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Are Black Children Too Stupid to Learn? Part II: Black and Asian People

Posted on | January 22, 2013 | 33 Comments

I really liked the following comment by bretagne, so I decided to make it a separate post. This was in response to, “Are Black Children Too Stupid To Learn?

So, let it rip bretagne:

We can never have these discussions without re-inscribing tropes about Asian achievement.

As someone who has been teaching in the Korean school system for the past two years, at best, I’m ambivalent about the way in which we valorize (inflate?) Asian academic prowess.

The fact that some Asian students perform well on math and science standardized tests is not insignificant and should not be dismissed. But really, it only tells a part of the story.

The Korean education system (I have the greatest familiarity with Korea) is, in large part,a vestige of the Japanese colonial presence in Korea. There is a a heavy (disproportionate, in my opinion) emphasis on testing, and student grades are based almost entirely on mid-term and final multiple choice exams. So naturally, the entire educational system–from the instructional style of teachers, to the lucrative Korean test-prep cottage industry–is designed around this testing apparatus.

In my opinion, this has made for a very rote, flat, one-dimensional, excruciatingly boring, needlessly joyless and harsh, authoritarian educational experience. And while I agree with the commenter who said that learning is often difficult and time consuming, this is an entirely different animal. I have Korean friends (friends who performed well in the system, did well in university, and are now professionals)who describe their primary educational experiences as TRAUMATIC.

Anyways, the kids here become very good at gaming tests. You would, as well, if you spent 8 hours a day at school studying, and then another 3 or 4 hours after school at the hagwon memorizing and cramming test material. So naturally, when test day rolls around, the kids are well-prepared to regurgitate with aplomb.

But I question how much learning is really taking place in all of this. When I give my high school students an assignment or task that requires them to deploy creativity or think an original thought, they are stumped, paralyzed even. They prefer work that is rote and adheres to a rigid right/wrong binary. And I question if this paradigm is what will best prepare children to innovate and provide leadership for the world of the future.

I’ve also taught in an alternative high school that serviced students who would be labeled “at-risk” stateside. Many of the students were poor, came from dysfunctional homes, and a sizable portion were contending with untreated emotional and learning disabilities. Let me tell you: some of those Korean students could give the students at any urban black high school a run for their money. For me, this simply underscored the fact that underachievement is not cultural or racial, but highly correlated with socioeconomic factors.

This has been a really long winded way of saying that while there’s certainly a crisis with regard to the academic achievement of a sizable demographic of black children, we need to be discerning in terms of what we deem as solutions. And I would proffer that the solution will probably not be found in a wholesale emulation of “Asian” education systems.

There are certainly useful takeaways–namely, the notion of practice and effort making perfect. Asian people (E.Asians–Koreans, Japanese, Chinese) aren’t as invested as we are in the notion that one is a “math person” or a “science person” or whatever. In other words, they do not believe in some sort of inherent ability or inclination towards one subject matter or another. They believe that skills are cultivated, incrementally, over time, with immense practice, and under diligent guidance. In contrast, when American students, even at the elementary level, appear to struggle with a math concept, parents often throw up their hands and say, “Oh, well. Johnny just isn’t a math person.” It has been my experience that E. Asians tend to think that this is ludicrous. You work at things, assiduously, until you improve. Of course you aren’t born a “math person”.

But on the other hand, the Korean system is flat, lacks a certain dynamism, demands absolute obsequiousness from students, and really doesn’t stimulate the majority of students to think in a way that is innovative, critical, risky, or creative. And did I mention that most students find it pretty joyless? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Silicon Valley is located where it is. The hard science skills have to merge with a measure of creativity. This is what, I believe, should be the target for black children.

I will just say that if I were to raise children here in Korea, I would certainly not put them in the public system. More than likely, I’d enroll them in the nearest international school.

My response:

Tropes? Oh, okay.

Then, henceforth, let the exaggerations commence: Asian countries were at par, and sometimes even worse off, than African countries during the 1950s. (I know a good number did not receive independence until years later.) Look at most of ’em now. Except for perhaps a few, even the most die-hard Communistic and backward regimes, have realized that too much stealing from productive citizens, and keeping most ignorant, ends up starving the general population….

