Saturday, March 08, 2008

Are Asians Smart?

I don't see color, I'm color-blind.  People tell me I'm Asian, and I believe them because they copy off my math test. 

After a little googling I found this very pretty chart with all sorts of cute colors and racial stereotypes on the NSF website.  As you can see, teenage Asians in America schools are freakin' dweebs.  I couldn't find a more recent study presumably because the NSF has done enough damange to the self-esteem of Asian kids who score below 600 on their SAT Math.

A lot of people try to explain this highly complex and multifaceted phenomenon in the time it takes to eat a biscotti.  "Culture" they say!  Asian have an education-prioritizing culture.  Asian parents see education as a way to move up in society.

But I always wonder if this is true.  I've lived in Asia.  I've met lots of Asian parents.  Here are two impressions that strike me now as I reflect on my 5+ years travelling through multiple Asian countries, living and working among the natives
  1. There are a lot of stupid Asian people
  2. There are a lot of people
I am highly skeptical and often offended by "culture" arguments. Yes, I think Asian cultures stress education.  Conversely, though is that to say that white, black, and latin culture do not stress education? 

The other problem I have with "culture" arguments is that it completely ignores common sense numbers.  The United States has 300 million people.  Compare that to China which has 1.3 Billion.  India has 1 Billion.  Japan looks small but they've managed to fit 130 million people on that island.  When you talk Asia, you're talking a big haystack.  Of course you'll find more needles.

Asians in the United States tend to be first generation immigrants.  This means two things.  First it means that the people who are coming over from the Asian nations are self-selected.  A Chinese beet farmer making a $100 a year is not relocating his entire family to Omaha Nebraska to become a beet farmer here.  The HK engineer who graduated top of his class to study at Harvard is more like it.  Second, it means that the people who come over work abnormally hard.  As a parent, you do not move your kids thousands of miles from the Filipines just so that they could sit on their ass and play video games all day.  You worked your ass off to give them an opportunity and you'll be damned if they mess it up.

Here's the thing about Asian-Americans.  It's not that they're not smart.  The SAT scores, the enrollment in top Universities all say otherwise.  It's just that if you want to contexualize them as Asians you find they're not really representative of Asians as a whole.  Come to think of it they're not really representative of Americans as a whole either. 

Nothing about their background makes them smart.  It's they themselves.

update - Doh! How could I forget?


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