Chua’s description of her older daughter, Sophia, makes clear that this is a formidable young woman. However unpleasant the road to her pianistic accomplishments may have been—as a 6-year-old she had a secret habit of gnawing on the piano in frustration, which came to an end when her father informed her it was “the most expensive piece of furniture in the house”—there is no doubt that she has vast intelligence and warmth and humor. She wrote a spirited defense of her mother in the New York Post, which was itself a testament to one of the by-products of being raised this way: explaining Mommy to horrified Westerners can become a stand-alone extracurricular activity for these kids.
As of this writing, her application is being read, I’m sure, at many of the top colleges. Almost certainly, she will be admitted to all of them, but I can guarantee she’s put these schools’ admissions officers in a swivet. Obviously, it is not their job to provide a referendum on child-rearing practices. But they know that admitting her will send a powerful message to a large community. If Sophia goes to Harvard next fall, a significant number of parents will say to themselves: The method works. Her matriculation to a top school will surely result in more children’s being forced to endure what she did. “Early on,” Sophia explains—with unintended poignancy—in her New York Post letter, “I decided to be an easy child to raise.” These seemed to be the options in her family: to submit quietly and avoid her mother’s wrath, as Sophia did, or to scream bloody murder and receive the brunt of it, as Lulu did. If the former choice is the one rewarded with the laurel of the Ivy League, then that institution’s role in our national life—not just as a group of eight universities, but as an idea about the nature of American excellence—may just about have run its course.