That progress didn’t happen overnight. Asian leaders thought about what works and put efforts into making it happen. And that took what, maybe a generation or two to get there? That is incredible. It cannot be discounted, dismissed or denied. Of course, it takes enormous energy (effort) to study, build, create and endure than to sit around and do nothing.

We are the ones that are forgetting what works: a rigorous and challenging education. And, of course, learning isn’t easy for everyone. Some people are traumatized leaving their homes, commuting, working, and just talking to other folks, but they have to do it anyway. Maybe some folks can go and live comfortably in their mother’s basement for the rest of their lives. Overall, life remains hard, brutal sometimes, and we’re all bound, at some time or the other, to even get our feelings hurt.

The Black Nation: Is This What Hell Looks Like?

However, let’s get real: If all of Black America were to leave, and form a separate nation, does anyone see it turning into a first world industrialized country? A second tier one? Maybe even third? What businesses could we turn to for jobs? Are there enough skilled people around who are self-sufficient? Who are entrepreneurial? Do we have enough: farmers, engineers, doctors, carpenters, or plumbers? Seriously, it’s not like we can live on barbers, hairstylists and fast food restaurants alone.

Don’t we take the nice and cozy stuff for granted – the infrastructure, electricity, education, police / fire / military protection (which is overwhelmingly provided by white men), in essence a stable society – because all the other groups are doing the work? ‘Cause all we seem to produce are people filling up jails, “entertaining” in the most demeaning ways, increasingly taking up social security disability payments – for “slow children” – along with a miniscule elite replete with great corporate and government perks. I suspect the country would be a basket case before even the week is out.

What Keeping It Real Really Looks Like

Asian empowerment, and I use that term deliberately, is real. And I don’t see a few laudatory comments as inflating their achievement(s). This is an extremely competitive world. A good number of Asians seem to understand the nature of this global “game.” Unfortunately, black people seem to function under the impression that we can infinitely live off of the goodwill of others forever – like well tolerated beggars and perennial wards. (And I ain’t talking about nothing new here, W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington dealt with this subject, black progression or regression, if you will, over 100 years ago.)

I don’t believe I’ve ever stated that Asians were perfect and invincible, but goodness, they rank at the top and we (black folks) rank at the bottom in American schools – and likely globally. So, who’s fooling who? And we import their woefully TRAUMATIZED brains to keep most of Silicon Valley, and various industries, afloat these days.

I would LOVE to see the Asian attitude towards education to be emulated and adopted by black people. However, the decision to make schooling more rigorous is up to the parents. And if they are content and satisfied with themselves, and their children, being seen by society (or the world for that matter) as “stupid” – so be it. Everyone else will gladly pass them by.

No One is Better Than Me

And before anyone gets me wrong: I don’t see any group as superior or inferior. I tend to look at things in terms of applied effort. I honestly feel a substantial portion of the population has given up (on life). It saddens me, and I sometimes lament the problem, but overall I don’t see how anyone can change a culture committed to a downward slide into …. what? I dunno.

We’ve had these conversations on these blog(s) before. Black people have a deep and enduring suicidal wish, like death-cult members, wanting too many sane folks to join them. This horror is masked by “black entertainment” mesmerizing people over trivial issues driven by low-rent morons and self-prostituting idiots; the notion of a utopian “black community” which can only exist on the back, sweat and tears of black women; or phrases like “that’s how we do” to make young women conform when she’s simply trying to define her own terms of freedom.

Don’t buy it. Stay alive and thrive.

Okay, I’m done. 😀

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Comments

33 Responses to “Are Black Children Too Stupid to Learn? Part II: Black and Asian People”

  1. amy
    January 22nd, 2013 @ 11:58 PM

    Betty strikes again and strikes gold!

    I am fully cosigning everything you said. The fact of the matter is that not too long ago Asians countries like China and Korea were mostly dependent on foreign aid. Today, they can stand toe to toe with anyone, thanks to their own effort.

