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October 10, 2003

Asian American Christianity & speeding up your life

Two links of note I'd like to point you too.

Eric Lien posts about Asian American Christianity. I was a member of "The Korean American Christian Federation" in college (purpose: meet Japanese chicks, result: failure) and can attest that I feel there is some truth to what he says.

Second, Randall Parker has blogged his idea that bright kids should accelerate their education. He gives many reasons, and I think it's a view that should be heard, though it is obviously most appropriate for those interested in technical careers. I remember reading once that companies that had competitions to break into their software had to stop giving cars as the prize because so many of the winners didn't have licenses. Of course, many of these kids will leave the technical world as they age, like Imbler Volokh, a teen programmer who later went to law school. The acceleration of technical educations can have another salubrious effect, allow scientists in their prime to get tenure, especially highly abstract fields like math or physics. I remember talking to a few friends who were doing graduate work in algebraic topology at Northwestern, I asked them how their advisors steered them as far as topics since of course they had to present positive results for their dissertation. The answer was that they picked topics that were "safe." When were they going to do risky work? After their doctorates. So best-case scenario, many math graduate students will do their daring work after their mid-20s, perhaps in their late 20s. Though there are dissenters, most people believe that math is a young man's game, and crucial years in your 20s spent getting a pedestrian Ph.D. seems a waste[1]. Of course, there is other evidence that indicates marriage is a negatively correlated with scientific brilliance....

fn1. Of course, one could argue that brilliant minds would take risks that they would see were not truly risks, and only pedestrian minds "play it safe."

Posted by razib at 10:07 PM

Asian-Americans are becoming "more white" by converting to Christianity while I -- a white American -- am becoming "more Asian". My favorite food is Thai, Chinese, Vietnamese and Japanese, and I cannot stand typical American cuisine. I look at all those disgusting meatloafs, t-bone steaks, macaroni salads, and bologna sandwiches that people in the "red states" eat, and I just don't understand the appeal. As far as movies go, I love anime and hate Hollywood. An good anime series presents a likeable cast of characters who I become easily attached to combine with a compelling plot that sometimes plores philosophical themes, while Hollywood cranks out mindless bile featuring idiotic characters and trite plots. Also, I find Buddhism to be a more rational religion than Christianity (although I don't subscribe to it as a religion).

However, contrary to certain white American Japanophiles, these preferences of mine are not due to an irrational deification of Asian culture. I don't harbor any obsessions with authenticity -- I just happen to think that phad thai or curry taste better and are more healthy than Denver omelets and fried chicken. And certainly, I don't regard Asia as more enlightened than the west in any respect. I would never dream of embracing any of their social institutions, conventions or customs for myself.

These lifestyle preferences don't make me any less of an American, although the term American is becoming increasingly devoid of cultural connotations at this point. I fall into one of Weisse's "clusters" of low-to-middle income secular lay intellectual-types with cosmopolitan tastes and liberal values who typically live in either Portland, the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin (the one southern bastion), New York or Philadephia, and find themselves fairly alienated from the rest of the country.

Posted by: Chris W at October 11, 2003 01:43 AM

I completely support the accelerating-education point. The "normal childhood" is, at best, a waste of time, and at worst is literally fatal. My son's girl-friend's brother started applying for tech jobs when he was 16 and was shaking Bill Gates' hand when he was 17. (True story). He started out with video games when he was tiny and went from there. (His father was a techy type but not in software.)

Oddly, prodigies are most found in formal systems that average people find difficult (music, math, software, foreign languages). Perhaps that's just because they show up so obviously in those fields. Partly perhaps this is also because these fields are theoretical and self-contained and don't require a lot of resources (compared to chemistry, history, biology).

Prodigy stories are misleading, as if the prodigies are weird. My belief is that lots of smart people are not challenged while their brain is plastic and basically become, not dumb, but bored, and don't develop their strengths. I had a sort of knack for math when I was 11 which I had lost by the time I was 19. I learned long division the first time it was taught, and then sat through it for three more years, an so on. (P.S. I don't blame the public schools per se, but classroom teaching to the average student in the class).

I don't actually share Parker's economic or demographic concerns. Accelerated education would just be best for students. I think that many 16 year olds and some 12 year olds are ready for college-level work. (In Portland public schools some of this is possible. One of my son's friends satisfied all his requirements and graduated at the end of his junior year. Several kids got 3 or 4 years of college math or foreign language while still registered in high school).

