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

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. 😀