    I have always viewed this widespread idea that Asians are simply good at memorization and not much else with suspicion. Their rote memorization has surely paid a lot of dividend for people who supposedly lack creativity.

    Two years ago, I was invited to a Business school conference at Columbia University and I was so shocked to see that they were far more Asians that any other race at the school. In fact, I thought I may have stopped at University of Beijing. This is a top rated school and the students there are a good indication of who will be running things in the future.

    Now as for black people….

    I’ll start with black Africa since I am very familiar with the area. There is really no sign that anyone in a seat of power has a clue that the rest of the world has sped away. That is pretty much all there is to say about that.

    What about African Americans?
    It is difficult to find time to open a math textbook when you are busy blaming Da white man for everything wrong in your life, rapping about ‘hoes and bitches’, being a balla or playa. It is all too much to ask for, so a lower expectation is preferred.

    So what can we do about this?
    Individually, those of us in the know have to take care of business in our personal lives. I have already made up my mind, that my children and my young nephews and nieces will be ‘traumatized’ with as much math, physics and chemistry etc as possible. They can complain about their ‘joyless’ childhood when they are living comfortably and running successful businesses thanks to their hard work. That’s all.

    GoldenAh: Hi Amy! Thank you for the comment!

    I don’t understand today’s schooling philosophy. All education used to be by rote, and that was when America was number 1. This flexible, anything goes, self-esteem building stuff is recent. And as we can see – it’s not working out too well. When I went to school we were always having quizzes and tests. Now, it’s considered a harsh thing, like homework. I mean, folks in the educational system have gone off the deep end. Next they’ll say meditating all day and staring into space is what works….

    There’s an NY Times article on this issue. Japan tries to relax their educational standards, and found themselves slipping. What price “creativity” vs “rote” learning?

    I shouldn’t laugh at what you said about African leaders, but I was rolling. Sorry folks. LOL.

    And, yes, Amy, you are correct about individual effort. We realize that education is simply a tool to use throughout our lives. Nothing more, nothing less.

  2. Adrienne Jenkins
    January 23rd, 2013 @ 12:23 AM

    I have to agree with you as well. I was a teacher in Korea for 3 years, and as much as I understand some of the downsides of the education system there that bretagne outlines, (and the way the society and country runs as a whole), I saw that the benefits far outweighed the downsides.

    One of the things I noticed about Korea is the general historical respect for education, scholars, and just for being able to *do* something very well.

    I also noticed how strong “school” culture is. There are endless shops for every imaginable school supply, and bookstores are filled with study guides. There are commercials on kid’s TV about some study method to get better grades (note many are aimed at kids, and the pride of knowing the answer, rather than aimed at parents.) Many parents (especially mothers) do all kinds of extra work to send their kids to good schools,or overseas to learn English. Many parents compete with one another to make sure that, if their child cannot be a *great* student, he/or she will at least not fall behind. Many parents begin educating their children as soon as they are born, and see their role as being their child’s first teacher. The daughter of one of my fellow teachers had tons of books for a child who was barely old enough to read.

    Kids there are in school or in some sort of class a lot. Early in the morning, and late at night, more days of the year. I think that a lot of Korean kids are in school too much, but, there is a benefit of many young people being too busy to get into too much trouble.

    For one thing, in my opinion, South Korea benefits from being surrounded by the ocean and a closed border to the north. Plus the country is only the size of Indiana. So it’s a lot easier to keep undesirable things out. For Korea’s schoolkids that means no drugs and no guns (for the most part). Penalties for even being in possession of a tiny bit of drugs are harsh. You can’t buy prescription or even over-the-counter drugs there any time of day. The pharmacies close at night.

    Also, there is a national enthusiasm/need (historical inferiority complex) in Korea to be recognized, I think. Starvation, war, and colonial rule are all in living memory. There is a hunger to be the best, and locally, to one -up Japan.

    The schools there are changing the rote memorization style of the past, so I don’t know how much the idea of the historical “robot” children applies today.