Posted by: Zizka at October 11, 2003 06:59 AM

I concur with Chris W in that the cosmopolitan regions of America (the West coast, northeastern seaboard) have become Asianized. I believe Sailer commented that the Hispanic pop culture boom demographers and were forecasting in the 80s never materialized.

Look at what the kids are doing nowadays. Anime, Pokemon, Yu-Gi Oh, Japanese exported video games. Chinese restaurants and buffets have become ubiquituos. The increasing popularity of Yoga, martial arts, bhangra music (Punjabi MC is played at all the clubs), eastern mysticism, Asian film styles (Kill Bill being a prime example) etc... Hip, urban, trendy, cosmopolitan, America (and Toronto + Vancouver) are far more Asianized than Latinoized.

Pay no heed to Kipling's words... ;-)

Posted by: Sen at October 11, 2003 07:49 AM

Since many talents have a developmental window, the current educational timeline makes no sense -- for math, or anything else.

The ability to learn content -- like social studies, history, the capitals of the states -- is a lot less time-sensitive than the ability to acquire complex skills and develop innate talents. For example, it still baffles me that most schools put off second languages until middle school, when the developmental window for new language fluency is more or less closed. If you want your child to learn French, start teaching her in first, not sixth, grade.

But I admit language is somewhat different from math. All kids learn language with brilliant fluency, when compared to just about any older teenager/adult. On the other hand, some kids will struggle with long division their entire life, no matter how early their math education began. So with math, it seems more a matter of identifying special individual talents, and letting them advance at different speeds.

Having grown up in one of the Scandinavian countries, I think their total absence of academic tracking is a significant factor holding them back from technical brilliance. No matter how much of a math genius you are in Norway or Sweden, you'll be stuck in ninth grade doing worksheets that include basic fractions. You all progress as an indivisible group, and someone, somewhere in class, just doesn't it and never will. The pained, bored, tortured look of the lone math prodigy in our class said it all.

Posted by: Claudia at October 11, 2003 08:01 AM

Naturally I have an interest in accelerated education having finished my Masters at the age of 18. I think that children can naturally imbibe concepts, which are conventionally taught at a later age.

Forty children cloistered in one classroom is hardly the way to fully exploit their varying skills and talents.

Posted by: Zachary Latif at October 11, 2003 11:16 AM

we know about math & music prodigies & autodidacts, but michael ventris, translator of linear B (bronze age greek script) was an architect by profession.

Posted by: razib at October 11, 2003 11:46 AM

claudia, nobel winners by nationality, sweden, denmark and norway don't come off bad for countries of their size, and this excludes scientists of scandinavian birth who might have won the nobel as americans (interestingly, finland has only 2 prizes though their population isn't that much smaller than sweden's).

Posted by: razib at October 11, 2003 11:57 AM

The symbolist wild man and poet Arthur Rimbaud was another prodigy -- he produced quality work at age 16, and finished his career at about age 21. He was the product of an extremely intensive educational system and was writing competent Latin verse by the time he was 12 or so.

Posted by: Zizka at October 11, 2003 01:01 PM

But I admit language is somewhat different from math. All kids learn language with brilliant fluency, when compared to just about any older teenager/adult.

Well, not always, especially if it's their second language. I recall a study showing that Canadian boys in bilingual education suffered a higher rate of learning disabilities than the general population. (But not in girls, strange ...) But regardless, yeah, starting the teaching of foreign languages in high school just as everyone's language learning abilities are shutting down is just one of the more incomprehensible features of US public education.

In general, the problem with accelerated education is, no parent's gonna wanna be the first one to do it. They'll wanna wait until there's a critical mass of kids for their kid to join, so he won't always be the class baby, and maybe getting harassed or ignored by his classmates. But on the contrary, we already see upper-class parents holding their kids back a year so they'll be more physically dominant than all the other kids. (I think Sailer has also commented on this trend a few times). Maybe home-schooling really is the answer ...

Posted by: Eric Lien at October 11, 2003 04:37 PM

[Rimbaud] was the product of an extremely intensive educational system
Yes, the French have never had any qualms about tracking, and their system of Grande Ecoles really is something.

