Saturday, November 08, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell Insults Asians

The New York Times, in "Sociology of Success" by Stephen Kotkin, November 2, 2008, reviews the latest book by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell's previous two books became best sellers by taking ideas were already well known and established, repackaging them as though he had discovered something new, and writing in a light, breezy style meant to be skimmed quickly rather than read carefully.

Now Gladwell, in his latest book, "Outliers: the Story of Success", ventures into a topic broader and more complex than his previous work. Now he fails. He also insults all Asians, as the following quote from this article about his book (paragraph 9):  The Sociology of Success by Stephen Kotkin, NYT, Nov. 1, 2008.

"If some points border on the obvious, others seem a stretch. Asian children’s high scores at math, Mr. Gladwell would have us believe, derive from work in rice paddies. Never mind that few of the test takers or their urban parents in Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo have ever practiced wet-rice agriculture. Noting that math test scores correlate with how long students will sit for any kind of exam, Mr. Gladwell points to an Asian culture of doggedness, which he attributes to cultural legacies of rice cultivation. (Paddies require constant effort.)"

Asians owe their success to rice paddies?

It would seem Malcolm Gladwell has no understanding of the Confucian influence on Asian cultures, where studying has been highly regarded for thousands of years.

1. The Master said, 'Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?'
2. 'Is it not delightful to have friends coming from distant quarters?'
3. 'Is he not a man of complete virtue, who feels no discomposure though men may take no note of him?'

Let's look at this again:
Is it not pleasant to learn with a constant perseverance and application?

This attitude, coupled with the financial rewards and public honors bestowed by Chinese Emperors upon the winners of their national examinations, has over the ages developed the "culture of doggedness" puzzling Gladwell.

The belief that only students who are quick studies can succeed in school is the lazy person's excuse.

Ascribing the academic success of Asians to rice paddies is lazy thinking at best, and racism at worst.

Robert Canrigh

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