    Another aspect of Korean education is the national pride that is instilled at school. Some of the history taught is fabricated, I believe, but Korean people “know who they are”, so to speak. Regardless of whether someone gets rich in Silicon valley, or runs some hole-in-the-wall mom and pop shop down the street, there is a general baseline society of literate people who value sophisticated things (even among people who are not smart or sophisticated).

    A sad thing is I think that promising people in the African-American community are surrounded by enemies, or at very least, lacking accessible people who can mentor them in their area of talent. There’s all the help in the world for someone who wants to bounce a damn basketball, but for a budding scientist or fine artist, (contributors to *real* advancement) are few. Their success if often in spite of opposition of their friends, family, and other people who look like them.

    GoldenAh: Hello Adrienne! Wow, nice blog. I must visit the Far East, before I’m not able to. I always want to travel while I’m still in great shape and can handle all that walking around, etc.

    Props to you for teaching in another country. I get stressed out if I have to give a presentation to a group of people, but I love to travel.

    I think we’ll always have a small number of black families embracing education in spite of the odds. But it will be like salmon going up against the tide. The general culture of this country is very anti-education and anti-intellectual now-a-days, like there’s something wrong with wanting to learn, so everybody should aim for the lowest common denominator. The Korean aspect of it makes all the sense in the world. They notice what’s so obvious to stay motivated, committed and competitive, whereas we keep hunting for the answer. This is all about self-love, pride and respect for heritage. Did black people forget or don’t know it used to be illegal for the slaves to learn to read? Now, it’s all twisted. Being educated is a bad thing and “keeping it real” is authentic, so ignorance and illiteracy is embraced. Even writing this makes me realize how upside down everything has become.

    Thank you so much for your comments, Adrienne. 🙂

  3. trish
    January 23rd, 2013 @ 2:11 AM

    Well said. It is a sad state of affairs. I have said it before; at this point, we will only have individual successful blacks, not a successful collective. Black male leadership consists of getting black males to be the first this, and that, all else be damned. It is quite sickening. I would rather have a successful black collective than the first “black” president any day. I would say more but it is just too painful.

    GoldenAh: I, too, would prefer a large entrepreneurial, prosperous, well-educated, healthy and stable black middle class over the mess we have now. I don’t live on symbolism. I could not care less about all the pomp and circumstance; coronations for faux royalty bore me. I’m not feeling these black male peacocks making “history” while the masses have a standard of living and asset value that’s sliding back towards the 1950s…. I’m starting to wonder why we even have a federal government, since its sole intent seems to be in putting everyone into the poor house then out into the streets.

    Frankly, I miss Bill Clinton. I can’t stand his wife, but sometimes I think we’d be better off if Billary was in the White House. At least he understands the economy and cares about the country….

  4. Jazine
    January 23rd, 2013 @ 9:57 AM

    Thank you, Betty. A lot of Asians became competitive not because they are inherently smarter or things come “easy” to them. They are disciplined and consistent with their education. I knew Asian students in undergrad who struggled with math but worked their butts off to get good grades.

    What gets me angry is that people have washed their hands of black children for decades now when it comes to academic achievement. The black intellectuals and educators really get me mad because they co-sign to having black children, and I am specifically talking about African-American black children, having different, which means inferior set of standards. These same blacks who excelled academically and got competitive scores on the standardized tests are advocating for black underachievement. I feel too many educators think it’s too late for black children. To push them to be competitive academically is too much. Of course this lowering of the bar has a lot to do with the knee-jerk “it’s white racism that made us this way, so we should be given special treatment” for our below average performance.

    My nieces are not being coddled to fail. Both their black parents are not having that. My sister and brother-in-law are active in their children’s learning. It helps their both college educated and the father has his degree in mathematics, but even parents who do not have higher education can play an active role in their children’s education, but it takes courage, consistency, and discipline. I’m afraid too many of us lack these qualities because we don’t like being inconvenienced. Great post, Betty. Thanks!

    GoldenAh: Hello Jazine! Thank you. I don’t know why people have given up on the kids. Maybe they are worse off mentally or in aptitude than previous generations? I’ve stepped inside some of the schools around my area – I’ve forgotten how tiny children are and how big the books they carry – but it’s mostly white, Asians with a handful of black / Latino. I don’t know what’s going on, but the schools rank pretty high. Although on occasion I’ll see in the papers that a smart black girl gets listed along with the other white and Asian honor students.