Posted by: Hanno Buddenbrook at October 12, 2003 05:52 AM

I'm not at all enthusiastic about postmodernism. However, Foucault's stuff is interesting and impressive (forget his followers!) I read his biography and I found out that at the Sorbonne he had a reputation for arrogance.

Now, the French, as such, have a reputation for egotism and arrogance. And the French track like crazy. So he was in the French fast track, going from the Ecole Normal Superior (sp.) to the Sorbonne, and maintained a reputation for arrogance the whole way. that's impressives.

I guess I should mention that I'm pro-French and think that the recent anti-French huffing and puffing is imbecile. The French seem to be most admired by cultural types, but the French have made plenty of contributions to math, science, etc. Their miltary weakness has been vastly exaggerated -- they fought fiercely in WWI, at enormous cost.

Posted by: Zizka at October 12, 2003 05:49 PM

"Their miltary weakness has been vastly exaggerated"

heh, the latest column from the War Nerd pisses all over the frog-bashers:

"Over the past thousand years, the French have the most glorious military history in Europe, maybe the world"

Posted by: Jason Malloy at October 12, 2003 09:34 PM

Frog-bashing is fun, but let me point out exactly WHY the French hate America. And no, it isn't mindless pathological envy: they actually have a very good reason - America screwed them badly over Algeria back in the 1960s

Because the FLN were communists (unlike Nasser in Egypt), Eisenhower supported the French in Algeria. This mattered because postwar France was heavily in debt to the US

However, US policy changed suddenly when Kennedy took power in 1960: communists or not, he immediately put intense economic pressure on France to surrender to the FLN. The French had no choice but to comply

As a result of that *American* decision a million French Algerians were forced out of the country, and countless millions more anti-communist Arab Algerians were killed by their "liberators"

Now, if I were French, I'd be pretty pissed at America too

It's instructive to remember that before 1962 the French were passionately pro-American. It's only since then that they've been violently anti

The withdrawal from NATO, the expulsion of US troops from France, the attempt to undermine the US currency, the hostility to Israel, the denunciation of the Vietnam war, the refusal to help America hunt down Arab terrorists: ALL these things happened AFTER Algeria

If you betray your friends, you shouldn't be surprised if they become enemies

Posted by: ToOmUchWoRK at October 13, 2003 06:16 AM

[i]Well, not always, especially if it's their second language. I recall a study showing that Canadian boys in bilingual education suffered a higher rate of learning disabilities than the general population.[/i]

Eric, I know the studies you're talking about. In general, I oppose bilingual education because I think it interrupts the acquisition of the student's new native language -- exactly because it fails to make use of the rapidity with which any normal child will become fluent in a second language, if given the chance to immerse herself.

So bilingual education is a different kettle of fish. I wouldn't advocate teaching American kids French by sending them to a school that was taught half in French, half in English -- because it's too disruptive to other educational goals. It seems plausible that this kind of language chaos might also affect the speed with which the child develops the use of language "as language."

But I would advocate that the three hours a week spent in sixth grade to teach kids French pronunciation should instead be moved to the first grade, when the neural flexibility to learn that pronuciation still exists.

True bilingualism is probably best achieved by sequential immersion in respective cultures -- allowing one language to be dominant each time. Which describes my own life. But that's not a goal most parents have (or probably should have) for their kids, if they already speak the dominant language in their culture. Passable pronunciation and syntax in a second language is more of an achievable goal, and shouldn't interfere with development of the first language.

Posted by: Claudia at October 13, 2003 07:51 AM

Interesting article on accelerated schooling. While it's interesting and probably a good idea, my wife and I have already given up on the public school system and will be educating our children at home. I predict the homeschooling movement will continue to grow and become more organized, and the public schools will become even worse as the vast majority of really good students end up either in private school or at home...

Posted by: bbartlog at October 13, 2003 09:30 AM

Godless -- I've seen Sokal's stuff. I agree about Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, and all of their followers.

Some of Foucault's stuff is in that vein, not very much, but he pretty much renounced it. ("I don't know what that means myself" he said about one of his pieces). Most of his best stuff (all the stuff I read) deals with concrete historical cases. He got better as he went along. He doesn't deserve to be lumped.

Posted by: Zizka at October 13, 2003 04:53 PM