideas about equality, some groups in this country do better than others. they credit what they call the triple package. it includes a superiority complex . the culture's deep-seated belief in the exceptionalism. a feeling that you or what you've done is not good enough. and impulse control . some groups that succeed according to the authors, mormo mormons, indians, lebanese and chinese. chua is chinese-american. rubenfeld jewish.

>> people attempting to demonstrate this or that group is better than this or that group for cultural reasons. different form of racism.

>> well, they are with us now. good morning to both of you.

>> good morning.

>> let's start right there. this book makes an argument there are three cultural traits. if you have them, you will be more successful. is that racist? that's the allegation that's been heard.

>> well, you know, any time you talk about groups in america , there's going to be sensitivity. you can't get around that. but our book is the polar opposite of racist. we show there are african-american groups in this country outperforming the national average, the white average. we show there are hispanic groups outperforming the national average. our whole book is written to prove what propels success is nothing to do with race. it comes down to three qualities open to anyone of any background.

>> but if you take certain traits and say some cultural groups have them and inherently other cultural groups don't. doesn't that denigrate those other cultural groups?

>> actually, that's not what we're saying. i think the focus on groups is making everybody upset. our book is about the underlying traits that generate drive. you know, what triggers human motivation. and anyone of any background can have them. the groups actually change over time . the groups successful today won't be ten years ago from now. successful groups are different 20 years ago. i was so struck by -- we were all struck by the super bowl . and when the winning quarterback was asked, how did you get here? he said my father said why not you. even though you're only 5'11", and that captures the gist of our book. the sense that it can be you. you can go all the way, but you need to strive and prove yourself .

>> one thing disturbing about it is one of the less talked about parts of your theory, which is the longer these groups are in america , the more in decline they are. the more you are assimilated into american culture , the more mediocre you become.

>> well, in fact, that's what punctures this whole stereotype of the model minority. one of the most interesting findings that came up in our research is that asian-american kids who famously score better, get better grades than other american kids, they stop doing better in the third generation. so what that shows us, it's not innate, it's something cultural . and our point is, hey, let's look at that, look at what they're doing and what we can learn from them.

>> you do identify a number of groups you say exemplify these traits and are successful because of those traits. i know you know how to cause controversy, "tiger mom" was a huge fire storm . was that part of that? some people might say, they're wanting to sell books.

>> you know, i thought, now i'm not going to talk about parenting. and this book is so filled with research. there's statistics everywhere. i did not expect -- i thought it would be thought provoking and not controversial. and also, people are focusing on these eight groups. but as we say in the book, there are dozens of groups outperforming. italian- americans , greek- americans . it's not just these groups.

>> i wonder, what was the take away? can you adopt these qualities of superiority, insecurity, and impulse control , which you have to have all together. is there anything you can do to try to attain what you're talking about in this book?

>> at the end of the day , our book is about individuals. and many individuals, not from the groups we're talking about have all three of these qualities. president obama , justice sonia sotomayor is one. and people can do it themselves.

>> thank you so much. the book is "the triple package."