    Do we notice that? When it comes to stepping up and being competitive there’s a little black girl that is always able to roll with the big dogs? What’s going on with the boys?

  5. Jazine
    January 23rd, 2013 @ 9:59 AM

    Sorry for the typos, I meant “it helps they’re both college educated”

    GoldenAh: No problem. I’m horrified at the mistakes in my posts, but I can’t be bothered to fix ’em. 😀

  6. MsMellody
    January 24th, 2013 @ 1:35 AM

    Note to all – lets spend more time out doors with our kids….

    http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/stories/breathing-soil-bacteria-makes-you-smarter

    GoldenAh: Thanks for the link, MsMellody. When I was a kid, I was outdoors all day until I got called in. Today, I see that children barely go outside, and if they do, they are watched intently and the time is limited. Very interesting.

  7. Nadia
    January 24th, 2013 @ 1:56 PM

    Can you delete my previous post? Slightly condensed version split into two posts.

    Since when does studying hard to get an education and receiving a high pay job because of that result in traumatization? So now Asians are getting ahead because they’re gaming the educational system with tests? Please. She needs to get her life. I don’t believe you. You need more people.

    Even if that were true. That doesn’t answer the question of why black kids are last in the nation with education and jobs. Because everyone on the planet is not gaming the educational system. She’s making excuses. Game Recognize Game. Next!

    Aren’t many modern electronics originated and are still made and imported to the U.S from Japan and China that most people in the U.S. use? They must be doing something right. Some people are really simple. Asian people are not born with a ‘Special Gene’ that makes them extremely intelligent. There parents simply made education a priority, because they wanted there kids to grow up to have top high paying jobs in society. Similar to how white people go to school to get high paying jobs.

    Am I missing something? – Isn’t that what everyone on the planet wants? Isn’t that what people have been doing since the beginning of time? Getting a quality education that leads to a high paying job?

    That’s similar to when people used to say black people were less intelligent than white people because there brains were smaller. Or black people were meant to be slaves because they’re used to working hard. Or black women can face and survive any burden, and they’re supposed to be single mothers because they’re ‘Strong Black Women’. I don’t know why some blacks are acting simple about this, and don’t make education a priority. But they will not be leeching off me because they have several generations of entire families who refused to to learn a trade or get an education – even if they’re members of my own family.

    I’m not about that life. I’m not here for that. Its not my fault or concern that many blacks will continue to fail at life if they continue to think this way. Your right Betty, if black people tried to create their own society seperate from the rest of the planet, it would collapse. Because they don’t have the proper tools and skills to survive. Many blacks take for granted the welfare system, the housing projects they live in, and the white police force that prevents mass rape and murder in black communities that has been put in place by whites.

    Some blacks will always be mentally stuck on the ‘Plantation.’ They should be ignored. Where is ‘The Black Church’? ‘The Black Activists’? ‘The Good Black Men’? Silent – Until a black boy/man is killed by non whites, or the victim of ‘White Racism.’ While many individual blacks are ‘Winning’ in the game of life. The black people who are in denial about how life works should be left behind to do what they want with their life. They will either perish or succeed. Black children are not too stupid to learn. Many blacks just don’t see education as a priority.

    GoldenAh: We don’t realize a lot of countries still charge parents to send their kids to school. But we take those “free” first 12 years of schooling for granted. What’s that old saying? You can lead a horse to water, but cannot make him drink.

    Is there ever going to be a change where education gets prioritized? I sincerely doubt it. But there’s no one preventing black people from succeeding except for themselves.

    So, there was a heartbreaking story in the news: a girl from Chicago who went to Obama’s coronation was shot. She was top A student. Even when the kids try to thrive and do well the parasites will try, and sometimes succeed, in killing them off. It’s horrible. News reports said that supposedly it wasn’t “that kind of neighborhood”. Well, now it is.

