But genes play a big role in whether you can demand that your child get an A in advanced calculus or make first seat in the violin section of the orchestra. With that in mind, let’s contemplate the genes being fed into those Chua children who are doing so well.
Maternal grandfather: EE and computer sciences professor at Berkeley, known as the father of nonlinear circuit theory and cellular neural networks.
Mother: able to get into Harvard (a much better indicator of her IQ than the magna cum laude in economics that she got there); Executive Editor of the Law Review at Harvard Law School.
Father: Summa cum laude from Princeton and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School, now a chaired professor at Yale Law School.
Guess what. Amy Chua has really smart kids. They would be really smart if she had put them up for adoption at birth with the squishiest postmodern parents. They would not have turned out exactly the same under their softer tutelage, but they would probably be getting into Harvard and Princeton as well. Similarly, if Amy Chua had adopted two children at birth who turned out to have measured childhood IQs at the 20th percentile, she would have struggled to get them through high school, no matter how fiercely she battled for them.
Accepting both truths—parenting does matter, but genes constrain possibilities—seems peculiarly hard for some parents and almost every policy maker to accept.
For the record, I accept both truths — and some others about culture, luck, etc — but I think the interesting argument in not whether they’re true, but how to weight them in the larger scheme of things.