Friday, April 23, 2004

Culture Determines Educational Performance?

In the real world I heard someone say that in America Asians value education more than whites, blacks don't value education very much, and Latinos just don't understand the language (English). This was an explanation for why there are differences in educational performance among the various ethnicities in America. This person cited the book "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning" which is about how bad young black students do in school, but it also talks about the reasons why all ethnic groups perform differently. The book has been disputed by several other scholars not because of the data in it, but the "cultural" differences among each group.

"Asian(all Asian people, east, south, etc.) culture" focuses primarily on education, so Asians do much better than whites in all educational levels. Blacks don't focus very much on education and instead spend too much time on sports and entertainment. Latinos (Spanish-speaking) do not understand English very well, so they can't do very well in American schools that teach in English. The man who told me this said nothing about whites or native Americans. I see numerous faults in this "theory" as to why different ethnic groups perform differently.

I made some comments and asked questions about the man's theory, but I couldn't change his mind. Why wouldn't blacks care about education when it was a Supreme Court ruling from a case involving a black family and a school board that ended segregation in America? "Asian" culture is an extremely vague term suggesting that everybody in Asia has the same or related culture and different groups of Asians perform vastly different in school. That's all I got to say to him because he kept going off on tangents, avoiding the questions, and changing the subject. I also wanted to let him know that many Asians in America have a native language other than English, so why don't they suffer in school as much as Latinos? Or vice versa, how come Latinos don't perform as well as Asians? He made a statement about how in every single Asian country the students work so hard, especially in Japan. I wish I had asked him if he was only counting the Asian families that send their children to school, and completely ignoring the kids that drop out because of commitments at home. Asia has the highest dropout rate in the world. That's pretty hard to believe if the "Asian culture" values education so much.

According to him and the Thernstroms (authors of No Excuses) blacks perform the worst in all educational levels. Highest drop out rate, lowest test scores, most expulsions. When I read "Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto" I learned that it was native Americans (Indians) who performed the worse in all these fields and also had problems in education. Why didn't he say anything about this group? Do they not count? Why not compare blacks and native Americans for cultural similarities and differences if both groups perform poorly?

Guess who also got left out of this cultural comparison? He didn't tell us how well or bad whites did in school. He never mentioned anything about white culture. (I'm kicking myself now for not saying white culture, I was dying to hear how he would respond to that term at the risk of sounding like a member of the KKK). My guess is that he felt since America's mostly white, whites set the standard for education. Well jeez, shouldn't we be setting our standards a little higher? Why not have Asians be this "standard".

I think it's safe to just ignore this "theory" because the educational performances of different ethnic groups is more complex than what peoples' so-called cultures are. Asian culture, black culture (blacks everywhere), Latin culture, and all those other general terms are just as vague and useless as saying white culture.