  8. Nadia
    January 24th, 2013 @ 2:01 PM

    Not materialistic – A poster I saw in middle school.(In my early 30’s now) Has anyone seen this poster before? LOL at the helicopter.

    ‘JUSTIFICATION FOR HIGHER EDUCATION’
    http://www.movieposter.com/posters/archive/main/107/MPW-53732

    The film Dangerous Minds is a great example of teenagers of all races that grow up in bad neighborhoods. They have a choice of being a victim or doing something to better their life.

    ‘THERE ARE NO VICTIMS IN THIS CLASSROOM!’
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBQf9noA7xY

  9. Faith
    January 25th, 2013 @ 12:34 AM

    I had a little chuckle at “trope” as well. A hint of intelligentsia pontificating, perhaps? Or is bloviating a better descriptor? Anyway, only people who want to play dumb will ignore what time it REALLY is and make the necessary adjustments. For various reasons as has been discussed in the BWE-sphere AAs will be a permanent underclass within the US and of course globally. American students are already behind as a whole anyway, so those that occupy the bottom percentile are even worse off. If education and achievement was a priority for AAs then the “community” would properly address its shortcomings.

    And on a side note, I didn’t pay much attention to the (4th Bush term) inauguration of Obama, but was mightily annoyed that Bouncy was allowed to perform yet again. And I’ve also noted how certain favored bloggers got invited to a “digital disruptors” meet and greet at the White House who promote an uncritical look at the Obama policies and find the concept of being a disruptor hilarious for people towing the party line for head pats.

    If we’re going to talk “education” where’s the CRITICAL THINKING skill set?

    GoldenAh: I was a bit taken aback. How does that person think South Korea, or a number of Asian countries, climbed the ranks of nations so quickly? I understand the purpose was to say the grass wasn’t greener, but we’re so effed up, I’d take anything they are doing by half-measure just to catch up. Folks aren’t even trying over here anymore. I was given extra work in High School due to boredom, then I started researching and reading on my own. Heck, I’m still curious. I know all of us who read and write here are this way.

    Plus, I believe if the US school system in urban areas started out “tough”, thorough, and with lots of discipline kids would get in the habit of expecting hard work and could cope.

    Ah, yes, the coronation of his highness. The folks waiting for a special pat on the head for being uncritical cheerleaders of the regime are going to find themselves rudely awakened. The dismantling is starting already. At CNN, heads are rolling. I expect more body dumps. The sycophants have done their jobs, so they’re no longer needed. Oh, well.

    Faith, do you suspect that you’re on some kind of “bad blogger list”? I have a feeling that anyone who has written anything not-so-adoringly of that person with the Emperor-King-Sun-God-complex is on it. I mean, there is a list of Americans he’s willing to kill overseas. I just don’t see the guy setting a limit on this kind of thing….

    For me, it doesn’t matter who is in office, we should always be suspicious of our government. There’s no one alive who doesn’t love power, and unquestioning power and adulation will corrupt….

  10. Lita
    January 25th, 2013 @ 1:19 AM

    Faith – ‘And on a side note, I didn’t pay much attention to the (4th Bush term) inauguration of Obama, but was mightily annoyed that Bouncy was allowed to perform yet again.’

    <>

    Thanks for pointing that out!- Why do you call her bouncy? I thought I was the only one who was annoyed that ‘Bouncy’ is chosen to perform at major historical events because of her popularity, while other black singers with genuine talent are overlooked. I was deeply offended that she sang the Etta James song. Etta James should have been chosen to sing for the Obamas or at least a more qualified black singer. Because Etta James died shortly afterwards, and that would’ve been good for her. I liken Beyonce to a vegas performer/stripper.

    Flashy outfits with autotuned songs. There’s nothing wrong with vegas performers/strippers. But with today’s music. Genuine singing talent being replaced with auto tuned songs and vegas stripper performers. Today’s music is crap. She looks whiter everyday with her blonde hair. She looked better with darker hair. And that pancake makeup she uses that makes her skin appear lighter. Not saying black women can’t dye their hair any color. Just saying with Beyonce. No one can say its a coincidence that the more famous she became, the blonder her hair became.



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